Turning three in July 2017, Farquhar Mansion is terrifically popular come tea time. Come on a weekend afternoon and you’ll encounter groups of girlfriends tittering over tiered trays stacked with the usual suspects: scones, spreads, sandwiches and sweets. Lunch and dinner dates here are, however, a much more intimate affair. Past the sun-drenched parlour, up a short flight of stairs and into a shadowy private dining room goes your party upon making prior reservations.
Helmed by Executive Chef DR Tan and Senior Sous Min Ong, the kitchen pieces together its seasonal menu in accordance with international imports. As luck would have it, our opportune visit coincides with an abundant truffle haul in France (we express silent gratitude for the aptitude of trained hogs), hence a terra-themed menu.
Our feast begins with boxed gifts, making it feel like Christmas in March. We unearth the contents of our ‘edible terrarium’ to discover a trio of amuse-bouches: potato ball with seafood and microgreens; dehydrated salmon skin with garlic aioli and black caviar; and cod fish ball with béarnaise and ikura. Impossibly light, each morsel practically dissolves on our palates with nary a trace or memory, aptly teasing our appetites for more.
A visual feast served on a hypnotising platter, the Hokkaido Scallop Carpaccio is dressed to the nines with Osetra caviar, edible gold flakes and ikura. Both pretty and pretty potent, the paper-thin slices of shellfish are nearly invisible to the eye, but exude a heady perfume that permeates and overpowers our oral and olfactory senses. Though happily drunk from the aroma of black truffles, we also note, with minor regret, that the subtle sweetness of the scallop has been completely masked.
Though nothing novel, Farquhar Mansion’s Mushroom Terroir unexpectedly emerges as the highlight of our multiple-course meal – it is the quintessential cream of mushroom. (If Campbell’s condensed soups tasted nearly this good, the canned section of supermarkets would be dangerously barren). We scrape the bottom of our bowls a bit too loudly, given our luxurious surroundings, and consider lapping at our servingware like cats, but dismiss the thought as socially impermissible.
The last of our starters comes by way of fatty foie gras, a dish dubbed the Duo Foie Gras Flavour. A double act designed to delight, the perfectly pan-fried slab of liver is served with apple prepared two ways: poached and as a chutney. If led into temptation again, even Eve wouldn’t be able to resist.
Little bowls of Lychee Granita arrive sans announcement like a surprise visit from a favourite uncle, who injects some light-hearted laughter into the table conversation before the approach of heavier subjects.
And then the meatiest of courses arrives; we tuck into Duck done three ways: a confit (misses the mark where texture is concerned, but is saved by a lip smacking, sticky-sweet sauce), smoked breast meat (mostly composed of oil, skin and fat) and a Money Bag (we’ve had better wontons). One count and two strikes is undeniably a letdown, a clumsy pas de trios that requires reworking.
No bellwether where fine dining is concerned, Farquhar Mansion has yet to tread the road less taken. Far from insipid and certainly not uninspired, the fare certainly hits the spot in a city where formal, full-service restaurants typically flounder, but all-in-all, proved rather predictable. Fine dining should, after all, deliver an education in exchange for paying a premium.
Originally published on Time Out Penang.