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Chinese soul food

Samantha Chiew
Samantha Chiew • 5 min read
Chinese soul food
Yue Bai’s interior design is inspired by “Ballad of the Lute”, a poem by Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi. Photos: Yue Bai
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At Yue Bai, Chef Lee Hongwei’s cooking is influenced by traditional Chinese dietary therapy to ensure a genuinely nutritious menu

Not only the moon has captivated artists through the ages, it has also inspired local chef Lee Hongwei, who named his new restaurant Yue Bai — a term used to describe the colour of moonlight in Chinese literature.

Helmed by chef Lee, Yue Bai is a modern Chinese restaurant located on Duxton Road that evokes the familiarity of home through refreshing renditions of Chinese heritage dishes grounded on ancient traditions of nourishment for the body.

His cuisine is led by principles of traditional Chinese dietary therapy interpreted through modern perspectives. Steeped in Chinese art, literature, and philosophy, the chef’s passion for his native culture led him to its gastronomy. The Chinese kitchen became the crucible where he honed his skills, knowledge and leadership.

The Chinese believe that food not only fills the stomach but also serves to nourish the entire body. Food embodies properties — warm, hot, cold and relaxed — and the five flavours — spicy, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Different ingredients, preparations, and recipes are used depending on the body’s constitution and the season, as elaborated in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine — a text that laid the foundation for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Within TCM is a branch known as dietary therapy, which includes the ancient principles of the five flavours. This doctrine draws from a natural larder encompassing meat, vegetable, fruit, grain, nut, dairy, liquor, and wine. Food is classified as “heaty” and “cooling”.

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With this as the foundation, chef Lee crafts a delightful menu of balanced dishes and familiar flavours, delivering holistic wellness for the mind and body.

Options had the opportunity to dine at Yue Bai, and even before savouring the food, we were awed by the restaurant’s interior. It echoes the nostalgic feel of a traditional tea house, sporting a subdued yet lustrous palette that evokes the quality of moonlight, with pale wood in panels, latticework, and walls of cream-textured plaster. Chef Lee draws his inspiration for the interior from “Ballad of the Lute”, a poem by renowned Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi.

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An array of appetisers

For the food, we enjoyed the Crispy Burdock, Sesame, Spice Powder ($14), an appetiser of deep-fried slices of burdock tossed with sesame seeds and seven-spice powder. This addictive, crunchy and earthy snack helps lower blood sugar and increase satiety with its high fibre content. We also tried the Roselle Flower-infused Winter Melon ($12), a tart and sweet dish to whet the appetite and reduce cholesterol and blood pressure.

Next, we were served the Australian Lamb Jelly, Black Bean, Passionfruit-infused Pumpkin ($22), a classic Teochew dish prepared using traditional methods. Lamb is considered a “heaty” ingredient that warms the kidney and boosts one’s yang energy. Complementing the lamb is pumpkin, which regulates blood circulation and clears internal dampness. We also had the Deep-fried Organic Purple Rice Cake, XO Sauce, Rice Puff, and Spring Onion ($16), a favourite of mine, which features aromatic and nutty organic purple rice from Taiwan that warms the spleen and stomach.

Before the mains, we were served the Double-boiled Silkie Chicken Soup, Jasmine Flower, Dried Longan, and Wolfberries ($22). This aromatic soup, thanks to the Jasmine flowers, is said to help calm one’s mood, while the longan and wolfberry sweeten the soup and help to nourish the body.

The Crisp-fried Pork Cartilage, Xin Hui Orange Sauce, and Crispy Tofu Ring ($38) was a unique dish that chef Lee created following a trip to Xinhui in Guangdong, China. Here, he uses aged mandarin peels from Xinhui in chicken stock to braise the pork cartilage. This is then deep-fried and finished off with a mandarin peel sauce. Dried mandarin peel is said to nourish the spleen and lungs, and its citrus notes balance out the richness of the pork cartilage.

We tried chef Lee’s interpretation of the popular cereal prawn dish — Yue Bai’s Deep-fried Granola Prawn, Beetroot ($36), which features flash-fried prawns coated with housemade granola comprising rolled oats, pecans, and wolfberries. The prawns are served with ribbons of beetroot.

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Stir-fried Lotus Root, Fuji Apple, Corn Kernel, Pumpkin Seeds, and Dried Shrimp

For greens, we had the Braised Baby Sharp Spinach with Yellow Millet and Wolfberries ($18) and Stir-fried Lotus Root, Fuji Apple, Corn Kernel, Pumpkin Seeds, and Dried Shrimp ($24), both of which showcases chef Lee’s culinary expertise and his deep knowledge of Chinese cuisine.

Herbal Poached Rice, Atlantic Cod, Black Fungus

We finished with carbs: Herbal Poached Rice, Atlantic Cod, Black Fungus ($38) and Braised Hokkien Hutou Vermicelli ($35). The poached rice dish is another favourite of mine, as the silky cod fish is served in a comforting warm fish broth with a splash of Shaoxing wine.

The vermicelli dish pays tribute to chef Lee’s childhood when his grandmother would prepare a similar dish. Here, chef Lee braises Hutou rice vermicelli noodles from Anhui, Fuijian, in superior chicken stock with abalone, sea cucumber, Chinese mushrooms, Chinese chives, and beansprouts. This is served with dried sole fish crumble and crisp Henghwa first harvest black seaweed to impart some umami and minerality.

For dessert, the House-made Beancurd with Hashima ($38) was a unique one, served with pi pa gao syrup on the side, giving a sweet and cooling touch to the dish. We also had the Crispy Black Sesame Mochi ($12) served with osmanthus sugar on the side.

Overall, it was a great dining experience, as both the restaurant’s food and interior were impressive and comforting. The restaurant has a seating capacity of 42 and a private dining room of 10.

YUE BAI
33 Duxton Road
Singapore 089497
Contact: Tel: +65 9721 8055
Email: [email protected]

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Sundays 11.45am–3pm (last order 2.15pm); 5.45pm–10pm (last order 9.15 pm)
Closed on Mondays, except on public holidays

Photos: Yue Bai

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