Even though EMPRESS by The Privé Group has opened quite a while ago and I have passed by the restaurant on multiple occasions, I did not actually realise how beautiful the space was until I have had the opportunity to head down for a tasting not too long ago.
Ran by the same people behind the popular Privé, Match and The Green Door, EMPRESS which is located at the Asian Civilisation Museum offers expansive space (indoors and outdoors, by the waterfront) for diners to enjoy some quality Cantonese-fare or simply a drink.
While most of us locals (me especially) avoid outdoor seating due to the heat, I was extremely tempted to enjoy dinner by the waterfront at EMPRESS because it's just stunning. I hear that they are further enhancing the alfresco area to look better so I am definitely looking forward to that. For those of you looking for a happy hour (4PM to 8PM) around the Boat Quay area, this is definitely a place that you should check out - I have not tried the cocktails though so I cannot vouch for that at the moment. There is also a smaller menu for bar bites if you are feeling peckish.
Being someone who takes a lot of interior photos (usually of hotels), I could not resist taking more photos of the restaurant because it is just so beautiful. Referencing Chinese elements, the design at EMPRESS is contemporary, yet elegant. If you have not fallen in love with how beautiful the outdoor dining area looks, you will most definitely do with the main dining area.
In case you have not already realised, the back of the restaurant is part of the façade of the Asian Civilisation Museum and honestly, the designers have done such a great job with integrating the different design elements so seamlessly to create this charming space. The main dining hall can accommodate approximately 80 diners and the space can also be rented out to host small to medium-scale events.
If you are looking to host a private dinner for your friends and family, EMPRESS has a private dining space that is able to accommodate up to 14 diners comfortably on a long table. This space is semi-partitioned away from the main dining area by Chinese screens and it offers impressive views of the river (especially at sunset).
While the doors are usually shut during the afternoon for the air-conditioning to work its magic, EMPRESS generally leave the doors open in the evening so diners can enjoy the view (and hopefully a sunset, if you are lucky) while savouring delicious Cantonese-fare.
While I can potentially go on and on about the design and the interiors a bit more, this post is really dedicated to the food, more than anything else. Firstly, a little overview on what to expect at EMPRESS. This brand new dining concept focuses on quality Cantonese food (despite having such a chichi interior) and the menu is largely representative of what you would find at an established restaurant (with a few tweaks here and there). Most of the dishes here offer three sizes - small, medium and large - and as a rule of thumb, they serve approximately, 2, 4-6 and 8 respectively.
One of the dishes that really took me by surprise is the Crispy Eggplant and Pork Floss (from S$10++). Even though I am generally not a fan of eggplant at all, I've had way too many servings of this dish. The sliced eggplant is thinly coated with a batter and deep-fried before a generous coat of pork floss is applied. I reckon this would go great with alcohol (which is also served in the restaurant or at the bar area outside).
Here's one dish you'd never think to find in a Cantonese restaurant - the Crispy Aromatic Duck Salad (S$18++). Served on a bed of baby spinach with pomelo, pears, goji berries, Chinese figs and a delicious plum-citrus dressing, this is one salad I can never grow tired of. Do note that there is only one size for this dish (unlike majority of the dishes here at EMPRESS) and it is actually quite a big portion so definitely plan to share!
No trip to EMPRESS is complete with trying their Signature Roast Platter (from S$28++). The portion photographed above is a Medium-size so that is actually priced at S$42++. It may be slightly more costly than what most of us are used to but you do get a plate of brilliantly-executed meats. To be honest, I thought that the Roast Pork has got to be the least impressive of them all but that Char Siew and Pork Ribs are both really good. If you'd prefer more fatty (or lean!) portions, do remember to let the staff know!
The soups are always a good measure of a Cantonese's restaurant - this King Prawn Dumpling in Supreme Broth (S$14++) passed the test with flying colours! I love the intensity and the consistency in that luscious thick broth. While the King Prawn Dumpling paled in comparison, the soup itself was the star of this dish. There is also an alternative version with pumpkin that is served in a teapot if you'd prefer.
While the restaurant is really pretty in the day and in the night, it was also really dim in the later part of the day which means photo-taking gets a lot more challenging in the evening. While the Seared Angus Beef Tenderloin Cubes (from S$32++) were cooked really well, I thought that the Singapore Chilli King Prawns with Golden Mantou (from S$28++) was a lot more impressive. I love the sweetness in that sauce and how easy it was to consume this dish (as compared to a crab-version). The somewhat dense golden mantous were also perfect at cradling and "soaking" up the sauce.
For our choice of carbohydrates, we have decided to go with the interesting-sounding Fried Brown RIce Medley (from S$20++) whose presentation reminded me of a Korean Bibimbap. While the combination of interesting ingredients worked, the "wok hei" was just lacking in this dish. I did love the chewiness and textures but unfortunately, it was a little bit of a disappointment - save room (and money!) for desserts instead!
EMPRESS has a dessert menu that is innovative and in some ways, surprising. Instead of the usual Chinese desserts that we are used to, the culinary team has decided to reinvent some favourites by either deconstructing them or presenting them in an alternative fashion. While the Crispy Prosperity Nian Gao, Yam & Sweet Potato Stack (S$12++) was initially released for the Lunar New Year (2016) only, the restaurant has decided to keep the dish on the regular menu due to overwhelming response from the people.
The best dessert that I have tasted that night however, has to be this unassuming Sticky Date & Longan Pudding (S$12++). While sticky date puddings are generally not found in Cantonese restaurants, I thought that the inclusion of dried longans (often found in Cheng Teng) is ingenious. Definitely give this dish a go while you are here!
I guess it is safe to say that EMPRESS has impressed me right from the moment I stepped in. The décor is impeccable and the presentation of food is simple and elegant. Sure, the prices are on the higher side but you do get what you pay for in general - a beautiful dining venue, good music and ambience and of course (perhaps more importantly), consistently good food with a few misses. I will definitely be back to check out Happy Hour at EMPRESS (perhaps once their alfresco area is done up) and to give that Char Siew another go.