Braised Pork with Special Sauce. Photo: Handout
MANILA, Philippines – Foodies who are familiar with the Crystal Jade at the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan are in for a big surprise when they check out the restaurant chain’s second outlet at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.
Even before they enter the new Crystal Jade Dining In at Bonifacio High Street Central, the differences between the two restaurants are, well, crystal.
The new outlet is not only larger – two storeys with high ceilings – but also more upscale in terms of décor with a wine rack acting as a divider near the entrance.
And when they open the menu, they wouldn’t find Crystal Jade Greenhills’ most popular dish: the xiao long bao.
Jacinto Ng, Jr., director of Crystal Jade Philippines (Red Dragon Culinary Concepts, Inc.), explained that the two restaurants, while sharing the same Crystal Jade brand name, have different concepts.
The one in Greenhills, Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao, is more of a casual dining restaurant, while Crystal Jade Dining In is a fine dining restaurant. More importantly, Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao is a Shanghainese restaurant, while Crystal Jade Dining In is a Cantonese restaurants – which explains why the steamed soupy pork dumplings are not served in Bonifacio.
“Well we tell them that’s a perfectly good reason why you should also eat at the other side,” Ng said when asked what happens when a customer orders xiao long bao at the fine dining restaurant.
“The Crystal Jade brand is very strict. As a matter of fact, we cannot differ from the menu of Crystal Jade. Whatever they have in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Korea, has to be the same everywhere, which I think is actually very good because that means the customers are getting the authentic thing. It’s not some watered-down, second-class menu. What you have in Singapore is exactly what you have here,” Ng explained.
The Singapore-based Crystal Jade has over 100 outlets in Asia and more than 20 restaurant concepts ranging from fine dining to family restaurants and even express corners and cafes. Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao and Crystal Jade Dining In are just two of these concepts.
In fact, within the fine dining category, Crystal Jade has several concepts with Crystal Jade Dining In characterized by a more contemporary flavor.
“Our concept here at Crystal Jade Dining In is not your old-school type of Chinese restaurant. In particular, it is intentionally designed, created and conceptualized with a more contemporary and modern twist,” Ng said.
This modern twist is not just limited to the architectural details and interior design elements. The dishes served at Crystal Jade Dining In are also tweaked both in terms of preparation and presentation such that it gained a reputation for serving Chinese “haute cuisine.”
One of the dishes that clearly suggests this concept is the bitter gourd appetizer, which had slices of ampalaya plated like petals of a bright green flower, with crushed garlic for ovules and cucumber slices for leaves.
Bitter gourd appetizer. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
The restaurant’s modern positioning, Ng said, makes it ideal for the Makati-Taguig area, which has a smaller Chinese-Filipino community compared to, say, Greenhills and Quezon City. In fact, Ng pointed out that half of the customers of Crystal Jade at the BGC are non-Chinese.
“Bagay talaga ‘yung Crystal Jade Dining In because may mga food dito na hindi masyado traditional. One fifth of the food here are already fusion items. We have that (traditional dishes) also but apart from that may mga modern versions also,” he said.
One such variation is the popular roast duck, which is traditionally served as Peking duck with Mandarin pancakes, green onions and hoisin sauce.
Crystal Jade Dining In turned this favorite into a “Crispy Duck Sandwich” because of the various layers with crispy bean curd skin at the bottom and topped by crispy duck skin with duck meat, cucumber and tomato in the middle. The duck is also served as a cold fruit salad with shredded duck meat.
Crispy Duck Sandwich. Photo: Handout
Another Chinese staple, the radish cake, is served steamed instead of fried, and prepared with egg whites and Chinese wine to enhance the texture and fragrance and served in a bowl and had to be scooped up.
One of the popular appetizers here is a slightly tweaked version of the popular siopao. The “Baked Bo Lo BBQ Pork Bun” is basically a Chinese bun filled with barbecued pork and baked with a sugary crust, giving this classic street food some textural contrasts.
Baked Bo Lo BBQ Pork Bun. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Presentation certainly plays a huge role in Crystal Jade Dining In. For instance, the Double-Boiled Crab Claw Soup with Superior Mushroom is intriguingly served in a fresh coconut shell, while the Sauteed Scallop or Prawn with Chicken and Assorted Mushrooms is dramatically arrived at the table in a carved pumpkin.
Double-Boiled Crab Claw Soup with Superior Mushroom. Photo: Handout
Sauteed Scallop or Prawn with Chicken and Assorted Mushrooms: Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Rice and dessert
Even the rice came in a hot stone bowl instead of the usual platter. The restaurant also veered away from the traditional Chinese fried rice since it features not just rice but assorted grains such as corn, soybean and wheat mixed with diced mushroom and vegetable, egg and pine nuts.
This is a perfect accompaniment for the slightly spicy sautéed beef rib, which was served on a hot plate – one of the more “traditional” Chinese dishes served during a recent menu tasting.
Sauteed Beef Rib. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
For dessert, instead of the usual mango sago, we were served a chilled avocado pudding topped with mango cream and bits of pomelo, as well as the yummy rice dumplings with taro filling.
Chilled Avocado Pudding. Photo: Handout
With such dishes, Ng believes that Crystal Jade Dining In will have a broader appeal. “Even if you’re not Cjhinese, you’ll appreciate it because the food is modern,” he said.
During the lunch, Ng said they entered the restaurant business because of their love for Chinese food but decided to go with a known brand like Crystal Jade.
“For a Chinese restaurant in the Philippines – and maybe even in other countries outside Hong Kong or China or Singapore – your No. 1 challenge is getting the right chef to cook for you. And most of the restaurants here suffer from being hostaged by the chef,” he explained.
“In the case of Crystal Jade, it has already some 400 to 500 chefs. It’s their business to recruit and develop chefs every day because they can’t find themselves in a situation of losing a chef. They bring the chef here so we don’t have that headache,” he said, citing a recent experience at its Greenhills branch when the Chinese chef had to return to Hong Kong for an emergency. In four days, a replacement chef arrived and “the quality didn’t suffer.”
Asked why it took them a couple of years to expand despite their success in Greenhills, Ng said it was about finding the right location.
“Singapore is very, very conscious of protecting the brand,” he said, stressing that Crystal Jade is not like a fast-food operation that can open branches every month. “Every site that we choose has to be a consensus site. It’s a partnership, which is why we like it also. They have a great deal of ensuring the success of the restaurant. They really are protecting their name. Ayan nila ‘yung magsasara ka. Gusto talaga nila long term na relationship,” he said.
With the opening of Crystal Jade in Taguig, Ng said their next move is to upgrade the Greenhills branch to keep up with the new brand identity of Crystal Jade.
“This one is already the new one (branding). We figured that we want to do well with this one first since it’s fine dining and it’s already adopting the new Crystal Jade brand identity. If we do well with this one, then we will go back to Greenhills,” he said.