There are several possible conclusions to be drawn when a restaurant is packed to the rafters on its opening day. In the case of Nanjing Impressions, its impeccable reputation precedes it—and deservedly so.
On opening night, a sizeable majority of the restaurant’s patrons were Chinese. From the snatches of conversation I caught, many of these diners had also previously dined at one of the restaurant chain’s 35 branches in China.
I enjoy it tremendously when Chinese restaurants faithfully replicate the non-essential, but tremendously interesting aspects of their business model to their overseas outlets. Take, for instance, Sichuan’s Hai Di Lao restaurant in Singapore—its complimentary manicures, fruit platters, and ice cream are arguably non-essential frills to its core business of serving excellent hotpot, but these features make the restaurant chain unique. Similarly, Nanjing Impressions’ elderly doormen—garbed as they are in late Qing-era attire while calling out to customers—leave an indelible impression.
Peanuts with Vinegar Sauce impressed with its crunchy peanuts and tangy superior vinegar sauce. One of the other reviewers at the same table could not stop singing the praises of this seemingly simple appetizer. Instead of feeling annoyed, I was very sympathetic to the gentleman’s chorus. I don’t know how much the peanuts cost, but I wouldn’t have minded paying for several more platters.
Nanjing’s famous salt-water duck is to Nanjing, what chicken rice is to Singapore. Dating back to the 1600s, this dish is not easy to prepare. From seasoning the bird to hang-drying it after it has been brined, there are more than 10 steps to preparing the dish. I therefore had high expectations of the Jinling Signature Salted Duck ($16.80++ to $62++, depending on size), but it ultimately disappointed because of the bony portion that I had that evening. It is unclear if the restaurant’s ducks are usually these non-substantial, but it would be a pity to avoid it given the dish’s centrality to Nanjing cuisine. Thankfully, what little meat there was, was delicious and tender.
On the other hand, the Sesame-scented Beancurd Julienne ($11.80++) was heavenly. Almost everyone at the table mistook it for noodles, but it really is beancurd that has been cut by hand into noodle-like strands. Yes, you read that right—the chefs are so skilled in slicing the beancurd that every mouthful of the beancurd feels like you are slurping down fine noodles. The chef’s savoury “special sauce” is the clincher here, and this will be one of the first few dishes I will order the next time around.
Nanjing Chilled vegetarian delights ($10.80++) is apparently a staple for all Nanjingers during the Chinese New Year. But while the shredded lotus root, spinach, mushrooms, carrots and bean sprouts were nice, the dish did not otherwise stand out.
The Jiangnan Seafood Bucket ($18.80++) was filled with fish, prawns, crab and clams stewed in a milky-white fish broth and was meant to showcase the Yangtze’s marine bounty. As I am not a big fan of seafood, I was not too hot about this dish. But I recognise that for its price and quantity, this dish represents good value for seafood lovers.
The Sautéed Silky Gourd with Garlic ($14.80++) was a polarizing dish. A diner at my table complained that it tasted bitter, and the Nanjing general manager who flew in for the opening agreed with her assessment. Promising to pass on the feedback to the chefs, the helpful manager hypothesised that the dish’s bitterness could either have been due to a bad batch of vegetables, or because the dish had been left out too long after it was plated. Personally, I had no issue with the dish, and even thought it to be rather pleasantly piquant because of the garlic.
I wasn’t a fan of the crispy sesame pastry and its relatively high price, but the Baby Rooster Stew with Special Sauce served with Crispy Sesame Bun ($23.80++) is still worth a try, if only because of its aromatic chicken cooked in “special sauce”. It is safe to say that at Nanjing Impressions, the “special” sauces live up to their name—shorn of the sweet sesame buns, I can imagine that the rich stew would go nicely with a bowl of steamed white rice.
I don’t usually regard porridge as good value for money, but Madam Chiang’s Nutritious Beauty Porridge ($6.80++) is my favourite dish at the restaurant. Named after the Republic of China’s former First Lady Soong Mei-ling because she supposedly imbibed this healthy soy milk porridge regularly, I could have gone for two or more servings of this sweet and smooth elixir. Made with lily bulbs and Chinese yam, the porridge would surely appeal to anyone looking for a nourishing dish.
The Poached “Lion’s Head” Meatball ($13.80++) garnered critical praise all around. I have tried a few “Lion’s Head” Meatballs at other places, and none can match up to Nanjing Impressions’ version. Unlike the other rough, crumbly, and salty iterations elsewhere, the version here was steamed in a clear stock with xiao bai cai (baby bok choy). The tender meatball was light on the palate, fell apart nicely in the mouth, and was immensely juicy. I highly recommend this dish.
Perhaps I have grown too used to Taiwanese-style xiao long bao, but I found the dumpling skins of the Celestial Roast Duck Dumplings ($8.80++) to be just a little too thick for me. The flavourful fillings of shredded duck, though, were faultless, as were the amount of soup that was in the dumplings.
I loved the Osmanthus-scented Steamed Sponge ($4.80++). These home-made traditional Nanjing steamed cakes are glazed with osmanthus and have a delightfully chewy texture. They are so good that the restaurant should seriously consider selling these fragrant cakes as a takeaway snack. Sweet-toothed Singaporeans would snap up these sweets by the box.
Ditto the Honey-glazed Stuffed Lotus Root ($12.80++). Sections of the lotus root are filled with glutinous rice pearls, and slow-cooked in a pear-honey syrup. While the result is a sweet and nicely chewy dish, it is not cloying in the slightest.
Nanjing Impressions will almost certainly thrive in Singapore. Not only does it serve rather authentic Nanjing dishes—the restaurant’s management is adamant on staying true to its Chinese culinary roots—the restaurant’s beautiful interiors, attentive service, and lively atmosphere make for a very pleasant dining experience. As always, don’t say I didn’t warn you. The restaurant’s hype is justified, so remember to reserve seats in advance. I know I will when I come back with my family and friends.
Thank you Nanjing Impressions for the invitation.
68, Orchard Road
#04-46 to 51
Monday – Sunday: 11 am – 10 pm,
Last order: 9.30 pm