Friday, 12 December 2008

Adieu, Suzhou

I didn't know when the Suzhou Noodle House first opened, but it seemed like a long time ago. Then it packed up and disappeared, and in its place was the increasingly kitschy and still inexplicably open Star Village Restaurant (formerly Honey Star). Then a few years later, I found it at OUG's Citrus Park, and after a square meal, returned on occasion for the noodles, rice, tea and pumpkin cakes.

If the manager can be believed, all the dishes come from the Chinese province of Suzhou, reputed abode for China's fairest maidens (something similar has been said about Ipoh). Some of the dishes served up at Suzhou Noodle House are quite oily, but mostly good. The noodles deserve particular mention. Square-ish rather than cylindrical, firm and made without jian shui (an alkali solution, probably sodium carbonate), it went surprisingly well with the stock, which was just Goldilocks right. Eaten plain, the noodles were great for convalescing foodies.

The noodle "varieties" are created by pairing the noodles with sides: braised duck, sweet and sour pork ribs, and spicy chicken. I wouldn't recommend it with the fried pork or chicken cutlets, those roof-of-the-mouth slashing horrors. For a while, they had smoked fish and fatty cured pork belly, but they had to drop it from the menu because the supplier didn't do smoked fish any more.

The teas were unique. The Biluochao broad-leaf green tea had a strong tannic overlay which made it a powerful palate cleanser, and a pleasant groundnutty aroma. It takes a while to steep, and supposedly gets stronger with each refill, but the taste declines noticeably at the fourth refill - or maybe I just wasn't patient enough to wait. They also had the more expensive Biluochun variant, which I never tried.

Given the oilyness of some dishes and desserts, the tea was a welcome relief. I specifically remember the fried, red-bean-filled pumpkin cakes. At three or four pieces per serving, you'd want to have a light meal beforehand. Other dishes I fondly recall are the xiaolongbao soup dumplings, the gulaorou (sweet and sour stir-fried pork) rice and their fried noodles.

After all that it may be surprising to hear I'm not giving out any numbers or addresses for this place. Not that it would have made a difference - the place closed its doors more than three months ago, probably for good.

The last time I went there was in July, and I took some pictures. The place looked rundown and I could hear the scurrying of some animal from the water-stained ceiling boards. I hated to think it, but I could see it coming. Like the restaurant-heavy Taman Tun Dr Ismail, competition is stiff, and their place was tucked so deeply into the complex, with a hard-to-find entrance. When I returned in October, a day spa was being set up in its place. The labourer said Suzhou Noodles packed up around two months earlier.

I was sorry to hear the news, and sorrier for not rushing to push it into the limelight. I loved (some of) the food, the tea, and the quiet cosyness, which probably wasn't a desirable attribute for a restaurant. The manager, a Ms Phang, was good to me, especially when I was recovering from some bug or other illness. I don't normally grieve over a restaurant's packing up, but this felt like the loss of a relative.

But if I had, could I make a difference?

If only I had tried to find the answer; now it may remain a mystery.

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