Trepidation. That would be the best way to describe my feelings about the most recent ChineseBites meetup at Lin Chinese Cuisine. Should I go? You see, my very first visit ever to Lin was a very good one with their tasty XLBs and various other house specialties. But with every subsequent meal, it seemed to slide further and further downhill. What would this experience be like this time? Well, of course my curiosity got the better of me and yes, I did end up going.
We were started off with a couple of appies including the Marinated Gluten and Shanghainese Vegetables with Pressed Tofu. Appealingly chewy with little bursts of flavour, the gluten would've been great except for one thing - it was far too sweet. Normally, the dish is sweet, but this was too much so. There was a need to balance it off with soy or just add less sugar (probably Chinese brown sugar in this case). We were glad the Shanghainese Vegetable with Pressed Tofu was not that sweet. In fact, it was rather subtle in taste where there was only a mild savoury-sweetness. Texturally, I thought the greens were tender while retaining a bite. The brightness of the veggies was apparent as it kept things light despite the dense pressed tofu bits.
As if the previous dish was an interlude of sorts, we continued down the sugary theme with the Smoked Fish. The whole thing was so sweet, it masked the balanced amount of smokiness. With the firm texture and sugary glaze, the dish ate more like candied fish than a smoked fish. Too bad really, since the textures and smoke were on point. Something that was much more mild was the Chef’s Special Supreme Hotpot Soup. Despite being somewhat of a home-cooking style of dish, it was something that was perfect for a cold Winter's night. It featured a subtly-seasoned broth with Napa cabbage, mung bean vermicelli, meatballs, pork belly, dumplings and tofu. I've made something like this at home before and yes, it isn't hard to make, but this one was solid nonetheless.
Okay, enough of these other things, we had to get to what Lin is known for - their Xiao Long Bao. Made-to-order (much like the other legit XLB joints in town), these were served steaming hot. The dumpling skin was thin with only a touch of resistance to the chew. Inside, the meat was a tad gritty but not too much so. There was a good amount of soup that was on the sweeter side with some savoury elements and ginger notes. As if they were playing with our tastebuds, the Green Onion Halibut was stingingly sweet. So much so, I didn't even realize it was halibut, despite being well-prepared (soft and flaky). Even the apple amount of caramelized green onion stalks could not break through the overwhelming sugary taste (that added even more sweetness, but I couldn't taste much of the onion).
We then moved onto a dish that was expected to be sweet in the Honey Prawns. This is one of their signature items and it didn't disappoint. I've had this dish several times before and it was more or less the same. It featured large prawns that were meaty with a firm snap. The exterior was crunchy and held up to the ample amount of mayo-honey sauce. Was this dish sweet? Yes, but it worked in this case. It goes without even saying that the Braised Pork Ribs were... sweet. Yes, the glaze was syrupy and in need of some balancing flavours. I must clarify that it was beyond even the acceptable level of sweetness found in say, BBQ pork (like the one found at HK BBQ Master). On the flip side, the meat was very good though being super tender.
Next, we were served a dish I knew that would be good - the Tea Smoked Duck. Similar to other times I've had it, the duck was fairly large and smoky (but not too much). The meat was tender and fatty while being quite salty. As much as the skin was not well-rendered in some parts, the part around the drumstick was crispy and tasty. From sweet to salty and onto spicy, we had the Shanghainese Spicy Tofu & Seafood Hotpot. With peppers strewn throughout, this was spicy as advertised. I found the tofu to be silky soft while not completely falling apart. The seafood was on point with flaky fish and crunchy cold-water shrimp.
Ending off our savoury dishes, we had the Shanghainese Vegetable with Rice Cake. This was generally quite mildly seasoned which was welcomed after a barrage of sweet, salty and spicy dishes. I particularly enjoyed the thick-sliced rice cake which were chewy and soft at the same time. The ample amount of greens helped brighten up things a bit while offering up some bits of crunchiness. For dessert, we had the 8 Treasures Sweet Sticky Rice. Now this is typically really sweet due to the honey glaze on top, but due to the many sweet dishes we'd already eaten, this was over-the-top. Again, too bad really since the sticky rice was done right. So it goes without saying that the theme of the meal (over 50% of it) was sweet. Too bad really since their XLBs are still good while the duck, prawns and rice cake were decent as well. They really need to scale back the sugar though as it ruined what may have been good dishes otherwise.
*All food and gratuities were complimentary*
- Solid XLBs
- Decent portion size
- Overuse of brown sugar
- Naturally, the service was good since it was an invited event, but the times it wasn't, the service can be pretty sketch