Xiyan Singapore (A revisit)

collageXiyan has excellent service. However, like all the king’s men and horses in the Humpty Dumpty Incident, even the finest service staff in Singapore could not save the dismal cooking.

It all started out a month ago when an arrangement was made with Xi Yan to host the next Coterie dinner. This is because we had a pleasant experience the last time. Unfortunately, two days before the dinner, an urgent email was sent to everyone saying that Xi Yan now wanted to charge corkage unless we take their more expensive set dinner or the cheaper set dinner (with a reduced menu) and we buy a bottle from them.

Needless to say this caused a small uproar that ended up with the Coterie insisting that Xi Yan honor their original agreement or they will lose our custom (three tables on a Saturday night). The final offer was a modified menu with a slightly higher price than the cheaper menu but no corkage. A suggestion for a tip was also included. Not wanting to cause anymore stress to our esteemed organizer, we agreed.

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The dining room was as we remembered; Elegant with nice fixtures and paintings. The wines were being decanted and tasted as we arrived.

There was a slight delay because some people were late and while there was an excellent Chardonnay (buttery yet refreshingly crisp), we got hungry.

Cold King Prawns with duo sauces

The dinner started with four appetizers, one of which was the Cold King Prawn with Dual Sauces. One of the nice things about dining at Xiyan is the service staff is well-trained and can describe each dish and the motivation behind it very well.

And for the Cold King Prawns, the prawns were blanched in hot water for about three minutes to preserve the freshness.

Cold King Prawns with duo sauces Cold King Prawns with duo sauces

I have a serious problem with prawns. I do not like them because cooked in a certain way, the smell triggers a bad reaction from me. However the prawns that night looked ok and had none of the odour that sets me off. So I tried two (yes, two!) prawns. One for each sauce which was mint and a very light sambal chilli dip.

Both was good. Each sauce brought out the texture of the fleshy but firm. I was very thankful for not having a bad reaction.

Japanese Tomatoes in Sesame Sauce Japanese Tomatoes in Sesame Sauce

Organic Japanese Tomatoes grown in a Greenhouse gives a sweeter and fresher taste, explained Leonard, our waiter. The Wasabi Sesame sauce is the perfect compliment to these tomatoes. I could not agree more. The delicious chunk whetted the already growling appetite even more.

Here’s a trick question: Is a Tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

The thing is, a vegetable is an edible plant and a plant has stems (usually), roots, flowers and… fruits. 😉

This was amusing for a while until the next appetizer was served.

Spicy Shishamo with XO Teriyaki Sauce

I was surprised to learn that many on my table did not know what Shishamo (River smelt, usually female, filled with roe) was. This is because I love this fish. I like deep fried anything that I can eat from head to tail. This was done with XO sauce that gave it a spicy note. Sprinkled around were green peppers that was supposed to go with the Shishamo.

Spicy Shishamo with XO Teriyaki Sauce

The Shishamo gave some people problems as it left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth. My problem was that the “toasted” green peppers did not taste toasted at all. There was none of that burnt “wok hei” taste that would bring out the peppery taste.

Cold Tofu Pork Floss

Cold tofu is refreshing. Unfortunately, the tofu that came out was at room temperature, so the texture diminished somewhat. The salted egg yolk may have helped, but someone took the whole chunk for himself, so I could not tell.

The cold pork floss could have been better if it was fried before being heaped on top of the tofu.

(Wagyu) Ribeye on Garden Green (Wagyu) Ribeye on Garden Green

The Wagyu Ribeye was the first of the main courses. It was a disappointment. Firstly, the presentation was haphazard, cubes of beef heaped on some carelessly spread lettuce seems so unrefined.

Secondly, the famous “wok hei” that Xiyan is famous for is missing. There is nothing like a medium rare Wagyu beef with that slightly smokey taste on the outside. Fortunately, the Wagyu quality (barely) shone through the poor handling and the mint and Wasabi Sesame sauces were reused for this dish.

Salivating Chicken

The “Salivating Chicken” is Xiyan’s signature dish. Rightfully so as it has remained a regular on the menu for the past year. And the last time we had it, we were blown away.

The distasteful name “Salivating Chicken” is a direct translation from the Chinese. The meaning is that it was so good that people will start salivating at the sight of it.

Salivating Chicken

Unfortunately, this time there was barely a dribble. The peanuts and sesame seeds were not toasted to release the flavours and the noodles were changed from a chewy Soba to a limp, lifeless noodle. The flavours were not integrated at all.

The key ingredient, the Sesame paste was missing. The last time we had this, it was this paste that successfully held together all the ingredients into a harmonious blend.

This time, it fell apart; the center did not hold.

Sichuan Style Spicy Crabs Sichuan Style Spicy Crabs

Next up was the Spicy Sichuan Style Crabs. Not being a crab person, I took a piece and was offered the Crab shell filled with roe.

This was done like a Kung Pao Chicken with the dried Chillies. I was told that crabs have a sweet subtle taste, so I guess what everyone could taste was dried chillies. The true test for whether the “Kung Pao” was done properly was to chew on the dried chilli. It should have that burnt caramelized taste with a complex peppery-ness to it.

This did not have it. It was bland and all you could taste was a straight-forward spiciness which overwhelmed everything, including the roe. This was the most tasteless crab roe I have ever had.

Steamed Lobster on Hor Fan (Rice Noodles)

The Steamed Lobster on Hor Fan (Rice Noodles) fared slightly better. The pickled Olive and black bean paste and the lobster flavours were well integrated into the noodles.

Steamed Lobster on Hor Fan (Rice Noodles)

The Lobster itself was soft and buttery, especially after having tasted the emeciated crab.

The Basil Sorbet that came after was delicious. Intensely citric with a refreshing herbal undertone. We had to have more, so an extra order was dispatched to the kitchen.

Basil Sorbet

Unfortunately, in our greed fervent research, we overdosed on it and we could not taste the wines that came after because everything tasted bitter. Crap.

What we could taste was the invigorating coconut chicken soup.

Coconut Chicken Soup

Fresh-tasting and it actually washed away the bitterness of the basil sorbet. The strips of coconut added a dimension of texture and sweetness to the soup.

Finally, the last course was the “Young and Old News”. The “Young” being the Dou Miao (Bean Sprouts) and the “Old” being the preserved Cabbage.

Young and Old Happy News

This was a huge disappointment. Soggy and limp with none of the “wok hei” that is essential to elevating a simple dish to stratospheric heights.

Dessert was such a low-point that I won’t even talk about it.


This dinner at Xiyan was a huge disappointment food-wise. As many of us were not first-time visitors, we have a basis for comparision. In fact, we were fans of the place, I mean while the food and ingredients used were inexpensive, we were still happy to pay for the first dinner at Xiyan because the previous Chef excelled in his control of the flavours and the fire. It was spectacular for us. Unfortunately, with the current Chef, dinner was nothing more than an exercise in throwing together food and hoping for the best. Even if the finest ingredients were used, it was wasted.

What’s more, the last minute, penny-wise pound-foolish attempt to increase the price and the Eleventh hour downgrade of the menu made us wonder what Xiyan Singapore’s long term strategy is and whether should we even bother to make an attempt at figuring that strategy out.

Posted on 23rd Oct 2006 in Asian, Cantonese, Coterie de Dionysus, Food and Drink, Fusion


There Are 10 Comments


umami commented on October 23, 2006 at 2:38 am

I was telling my family what a big sacrifice it was for me to attend our cousin’s wedding banquet last night, you know, because I was missing out on XiYan. Now I feel a little better, although I would still take a not great XiYan dinner over the atrocious meal that was served at the Shangri-La ballroom last night.


ivn commented on October 23, 2006 at 11:28 am

Wah… must be bad for you to call it atrocious. I think we were more upset at what was seen as a betrayal of our trust. And of course, if they want to charge such prices, they will be subject to a matching review standard.


kalos commented on October 23, 2006 at 10:07 pm

I think it was a lack of foresight of them to wanna charge you cockage and increase the price and all…wonder what was the management thinking?? hmmm…wonder how much did the whole meal cost per table?


hinata commented on October 27, 2006 at 3:08 pm

yah the menu change is definitely shocking… if management can be so anal about a few dollars here and there, just imagine how they might be cutting corners in the kitchen o_O


Ivan commented on October 28, 2006 at 9:36 pm

Yes, and did I mention that we had to use our own wine glasses instead of theirs?

We had to use our own glasses!


Jimbo commented on October 29, 2006 at 3:35 am

My personal opinion, there’s nothing wrong with charging corkages. Maybe not if you’re really regular at a place. But in all fairness, one shouldn’t demand or expect waiver of corkages. Waivers are with compliments. Just my 2 cents worth. :0)


Ivan commented on October 29, 2006 at 10:56 am

It’s not about corkage here. It’s about honoring an agreement made in advance. Corkage was agreed by both parties to be waived. The last minute change on Xiyan’s part was a great shock.

To actually accept a reduced menu that was not in the agreement shows how far we were willing to extend the Olive branch to Xiyan.

In all sincerity, I hope that it was just an oversight on the Owner’s part and that the Event Manager will not attempt this again.


eatzycath commented on November 1, 2006 at 9:54 pm

oh no…. I’m having dinner at Xi Yan tomorrow night and was so looking forward to it after two previous pleasant experiences last year — I’m hoping very hard that I will not be too disappointed!


Ivan commented on November 2, 2006 at 12:21 am

I do hope my experience was a one-off bad day for the Chef. At least the service was excellent.

I feel you are an accomplished cook, so why not do a food cost to value analysis when you are there?

And do take more of those wonderful photos that are the hallmark of your blog!


food.recentrunes.com » Blog Archive » A Round-up of 2006 commented on January 7, 2007 at 1:33 am

[…] 3. Xiyan […]

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