Classic but novel,
Bambudda by Chef Luk yields
great modern Chinese.
Modernity, some non-Chinese ingredients, and classic Chinese flavor combinations and cooking techniques intertwine to form the dishes at Bambudda. Chef Curtis Luk unravels traditional Chinese cuisine and weaves a new tapestry that is familiar yet new.
Sampling a fair portion of the menu, the food is firmly rooted in Chinese culinary tradition but heightened by Chef Luk.
From the small plates section, the scallop and kale dumplings, topped with reddish prawn dust showcased the sweet and tender scallops. The prawn dust and lime leaf soy sauce complimented and enhanced the umami nature of the dish.
The only slight improvement that could be made is for the wheat starch wrapper to be thinner so that dumpling could look even more translucent.
The crisp oyster dish was a burst of flavours and textures. The briny oysters, umami rich house maggi glaze, fresh and spicy ginger slivers, and fattiness of the crispy chicken skin harmoniously came together to create complex tasting appy.
Add the various textures of soft oyster, the crisp oyster cracker, slippery wakame, and crunchy chicken skin, the crispy oysters are a very memorable mouthful.
The beef tongue in contrast was a mellower dish. Traditionally winter melon is cooked until it is mush but at Bambudda each square slice was soft but still had some bite.
The aromatic yellow curry vinaigrette and beef floss provided the bulk of the flavor for this dish. Since we ate this dish after the oysters, the beef tongue seemed bland; it might have been better to have eaten this dish prior to the oysters to better appreciate the subtleties of this small plate.
The potato vermicelli dish is a variation of a Sichuan dish. Instead of staying true to the dish and being slightly sour, Chef Luk’s creation is decidedly savoury with extremely crispy oyster mushroom, cilantro sauce and flavoured oil.
The ultra-thin strands of potato visually looked like rice vermicelli. The most remarkable part was how the threads retained its crunchiness through the cooking process despite its slight girth. The only small issue with the dish was it was a tad greasy but otherwise it was a great textural dish.
The meal took a slight dip when the larger plates arrived.
The classic layered Hakka pork belly taro dish is a personal favourite that my grandma would make for me at holiday dinners, even though I was the only person who enjoyed it in my family.
In my grandma’s version, the fermented red tofu is the predominant and overwhelming flavour of the dish with the taro and porky belly being textural elements. In contrast, Chef Luk’s interpretation has each component displaying their own distinct flavour.
Much like a traditional version, Bambudda’s rendition had alternating layers of taro and pork, albeit in a vertical stack. The fermented red tofu sauce was spot on in terms of taste. Even the taro had correctly fluffy texture.
Although I liked how I could taste the subtle sweetness of the crispy potato wrapped pork, its tough texture was off putting. I didn’t expect the pork to be as soft as butter like my grandma’s, but a little more tenderness would be appreciated.
The sticky rice stuffed cornish hen reminded me of Chinese roast chicken crossed with fried sticky rice. The sticky rice centre had featured the distinct and slightly overwhelming flavor of the shitake mushrooms, and the sweetness of cured Chinese sausage. The bird itself seemed to have sweetness as well, perhaps a glaze.
Overlapping rounds of thinly slice vegetables layered the bottom of the dish. They provided a crunchy texture but otherwise were bland. Overall, I felt the dish didn’t have a lot going in terms of flavour and thus a bit flat. In addition, I felt there was a missed opportunity with the veggie slices which could have provided another taste element but didn’t.
To go along with our mains, the house made ramen and curry leaf infused jasmine rice were ordered. Both were executed well.
I was quite fond of the al dente sesame oil dressed ramen noodles.
Our meal ramped up and ended on high point with the desserts. I was quite happy that the desserts were not variations of traditional Chinese desserts. I’m not a fan of Chinese desserts and their frequent inclusion of lentils and tubers (seriously, who wants an extra dose of fibre at the end of their meal?).
Instead the Bambudda’s confections are more western in nature featuring Asian inspired flavours.
The Chinese Opera Torte features a distinct green tea profile paired with a very light faintly sweet soy anglaise. The only issue I had with the dessert was a hard walnut layer within the torte; the nutty segment’s texture was jarring in comparison to the softer components.
The coconut rice pudding was delightful and whimsical. Ribbons of melon ebbed and flow on the surface of the pudding, creating pale green flower buds topped with goji berries.
The rice pudding itself was complex: sweetened with coconut milk, infused with star anise, studded with tapioca and balanced with a citrus tang of kalamansi lime.
I was impressed with my meal at Bambudda, in particular the small plates and desserts. As an added bonus, our table got to speak with both Chef Luk and owner Ray Loy, who kindly brought out another dessert to celebrate that fact I had aged another year.
However, the biggest thank you goes to Dennis (check out his take on dinner here) and his lovely wife for generously treating me to this dinner.
The food prepared at Bambudda is what I thought modernized Chinese could be: a display of true understanding and thoughtful re-imagination of the cuisine.
The savoury dishes Chef Luk created are anchored in Chinese culinary tradition, and elaborated with all the ingredients and skills at the chef’s disposal. Not everything was perfect but I would be very happy to return to see what continuing tweaks and innovations Chef Luk brings to Chinese cuisine at Bambudda.