Occupying a three-storey shophouse on the Duxton Hill stretch is Xin Divine, a fine dining Chinese restaurant that spawned from owner Jolin Lee’s desire for a test kitchen to experiment and gather feedback on dishes created for her catering service, Divine Plate. After ordering a pre-dinner apéritif and bar bites such as the moreish XO Carrot Cake ($12) – fluffy morsels battered in three types of flour and tossed with homemade XO sauce with Parma ham and conpoy flecks – head upstairs to the dining rooms through two staircases. One leads into the main seating area and another brings you through the restaurant’s cellar (comprising over 200 wine labels that start from $22/glass and $68/bottle) and into a private room that can seat up to 18. The bright and airy space’s high ceilings, arched windows, and a palette of powder blue and white hues are subtle aesthetic touches that don’t distract from your meal – the cuisine is the star here.
The dishes epitomise the combined creativity of the three chefs: Malaysian-born Peong Teck You; Zhong Jian Bing from Sichuan; and European fine dining-trained Alvin Tan. The result is progressive Chinese cuisine inflected with global influences, reflected in the à la carte or set menus ($28 for two-course and $48 for four-course executive lunch; seven-course dinner from $128). In fine dining fashion, meals commence with an amuse-bouche and appetisers. After the mains, a carbs ‘staple’ is served – a nod to Chinese banquet dining, followed by dessert.
There’s nothing much to fault with the appetisers of Porcini Mushroom Broth ($16) or Wasabi Prawns ($8) – the former is comforting yet not overly rich. Xin Divine’s version of the latter boasts a crisp batter and piquant punch, and is seated upon a refreshing micro greens salad. The Szechuan Style Tortellini ($18)
is another winning dish of a minced Kurobuta pork and chives dumpling with a bouncy bite and wrapped in silky wanton skins. The sauce – Sichuan chilli, ginger and Zhejiang vinegar – introduces a touch of acidity to whet the appetite for more. Departing from tradition, nu er hong instead of Cognac is added to the Chinese
Wine Shark Bone Soup ($28) to maximise flavour depth. Brewed for six to eight hours with conpoy, Chinese cabbage and baby abalone, the velvety broth is rich with collagen.
Western culinary influences are more apparent in the mains. The Poulet De Bresse ($35) is undoubtedly French and Chinese – French chicken thigh is infused with nu er hong, then moulded with foie gras into a roulade. Coated in a thin tempura batter, the deep-fried and deeply savoury creation yields an assortment of textures from creamy to crispy. Similarly, the fork-tender, panseared Chilean Seabass ($32) with Sichuan-style sour and spicy soup is punctuated with the crunch of deep-fried enoki and the garlicky and mildly spicy yu xiang eggplant.
We’re less impressed with the Secret Recipe Chilli Lamb Rack ($36) – the meat is sinewy and chewy. And while we love the wok hei aromas of the XO Sauce Fried Rice with Crab ($8), the crab meat was rather bland. Skip the reimagined Orh Nee ($12) dessert, which could have benefitted from more pastry finesse – the puréed, molten and ice cream textures of yam and pumpkin mingled too well, rendering the individual flavours indistinct.
That said, Xin Divine fills the void for those who love Chinese cuisine but are turned off by the garish Chinese restaurant décor. The fine dining approach also allows diners to sample novel Chinese creations cleverly executed with western cooking techniques.
Here’s hoping that more restaurateurs and chefs take a leaf out of Xin Divine’s book.