I had no idea who Chris Donnellan was until my Best Friend and I went to Ding Dong and were presented with the grim news that their usual menu was replaced with the said guest chefs’ specials. I was miffed! We were presented with an A5 paper and there were dishes I had never heard before. Crucially, they were not the dishes I had in mind. I am not big on spontaneous activities, and I was so looking forward to the Vietnamese Scotch Eggs and Red Curry Wagyu Beef. My Best Friend, on the other hand, was extremely game and swiftly ordered the $75++ per head “Feed Me” menu.
At the end of the meal, I felt sorely embarrassed to have kicked up a fuss about the limited options for Chris Donnellans’ dishes were impressive! When compared with the usual Ding Dong menu, I honestly think we got a better deal. There were six dishes that evening and each portion was small but I was extremely grateful to not end the night with an overbearing stuffed tummy. Overall, there were more hits than misses. The “missed” dishes were only due to an overload of seasoning. But the playful pairing of textures and flavours made for an exciting meal. So without further ado, let me show you what we had that evening.
Betel Leaf with Hand Picked Crab, Pomelo, Fried Shallots and Sweet & Sour Tamarind Dressing
This was a refreshing start. Fresh juicy pomelo with shredded crab topped with a small piece of cucumber, and the hot shallots provided a wonderful burnt aroma. These combinations on its own would have been mild but was fortunately amped up by the Betal leaf which gave it a herbicuous and peppery punch. It was the unique tasting leaf that made this dish exciting. Although, shame about the muted Sour Tamarind dressing but the lack of it meant this first dish was devoured cleanly without dressing dripping down our arms.
Next up, two dishes arrived together: Banh Trang Nuong – Grilled Rice Paper with Pork Mince, Dried Shrimp, Chilli Jam, Quail Eggs and Spring Onion & Duck and Shitake Dumpling with Spiced Duck Broth, Enoki Mushrooms and Black Beans
The grilled rice paper “pancake” was my second favourite of the evening! Grilling the Vietnamese rice paper was a genius idea! I usually eat it soggy but I saw the kitchen downstairs lay the rice paper over a small charcoal grill, placed the minced pork stuffing on it, and poured beaten quail eggs on top towards the end. The grilled rice paper was so thin and crispy, and contrasted with the juicy minced pork mixture. My only complain would be chilli jam not spicy enough.
Duck and Shitake Dumpling with Spiced Duck Broth, Enoki Mushrooms and Black Beans
I loved this dish for the rich and smooth duck broth that was a little sweet, the generous densed dumpling filling, and the bold take on an Asian classic. But I didn’t like that each person was only served two pieces; I could not get enough! I was also unable to appreciate the game-y duck taste (but I was told that was the usual braised duck taste). However I thoroughly enjoyed this dish mostly because duck dumplings are rarely seen and the double duck combination was so hearty.
Crispy Fried Duck Leg and Banana Blossom Salad with Nuoc Cham and Thai Basil
This was the biggest “miss” of the evening, and it was the generous fish sauce that killed this dish; all I could taste was the saltiness. My tongue was so dehydrated and craved for water within two bites of this salad. When I did attempt to “dry” the duck from the sauce, it was a joy! The duck skin was crispy with tons of fat underneath. The duck meat was fortunately not dry. But the banana blossom was lost on me; I honestly thought I was just eating a green papaya salad.
Slow Cooked Beef Cheeks with Peanuts, Hot & Sour Coconut and Mint Salad
This was my favourite of the evening and one I still think about, two days later!!! Extremely tender beef cheeks was drowned in a thick peanut and dark soy sauce-rich gravy. It was also strangely sweet. The best part was the unusual pairing of the slightly grilled coconut flesh with the beef cheeks. The coconut successfully cut across the richness of the beef. My oh my, what a splendid dish and wonderful end to the savouries. This dish was served alongside Japanese Rice. I want to come back just for this dish!
This was not stellar which was a shame considering the usual Ding Dong menu had a highly raved Malacca Chendol dessert. Still those round white mashmallow-looking Parfaits was essentially vanilla ice-cream coated with toasted coconut; so delicious! The berries compote could have been more tangy and the white chocolate raspberry shards were a tad random. It was rather disappointing but did not make me forget the wonderful savouries before.
I would go back to Ding Dong. The Western take on Asian flavours is extremely exciting. Asian Fusion seems to have such a bad rap but I see it as Globalisation. The Western take is such a nice change from the usual stir-fried or deep-fried options in Chinese restaurants.
I read around the internet that Ding Dong’s food was very much just pricier “street food”. Rubbish! Maxwell Food Centre on the next road sure does not serve up food like that. And I have four food poisoning episodes to prove to you that Ding Dong is nothing like street food.