WHEN YOU think of the empresses who ruled China, one name immediately comes to mind: Dowager Empress Cixi. A former concubine plucked from obscurity when she bore the Emperor a son, the woman shaped the last years of Imperial China. Cold and imperious, she eliminated all competition to the throne, even going as far as usurping the throne from her own son — the sanitized story is that she served as regent when her son was taken ill and eventually dying.
“She wasn’t that warm,” commented Empress Dining Palace Chief Operating Officer Aida Velasco. “Of course, we didn’t want that history… it’s not based on a person, but an ideal,” she said of the Empress Dining Palace, a new restaurant in BGC. Still, Empress Cixi, during her last years, wore the legendary Phoenix as her personal emblem, an emblem shared by Empress Dining Palace, which places a premium on upscale Chinese dining — just like the Empress did. The restaurant stands on the site of a former Chinese cuisine favorite, the franchise of which has since been acquired by another entity (https://www.bworldonline.com/ssi-adds-crystal-jade-to-portfolio/).
The Empress was very particular with her food, and legend has it that she once had a chef whipped for serving her tasteless dim sum. Chef Lam Pui, the man behind the kitchen at The Empress, celebrating his seventh year in the Philippines, will never have to experience that, based on this tasting by BusinessWorld late last month.
The meal kicked off with slices of Empress Peking Duck, which had a savory and crispy quality expected from any Chinese restaurant worth its salt. The next course was The Empress Four Treasure Clear Soup, which had a rich, almost therapeutic character that managed to taste light despite the elements of pumpkin and seafood that went into the soup.
A Steamed Seabass Fillet with Cordycep Flower and Fungus presented a soft sweetish white fish with fresh-tasting flesh. Chicken with Minced Mushroom in Egg White Wrapper proved to be exceptionally light, with a taste one can describe as perfectly dainty, added in its delicate ballet of textures, from the fragility of the wrapper to the reduction of the chicken stock served as its sauce.
Mr. Pui’s piece de resistance, however, was the Empress Treasure Pot, with elements of the land, sea, and air in it: abalone, sea cucumbers, Peking duck, shiitake mushrooms, braised pork, and other things that I couldn’t quite identify, but all worked in harmony towards a meal that was completely filling, but most of all, satisfying to the senses.
“We wanted to bring Chinese food to a different level. We find ourselves to be a little bit upscale,” said Ms. Velasco. “We wanted something rooted in tradition.
“At the end of the day, for us, it’s all about sharing tradition.”
The Empress Dining Palace is under the ownership of the Joy-Nostalg group. — Joseph L. Garcia