This is the last restaurant I ate in before I was knocked out by dengue and a severe skin conditionÂ last November so for my birthday, it’s imperative that I come back here to obliterate those bad memories.
Tao Yuan is one of those restaurants that I rank right up there with Peking Garden and Choi’s Garden. But getting here requires logistical planning: it’s located in Manila (one of the few places that I’m a headless chicken in), so I call on the utmost navigational and driving skills of my Bin or my sister, two people in my life who were born with a compass in their heads. Tao Yuan is also a place, in my opinion at least, where I have to eat with a large group. There are just too many things on the menu that tantalize and to commit to only one or two because of limited stomach space and/or people to share it with is a shame indeed.
Unlike my other two exemplars of Chinese cuisine, Tao Yuan specializes in Singaporean cuisine but it does serve some good Chinese dimsum on the side ”“ my nephews are enamored with the shrimp hofan and taro puff and the Chinese hotpot begs to be tried.
Much has been made about the restaurant’s chicken rice, nailing claims that it’s “the best in Manila!” and so on. I don’t agree but that’s the beauty in diversity. The first time we order the chicken rice, it’s so bony that I’m convinced the chicken was anorexic in its previous life and the second time that we’re here, the chicken rice never arrives – the rice does but not the chicken. After several follow-ups, the staff tells us ”“ 45 minutes later ”“ that they’ve run out. Eh. Still, readers of this website know which chicken rice I consider the best.
The cereal prawns never disappoint. Each prawn is breaded and fried lightly so that the coating comes off easily when bitten, revealing the moist white meat underneath. Be careful to remove the head before munching commences! Of course I love the cereal coating-slash-crumbs that I shovel up with a spoon and into my mouth. I usually have to fight with my two sisters over who gets the remaining tasty bits but because it’s my birthday (and I’m paying the bill), they grudgingly give in.
The lapu-lapu with mango sauce is a dish that two well-known foodies insist I try. A deep-fried fish fresh from the tanks, its mouth shut in mute protestation, sits on a chili and fruit bed, its back slathered in a citrus cover, julienned mango ”“ green and yellow ”“ with red bell pepper strips for color contrast. Wansoy is a sparkling taste touch to the tang and soft fish flesh, the dish in its entirety a multi-dimensional assault in terms of taste and texture, color too. This fare reminds me of similar ones in Abe, Kanin Club , and Mesa, fish dishes that are butterflied and served with a piquant sauce. Mesa even goes one step further by deboning and slicing the fish for its guests.
Of course we don’t forget the Chili Crab, so vivid in its orange color that it’s no wonder why it’s considered a close relative of the color red. This is food that requires one to get dirty and Tao Yuan thoughtfully provides steel crab crackers and wet towelettes. Though the sauce is nowhere near as spicy as I’d like and I have issues with its surfeit of tomato flavor tones, this is definitely better than the crab I have at No SignBoard in Singapore earlier this year. A big come-on for this dish are the mantou buns, delightfully doughy squares kissed in hot oil until they become gold. My brother in law, who isn’t a food lover, loves these buns dipped in the crab sauce. Without warning, he procures the last bun to finish off the last of the sauce on his plate. I’m so amused that I forget to offer mock protest.
This is my birthday noodle dish: seafood hofan in wet sauce. There’s a dry version and a beef variant too. I choose this because I’m tired of those so-called “birthday noodles” at Chinese restaurants in the same way I am with Yang Chow fried rice. Enough already with those! I don’t like to stick to what I know, at least food-wise, and I believe that waiters are thankful for adventurous diners. My nephew, the shrimp hofan lover, lights up when I scoop up a spoonful of the noodles buried under the viscous sauce. He tries it but is dismayed by the “slippery-ness” of the noodles and sauce and the somewhat off-putting color. But we adults like it, it’s got that particular “Chinese taste” that I associate with spectacular noodle dishes. I’m inept at trying to describe it but if you really like Chinese food, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Another good thing to try here are the Singaporean pork ribs. They’re not on the menu but our server’s eyes brighten when my sister orders it.
Tao Yuan is not cheap; the cereal prawns alone are P1,800/plate. This is a restaurant that hews strictly to the classification,“special occasion joints”: anniversaries, promotions, and in my case, a birthday. Save up or split the bill with some good friends or family members and enjoy a memorable meal.
508-512 General Malvar St. cor. A Mabini St., Malate
522-7009, 0917-8191372 and 0908-5696739.
Reservations are highly recommended.