The Keys Hotel hosted an Oriental Food Festival at their all day dining restaurant, Keys Café.
As I read about the festival, I allowed myself to get excited. Sushi and bulgogi flitted around my head. Zesty kaffir lime and tongue numbing chilli flavours had me salivating. But the hotel’s perception of Oriental was restricted. All I was able to sample was Thai and a little Malay. Not a fish or shrimp was in sight.
A menu was presented to me. But the serving style for the festival was actually a buffet. One look at the buffet explained why I was given a menu. Beetroot poriyal, biryani and other Indian food sat amid three, maybe four dishes that could be called oriental. I think I remember a chicken in black bean sauce. The dessert counter simply did not lure.
For starters, we were served vegetable and chicken momos with momo soup on the side. The momos had been let to rest a little longer than necessary. They were cold by the time they reached the table. I preferred the vegetable momos to the chicken, which was doughy in texture and taste. The momos were served with two dips – ground sesame and ginger-spring onion in oil.
I imagined little jars of these stowed away in the kitchen. Dipping all sorts of things in them. Raw veggies and prawn crackers, spring rolls and fried chicken. The restaurant manager kindly offered to pack some for me when I expressed this fantasy. I politely declined.
The momo soup was something out of the ordinary. And it tasted that way too. A clear broth made of rice wine, spring onions and ginger. Flecks of the onion and ginger added a refreshing crunch to the soup.
Easily, the soup was the star of my meal that night. Because after that, it was all downhill.
For the main course, the chef offered to serve Thai green curry. I requested for prawns in the curry but they were all out. So I decided to try the massaman beef curry instead. The curry was served with geaw the pad kee mao (a mix of deep fried and stir fried noodles) and khao kai phad slam (Thai chicken fried rice). The chicken in black bean sauce also made its way to our table.
The beef in the curry was coated in flour, which came apart rather than form the intended crisp layer. The potatoes were undercooked. It was the coconut milk enriched gravy that saved the dish. The noodles were decent, at best. The rice was too dry with shreds of egg and barely any chicken. The chicken in black bean sauce with its vague flavours and parched chicken was unmemorable.
Dessert didn't live up either. Banana fritters with strawberry and vanilla ice cream. The fritters were nicely coated in caramel and sesame seeds. Unfortunately, they were cold. That wonderful contrast of hot and cold, crunchy and creamy was completely lost.
What I took back was a meal where only the soup and dip left good memories. Whether the festival lived up to its name on a different night, is hard to say. In all, for me, the food lacked punch and the festival creativity.
If the 10 commandments were written for restaurateurs, one of them would definitely be, ‘Thou shall not tease the diner.’