The Makansutra forum monthly dinners are a great way to discover and enjoy good cze-char restaurants. When I heard that the March dinner was going to be at Wo Peng, I knew it was going to be good.
Crispy Fish Skin Hong Kong style - deep-fried eel skin accompanied with a superior stock dip (see bowl behind). The crackling fish skin is addictive enough on its own, but when infused with the tasty stock (let it soak a couple of seconds), it's a completely new sensation. Muted crispiness with a burst of savoury soup.
Cold Japanese Cucumber with Century Egg - this super-garlicky appetiser could be the best insurance against vampires, which may cause teenage girls to avoid this. It's quite salty, so mix it well with the cucumbers before eating.
Fried Prawns with Pepper & Salt - big, juicy crystal prawns coated with crispy bits, chopped garlic, spring onions and chillies. More salt than pepper here, but no complaints.
Smoked Golden Snapper Fish - incredibly rich and amazing smoked flavours! The smoky pungence comes through well but is not overpowering. The crisped exterior also lent texture to the tender flesh.
The fish is served with a very complementary sweet-sour spicy sauce, which I loved (it's spicy!). But you can also enjoy the fish on its own, to best savour the beautiful smoked flavours.
Blanched Live Clams in Superior Stock - clams so very fresh and tasty, soaking in a beautifully light broth. The plenitude of onions, spring onions and chives lent sweet fragrance to the very comforting stock. I'm glad they added tanghoon (clear vermicelli) to soak up the goodness. I drank it all off my plate.
Braised Pig Trotter with Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce - I was blown away by how tender and flavourful the meat was. The pieces hold their shape just long enough to make its way into your mouth, where it melts into divine succulence. I nearly wanted to order an extra portion to take home! Definitely one of the best pork trotters I've ever had.
At this point in time, one of the organisers Andrew took Ivan, Cheryl and I into the kitchen for a tour (ack, we missed out LeRoy who was in the other room!). I was honoured to meet Chef Julian Tam (far left), who has built up quite a reputation for superb culinary skills in Singapore and Guangzhou, China. He seems an affable, down-to-earth and soft-spoken man with no airs or pretensions.
It's a small space in the galley, as is typical of most Chinese kitchens, but efficient and fast-paced. I am always amazed at how humble little spaces can churn out such delicious things.
Look at the charcoal-grilled geese just glistening and beckoning! We had to stop our caveman instincts from making us grab and chomp on these immediately. So, back to our seats as these birds (specially flown in from Taiwan) got sliced up and served.
Charcoal-Grilled Goose - this is nothing short of a masterpiece. There were smoked flavours in this (especially the thigh areas) that made it taste like high-end ham. Interestingly, this goose comes with gravy - a well-spiced and savoury concoction that enhanced the smoky richness of the meat.
Stir-fried Vegetables with Lotus Root and Bamboo Pith - the vegetables were blanched just right, retaining that coveted crisp, crunchy texture. At first, I thought this was the most nondescript dish of the evening, but the superb taste of the gravy came through later. It was quite stunning and I wished there was more (or at least that more that coated the vegetables). The spongy bamboo pith was the most absorbent and soaked up the most gravy, making it extra tasty.
Fried Seafood Mee Sua - I think this delicate-tasting dish may have suffered waiting in the wings a little. By the time it was portioned out, it tasted a little cold and soggy. Loved the generous portions of crisp, large prawns though.
Panfried Red Bean Pancakes - the flaky pastry here is a little thick and doughy, but the smooth red bean paste within makes it a satisfactory dessert nonetheless.
It's been said that Wo Peng has so many good offerings, it's hard to identify their "signature" dishes. Many of the dishes are also not on the menu, so feel free to ask if they can whip up a specific item. You could also ask them to tailor some dishes to your budget (and preferences), based on the day's freshest ingredients. Generally, the food will not disappoint. However, note that Wo Peng does not serve the typical "flavours-in-your-face" cze-char. Chef Julian is not heavy-handed with sauces and instead seeks a finer balance of flavours.
Decor here is modestly no-frills (hey, we're all here for the food). But it's certainly cosy and comfortable enough for dinners big or small. The restaurant now occupies two shophouse units. Look out for the brightly lit signboard. However, parking is infamously difficult along Macpherson Road, so take advantage of the free valet parking service in front of the restaurant.
Warmest appreciation to the Makansutra organising team, especially Andrew and Tony, for arranging these delicious dinners month after month.
WO PENG RESTAURANT
476 Macpherson Road
Tel: 6747 9892 (reservations strongly recommended)
Open daily 11am - 3pm; 6pm - 10pm