Cafébiz – 1A
For this month alone, the trader’s hotel by Shangri-La has flown in guest chefs from Shangri-La Chiang Mai to spice up its buffet spread at Cafebiz. This restaurant has always had an eclectic and extensive spread catering to western tourists’ cautious appetite for Asian exotica. This was reflected in the Thai additions to its selection which – while authentic – were obviously watered down in terms of spice. That said, for $53 per person for Sunday dinner, this is well worth checking out.
Starting off with soups, the Tom Yam Kung was the only thing that satisfied my appetite for spice with numerous potent little chilli padis swimming about with crunchy, sweet prawns when I stirred the massive tureen. The creamy and rich Fish Chowder existed mainly to quell the flames of its spicier counterpart as it itself was unremarkable with a mild flavour and only tiny, stray chunks of fish.
For my first round at the buffet table, I started off with the two quintessential Thai staples; Pineapple Rice and Phad
Thord Man Pla (Thai Fish Cake) always has a wonderful medley of flavours from the spice mixture used that typically contains a generous amount of fragrant lemongrass and coriander. This version lacked that lip-smacking spicy kick and was a little on the dry side; a Thai chilli-sauce accompaniment could have easily remedied both problems.
Kra Pro Nue (Stir-Fried Beef with Basil Leaves) comprised tender strips of meat well-infused with a sauce that was the veritable embodiment of lovely basil flavour which also breathed new life into the hitherto bland pineapple rice.
The Thai Curried Prawns were rather large and perfectly cooked to a yielding crunch though the sauce had a little too much coconut milk. Pla Kapong Rad Prik (
A buffet spread is sadly never complete without the ubiquitous Stir Fried Mixed Vegetables, which was bland – as always – despite having an alternate moniker of Pad Pak Ruamit. The Gratinated Oysters were overcooked and hard, rather tragic for they were massive specimens which would have been phenomenal if treated right.
I was somewhat surprised to discover Vegetable Jalfrezy and Dal Makhani amidst the myriad for they are lesser-known Indian dishes compared to typical chicken or fish-head curry. They were decently executed though, the Jalfrezy was a good balance of spicy and sour while the Dal was rich and creamy if a little undercooked.
Eggplant in Tomato Sauce completed my first round of dishes with a blandness that was made even starker by the intense flavours of the Thai and Indian food.
The Char Siew Pau was so good it warranted a second helping. Chock full of generous strips of lean yet tender meat napped in a deliciously caramelly sauce, it was an indicator of how the Chinese chefs at Cafebiz really know their stuff. The dim sum offerings were of a similarly high standard with diminutive Siew Mai served ingeniously and deliciously with a sweet sauce more commonly seen alongside fried liver rolls.
I am not usually a fan of Kueh Pai Tee (too messy for this neurotic) but the intriguing minced-meat topping as opposed to the usual turnip-carrot mixture won me over.
In an obscure corner next to the untouched breads lay two unlabelled items (my pet peeve after bad service): a massive Baked Fish and Crispy Rice Balls. The former was crisp and meaty with a trace of fishiness that was masked by an excellent Thai Chilli Sauce. The latter was coated with an interesting sweet and piquant glaze but was a little on the hard side. A messily explosive crunch also sent bits flying in all directions should one attempt to cut it.
From the salad station, the Yam Hed Kem Thang Goong Sod (Spicy Enoki Mushrooms with Shrimp) was simple and pleasant though the prawns were a little overcooked and lacking heat overall. The signature Tam Ma Maung (Thai Green Mango Salad) delivered a good hit of spice though the fruit was perhaps a little tired and was more soft than crunchy. Yum Nua (thai Beef Salad) was very flavourful with a good sour tang that complimented the lightly spiced beef while the Larb Gai (Spicy Minced Chicken) was a little tough but redeemed by the texture of glass noodles which I just adore.
The Stir Fried Squid with Vegetables in Abalone Sauce was rather tough and the rich sauce turned out to be quite bland; one of the more disappointing dishes in the spread. The Braised Beef Rib Bourguignon was a valiant attempt though a longer braising period would have allowed the flavour of the red wine sauce to better meld with the meat.
The Chiangmai Curry Noodles from the noodle station are not diet friendly. Springy rice noodles in a decadent gravy that was not only sugary but extremely rich from a rather heavy handed use of coconut milk. Beware of whiplash!
A second trip to the noodle station yielded a bowl of Fish Vermicelli that revived my palate with its delightfully sour stock and a touch of magic in the form of Thai fish sauce. Light, flavourful and satisfying; this would be the kind of Thai fare I appreciate!
Adjacent to the noodles was the Chinese roast station which did not disappoint. The Roast Pork had an excellent crisp skin and the Roast Duck had good, gamey flavour accentuated classically with Hoisin sauce.
Conversely, Indian tandoori meats were a disappointment; the Fish Tikka was bone-dry, tough and fishy-smelling while the Chicken Tikka was marginally moister. The Roti Prata was also sacrilegiously stale, cold and chewy. Skip the pickles too if you have a nose as sensitive as mine for while it was rich with the flavour of dried prawns, it takes a little more than that to mitigate the overpowering odour of stale, sweaty socks in my book.
Another must-have at any buffet would be a token range of sushi and salmon sashimi. While not bad, the sushi was unremarkable and largely untouched with guests understandably reserving their appetites for the more enticing offerings and dessert.
Finally, I arrived at the desserts which were disappointingly more Nonya-themed than
The Blueberry Mousse had a harmonious taste combination of tartness, sweetness and creaminess but the textures of too-liquid mousse and hard sponge did not accord a good mouthfeel. The Caramel Custard Layer Cake was simpler in comparison and very good if one overlooked its almost overpowering sweetness.
The Rainbow Kueh was gorgeous with the trademark slightly sticky texture and starchy-caramel smell; it brought back memories of my childhood as I ate it layer by layer.
The Steamed Tapioca with Coconut Milk was not too sweet and was perfectly suited to my preference as one added one’s own coconut milk. The loose Mango Pudding was the typical Chinese restaurant incarnation which was merely missing a side of evaporated milk. The Durian Pengat was a potent one with both a flavour and smell that knocked me off my feet.
The Pistachio Financier was a lovely, buttery and dense pound cake that had a good, strong pistachio flavour. Finally, the nonya cakes were finished off with the Banana Cream-Jelly Confection I’ll never quite appreciate due to its odd texture.
The dessert station was completed with a wide array of “jello shots” in all shapes and sizes. The Mango Pudding paled in comparison to its loose counterpart with a chemical aster aftertaste and little real flavour. The Herbal Jelly was a little too authentic for comfort, I found the bitterness to be initially interesting but it became unpleasant once the novelty wore off. The Tiramisu was delightfully creamy if a little soggy at the base while the Custard Cream was pleasantly rich and eggy. Finally, the Coconut Sago had a most disconcerting chemical flavour; I didn’t eat much of the creepy stuff.