I am not sure if I am more thrilled by the food or the very idea of the concept of Nanjing Impressions in Singapore 南京大牌档. Though it did strike a positive first impression.
Nanjing Impressions lands itself at Level 4 of Plaza Singapura, where 1 Market by Chef Wan used to be.
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Founded in 1994, it is lauded as one of the must-visit restaurants in China, with about 40 outlets in Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Wuxi, Hefei and Qingdao, often positively reviewed in various Dian Ping channels.
Once you enter the restaurant, you may understand why. It may take you back to olden China a hundred years ago.
Two seniors were standing outside dressed in a Chinese costume (of the Qing dynasty, I reckon?) under a large signboard that read 大牌檔 (Da Pai Dang) – that literally means open-air food stalls.
”Are they for real?” They are.
The interior was impressive, designed like an olden tea house with hundreds of hanging lanterns (You could imagine Gong Li hanging them), attention was paid to details down to every bowl and plate.
Customers sit on wooden benches, listening to old ping tan records (a type of Suzhou story-telling and singing.
Service staff shout ”San Yang Kai Tai” and ”Wu Fu Ling Men” (Words of blessings) as customers in groups of 3s and 5s enter. Vibrant and boisterous.
Some of the recommended dishes include Jinling Roast Duck ($16.80, $32.00, $62.00), Jinling Salted Duck ($16.00, $32.00, $62.00), Poached ‘Lion’s Head’ Meatball ($13.80 per portion), Heritage Roast Duck Claypot with Beancurd ($13.80 per portion), Beef Brisket and Vermicelli Claypot ($16.80 per portion), Crisp fried Baby Pomfret with Plum Sauce ($9.80 each), Honey-glazed Lotus Root ($12.80 per portion), and Braised Pork Shank ($28.00 per portion).
Prices are considered reasonable in today’s Singapore context.
After having a couple of dishes, the Jinling Noodles in Light Soy Sauce Broth ($6.80), Steamed Glutinous Rice with Pork ($13.80) and Lion’s Head ($13.80) count as my top 3 favourite.
The Yang Chun style noodles is said to be based on an ancient recipe, containing long springy noodles served in light-soy flavoured broth. It was simple, but the taste was clean yet satisfying.
While the soup might look deep in colour, the saltiness and oiliness wasn’t overpowering.
The ‘Lion’s Head’ ($13.80) is not a real lion’s head, but a dish created based on a sunflower (ordered by Emperor Sui Yang).
The giant meatball arrived in a salty broth, but so soft and fatty that it would literally melt in the mouth. One of the tenderest meatballs I had in a long time.
The meat is supposedly diced such that fat and lean are evenly distributed for the best flavour and texture, then steamed for six hours.
Some of the other dishes were more average tasting.
The Celestial Roast Duck Dumplings ($6.80 for 3) looking like Xiao Long Bao had too thick a skin.
I was also more indifferent towards the Honey-glazed Stuffed Lotus Root ($12.80) – perhaps I should have had it as a started before the other richer-flavoured food kicked in.
The one thing I hope that would be ironed out would be the reservation system. I called and was told “reservation was full”. Instead, I turned up earlier to queue for about 45 minutes, while there were still some empty tables around.
Nanjing Impressions 南京大牌档
Plaza Singapura, #04-46 to 51, 68 Orchard Road Singapore 238839
Tel: +65 6352 7877
Opening Hours: 11am – 10am Daily