If you find the staff at Yan familiar, that is because you could have seen them not very long ago at Park Palace in Grand Park City Hall hotel. Yan, a Cantonese restaurant which opened last week on the fifth floor of the National Gallery Singapore, is owned by the Park Hotel Group. When Park Palace was closed a couple of months back to make way for a major redevelopment of the hotel, its entire staff, including Hong Kong-born chef Chan Kung Lai, was moved to the new restaurant. Former Park Palace manager C.K. Shek runs the new standalone restaurant as general manager. Looking at Yan's menu at dinner last Tuesday, I find both new and old dishes.
The old are popular items from Park Palace, such as the Signature Crispy Roast Suckling Pig Served In 3 Ways ($124 for half a pig). Like at other Chinese restaurants, the suckling pig is first served whole. The crispy skin on its back is shaved off into thin square slices, which are eaten with spring onion, cucumber and sweet sauce on a steamed wafer. The rest of the pig goes back to the kitchen, but it comes back later - first chopped into chunks of meat from the flank and thigh, and then as meat fillet oven-baked with lemongrass. I especially like the freshly chopped-up meat, which is tender and juicy. The suckling pig needs to be ordered a day in advance, but if that does not work for you, get the Roast Pork Belly ($14) instead. This comes from a mature pig, so the crackling is thicker and the meat not as tender, but it is good too. Or try the Barbeque Honey Pork ($18 for small), which is prepared Hong Kong-style, with slightly fatty meat that is tender and juicy.
I usually order the Steamed Thousand Layer Beancurd With Diced Honey-glazed Pork, Conpoy, Mushroom And Gingko Nuts (from $22) at Park Palace because it tastes good, looks beautiful and requires good knife skills to prepare. The dish is just as artfully executed here. A piece of beancurd is sliced into thin sheets of equal size and thickness and spread out on a plate in a circular fan pattern. The other ingredients - some diced and some whole - are placed in the centre and a light brown sauce is poured around the beancurd. When you eat everything together, you get a mix of light flavours that complements the beancurd without overpowering it.
Some of the new dishes are good too. The Double-boiled Chicken Soup Served In A Young Coconut And Crispy Breadstick ($22 a person) is made more interesting by adding clams to the broth. The clam juices give the chicken soup an added shade of sweetness, while the breadstick, which looks like a skinny springroll and is served on the side, provides texture. Another new creation I like is the Fried Live Prawn With Crispy Noodle Ball ($12 a person). The deep-fried noodles, shaped into a ball, are drenched in hot broth at the table, where they soak up the soup, but still stay crispy. The soup, which is brewed with chicken and pork, tastes light and clean, and the two accompanying prawns are sweet and crunchy.
Compared with Park Palace, Yan has a smaller floor space. The dining room is more compact, with a row of mid-sized round tables running down the centre and flanked by two rows of booth seats that seat four or five persons comfortably. At the end is a semi-private area with bigger tables, as well as two private rooms. The attractions at Yan do not end with the food. Above the restaurant is a spacious rooftop bar and lounge called Smoke & Mirrors, which serves Chinese bar food supplied by the Yan kitchen. Relaxing at Smoke & Mirrors with a drink after a good dinner downstairs, looking at a vista of beautifully lit buildings studding Marina Bay, you cannot help but think: Life is good.
A version of this story was originally published in The Straits Times on November 1, 2015. For more stories like this, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.