Celebrating Lunar New Year with a Southeast Asian flair

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DEEP FRIED boneless chicken, deep-fried pork rib, and steamed barramundi platter

CELEBRATE Lunar New Year with a Chinese spread served with Southeast Asian flair as Waterfront Manila Pavilion offers a New Year buffet on Feb. 16 with dishes from the hotel’s former Peony Garden Restaurant.

The restaurant was known for “authentic Cantonese cuisine with a subtle Malaysian touch of flavor,” according a press release. This year, Singaporean chef Maurice Toh, the hotel’s executive chef, brings back those well-loved dishes — the double-boiled pumpkin seafood soup and the hot and sour Szechuan soup, for instance — alongside several dishes that represent his ​Southeast Asian roots.

During a media preview on Feb. 1, the dinner opened with Crispy prawn spring rolls with mango sauce, which was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time as the mango sauce — a departure from the usual sweet and sour — was light and fruitier, complementing the prawn’s slightly buttery and sweet taste.

This was followed by Peony Garden’s double-boiled pumpkin seafood soup served with an ample amount of seafood. Much like the spring rolls, the soup was light and refreshing likely done in preparation for the more complex flavors to come as the main dishes were a tripartite plate featuring steamed barramundi with Jiang Zheng sauce, deep-fried boneless chicken with sweet and spicy chili, and deep-fried pork rib with honey sauce.

This was the part of the dinner where Mr. Toh showed his Singaporean roots — the Jiang Zheng sauce, he told the guests, was a bit like sambal chili sauce from Malaysia, but, at the same time, is totally different (it was not as spicy as the usual sambal, for one) as he added a little Japanese touch using a miso base to make it sweet, sour, salty, and spicy at the same time. And the Jiang Zheng sauce (he said it takes four hours to make it over low heat) was the perfect balance of all four flavors with a little nutty aftertaste. It’s a strong sauce which masks the sometimes muddy smell and taste of the fish.

It was by far the most popular dish at the dinner but the other two were no slouches either as the deep-fried pork rib — probably the most traditional Cantonese dish on the menu — was a welcome taste due to its familiarity, and, of course it was tender. While the deep-fried boneless chicken was coupled with a cucumber and shallot salad that was light and refreshing and paired well with the chicken.

Mr. Toh also brought out a noodle dish simply called wok-fried noodles. The name might be simple but the dish wasn’t, as the noodles, cut thick like lomi, was seasoned with cinnamon.

The last dish was, by far, the most Southeast Asian of all as Mr. Toh brought out a mango pudding with pomelo sago and coconut milk, something he described as a “tropical Chinese dessert” using Indonesian coco sugar. It was a perfect end to a beautiful dinner.

The Waterfront Manila Pavilion’s Chinese New Year buffet will be offered on Feb. 16 at the hotel’s Seasons restaurant and priced at P1,200 per person and P600 for children six to 11 years old. Groups of seven or more people can enjoy the “6+1” promo where one person in the group can enjoy the buffet for free. For reservations, call Seasons restaurant at 526-1212 loc. 2318. — Zsarlene B. Chua