I can’t tell you a lot about the Asian Civilisations Museum [better known as ACM] other than it is a beautiful, grand, white colonial building nestled right on the historic Singapore river. I do know that its mission is to preserve the cultural heritage of Asia, especially the ancestral cultures of Singaporeans, so there is an irony in that restaurant Empress is a truly modern Asian experience. Or more specifically, Chinese.
Chinese food never makes it to the top of our list when we think about our favourite cuisines. In all honesty it’s not even near the top, but given that this particular evening was planned by some friends & clearly we wouldn’t be so rude as to force our biases on others [?!?] we just grumbled a rather unenthusiastic yes & made the decision to give it a go. Boy, are we glad we did! It’s amazing how one fantastic meal can turn around all the previous years of misses & in this instance this is what Empress did for us & Chinese food.
First off, it’s a beautiful location. Right over from Boat Quay the restaurant sits on the Singapore river at the base of the beautiful museum. It’s a modern dining room & includes what looks like an impressive bar, although we can’t vouch for the cocktails given we settled straight towards our large, circular table with the mandatory Lazy Susan. Warm welcome, great view, beautiful dining room. Good start.
We handed the menu power to the same girl who had chosen the restaurant such was our levels of confidence by this point, and to her credit, she did an equally good job on the food order. We had an amazing spread of fish, meat, dumpling, vegetables & a few surprises which were almost entirely big hits.
We kicked off proceedings with some appetisers including beautiful, flavour-packed, delicate Siew Mai dumplings [prawn & pork], alongside chilled Japanese cucumbers which on paper doesn’t sound all that exciting and as they were a first for me I didn’t hold particularly high expectations. In the end I was left asking, “how the hell does anyone make a boring, wet, slippery cucumber taste like THAT?”. Crispy, garlicky, fresh little cucumber pieces doused in an aged vinaigrette. Real, positive surprise. After these little gems, we moved into the main events.
We chose the triple roast platter which comprised of Char Siew [barbequed pork], Crackling Roast Pork & Sticky, Sweet Pork Ribs. This was perhaps the weakest of all our dishes due simply to the amount of fat that sat around the Char Siew and Roast Pork. I like a good bit of crackling & some juicy fat to accompany my meat but in this instance it was definitely fat first, and then a hunt for any meat. The Ribs however were a knockout. On a more positive note, we chose the Braised Australian Beef Cheeks that were AMAZING. Rich, sticky, deep in flavour & tumbling apart. The Lazy Susan became a battle of strength when these hit the table. To remain on the highs we also enjoyed their signature Singapore Chilli Crab accompanied with Golden Mantou Buns. This was delicious with the chilli crab put through the sauce, avoiding the awkward, messy battle that you tend to endure with big claws and shells. Within the sauce were big juicy prawns. In typical fashion the little buns came with it to mop up juices & they were fresh, warm, bouncy little balls of dough.
As if this meat & fish feat wasn’t enough we ordered the obligatory Roast Duck [we chose half for the table]. It arrived beautifully to our table whole, shining in its crispy shell, all ready to be masterfully dissected by the chef at our table. Alongside it came the basket of warm pancakes & all the goodies that you would expect & it was an absolute treat. Sure, we don’t normally like Chinese but who doesn’t like crispy duck pancakes?
We also had the Dragons Breath Angus Beef Hor Fun which was a spicy, meaty dry fried rice noodle dish which as you would expect packed a real punch alongside the thick, slippery noodles. We did also balance these generous, meaty, carby treats with some veg all of which were perfectly cooked & fresh.
I would strongly recommend Empress to anyone that fancies a different, modern take on Chinese. The food was fabulous & we had a lot of fun. It was also surprisingly good value. We had a good few bottles of really tasty Chablis & Malbec, which as any Singaporean will know tends to kick the bill into the stratosphere but it was fairly priced & we left full of wonderful food, good wine, lots of laughs & the wallet wasn’t screaming at us. Get yourselves down there & let us know what the museum is like if you find time.
Empress, 1 Empress Place, #01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum