It was a sad day indeed for Singapore’s private dining scene when one of its pioneers, Xi Yan, closed its flagship outlet in Craig Road. Founded in 2005 by Hong Kong celeb chef Jacky Yu, the Chinese restaurant fast became iconic for its refreshing takes on Asian fusion fare. But thanks to killer rental costs, Xi Yan served its last meal in February this year, leaving behind two casual dining offshoots in Shaw Centre and Katong.
More than six months later, however, Xi Yan is back with a bang. It’s found itself a new home in the refurbished Maxwell Chambers Suites, a 90-year-old heritage building that once housed the Red Dot Museum. Whitewashed and restored with historical features, this grande dame exudes old-school colonial charm. It’s a lovely setting for Xi Yan’s reinventions of traditional cuisine, if an unusual one − with most of the building comprising office space, the restaurant is the odd man out.
Make it through the little maze of offices and you’ll find a gastronomic gem. Long and warm with orange accents, the restaurant is partitioned in three: one enclosed room for private dining, plus two semi-enclosed rooms for general dining. There’s also a bar out front, well-stocked with rare wines and Chinese tapas. Dishes offered number well into the hundreds, from curated chef menus for private dining (from S$70++ per pax) to à la carte favourites for casual diners.
The Xi Yan Platter Delights is a signature starter on the Chef Menus, and it’s easy to see why. The platter presents an artful trio of bites, each a testament to Xi Yan’s adventurous culinary spirit. We’re advised to work right to left, beginning with the salmon − seasoned with sake and slow-cooked to incredible tenderness. Next up is the shredded duck salad, sweetly infused with apple to leaven the savoury meats. Then, an artistic deep-fried ‘cake’ of taro paste with an umami-rich centre of dried oyster. The latter two prove messy to eat, but hey, that’s part of the fun.
The Black Truffle Roast Chicken and Grilled Honeyed Pork Collar with Thai Sauce both showcase chef Jacky’s flair for the fusional. No self-respecting Chinese restaurant lacks for good roast chicken, but Xi Yan’s European twist produces some truly marvellous meat. The chicken is shredded to infuse every inch with oaky, aromatic truffle − each and every mouthful is worth savouring. The pork collar provides another luscious burst of flavours, glazed with sweet Thai sauce and set off with zesty bits of lime.
Xi Yan is no slouch on the seafood either. We enjoy digging into the Seafood Pot with Bamboo Leaf Wine and Japanese Quince, a treasure pot of clams, prawns, and crab claws simmered in rich buttery broth. You’ll have to do the hard work of de-shelling them yourself, but the reward is some sweet, succulent flesh. No such pains needed with the Steamed Prawn Balls, which sit satisfyingly plump in a silky egg-white pudding.
One nostalgic Xi Yan classic which was a bit of an acquired taste was the Hakka Yam Abacus With Sea Cucumber, a dish you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else in Singapore. The seeds themselves are more firm than chewy, and the yam flavour doesn’t quite come through as much as we’d like. But they come garnished with an enjoyable mix of dried shrimp, mushrooms, and sea cucumber, which more than make up for it in fragrance and crunch.
We finish up with a reinvented dessert, the signature Salted Yolk Custard Tang Yuan. Think velvety tang yuans bob in a ginger soup that packs quite the punch of spice, while the smooth paste inside is a cross-Chinese reunion of traditional notes − peanut and sesame − with fresh flavours of salted yolk and winter melon. It’s more of Xi Yan’s fusional magic, and we couldn’t wish for a better way to round off a delightful meal.
Xi Yan Maxwell is located at 28 Maxwell Rd, #01-15/17 Maxwell Chambers Suites, Singapore 069120, p. +65 6220 3546. Open daily 11am − 3pm and 5.30pm − 10.30pm.