I’m ending the year on a high note after having discovered Paradise Dynasty. I had relegated my life in the south to North Park, the occasional trips to Zong, and the ever rarer times I find myself at Emerald Garden for good, at times affordable, Chinese fare.
Now open at the second level, S’Maison at the Conrad, Mall of Asia Complex, Paradise Dynasty is a casual dining concept by Paradise Group that dishes up an affordable selection of northern and southern Chinese cuisine, drawn from the CEO, Edwin Chua’s, frequent travels to different provinces across China.
As with most Chinese restaurants, Paradise Dynasty’s servings are always good for sharing, which is probably why they are always packed with business people for lunch, friends for dinner, and families during the weekends. The lines can get pretty crazy, but people will patiently wait for their number to be called if it means sitting down to an excellent meal sans the MSG food coma.
If you’ve been reading the reviews and still aren’t convinced at just how fantastic the food is, here are 8 more reasons why you should haul ass (along with the rest of the fambam) to S’Maison at the Conrad and get in line for a table at Paradise Dynasty:
1. REAL Chinese Chefs
I think it was my third or fourth time back to the restaurant (yes, I know they only opened in November) that I asked if they could serve some of the dishes I ordered later in the evening, as me and my group were waiting for two other friends to join us. Our server came back and apologized profusely saying that he didn’t know how to explain it to the Chinese chefs in the kitchen. All the dishes are as authentic as they can get, made by actual Chinese chefs, so the flavors aren’t adjusted to fit a certain palate.
2. Not Your Ordinary Xiao Long Bao
This particular Chinese restaurant is known for their colorful Special Dynasty Xiao Long Bao (Php 388/8 pieces), otherwise known as soup dumplings. I’d highly recommend getting a basket to try if it’s your first time there, and then order your favorites on your second and third time back. Believe me, there will be a ninth and a tenth time, too!
Once you’ve picked out a few favorites, you can order them by the basket. Their Signature Original (Php 188/6 pieces, Php 298/ 10 pieces) has a simple pork filling with a mild pork broth; Garlic (Php 230/6 pieces, Php 380/10 pieces) has a kick to the broth with the garlic infusion; Ginseng (Php 330/6 pieces, Php 540/10 pieces) gives you a gingery aftertaste; Foie Gras (Php 330/6 pieces, Php 540/10 pieces) has bits of the creamy, buttery goose liver added on top of the pork filling; Szechuan (Php 230/6 pieces Php 380/10 pieces) gives you a little bit of heat with each bite; Cheese (Php 230/6 pieces, Php 380/10 pieces) isn’t as oozy as you’d expect it to be, but the creaminess is there, nonetheless; Crab Roe (Php 330/6 pieces, Php 540/10 pieces) is added on top of the pork dumpling; and Black Truffle (Php 330/6 pieces, Php 540/10 pieces) has a slice of the sought after ingredient (and maybe a hint of truffle oil) added for a luxurious bite.
My personal favorites are the Signature Original, for the simplicity and execution of each xiao long bao, and the Foie Gras for the rich, umami flavor the marriage of the pork broth and foie bring.
3. Appetizers for Days
One thing I love and hate about looking over menus in Chinese restaurants is that they have such a long list of items on the menu, but even your go-to favorites may not look quite as you’d expect them to be once they’re served on the table. Most times, you don’t even get a description, just a list of items that you and your server patiently go over the ones you’ve taken a fancy to, and he tries to explain what it would look and taste like. But hey, at Paradise Dynasty, not only do they have a pretty wide selection, they each have pictures of the dish to save you the guessing game.
A classic Chinese starter would be their Chilled Tofu with Century Egg (Php 180) that uses silken tofu in a light soy with scallions and quarters of century egg on top. The earthy taste with the muddy consistency of the 100-year-old egg is an acquired taste, and something I never really liked, but the rest of the dish was very light, with the soy teasing the palate, asking for more.
The Scrambled Egg White with Fish and Conpoy (Php 328) looks a little weird, but once you take a spoonful of it you’re reminded of the seafood spinach soup, which is hardly intimidating at all. The inspiration for the dish was from an old story about royalty craving for crab meat that wasn’t in season. For those looking for something a bit unusual, this is a nice option.
4. Prices that Won’t Break the Bank
Can we talk about how affordable everything is? The place may look intimidating on the outside, but once you go through the menu, you’d realize the prices aren’t so bad. Cheap even, for the quality of food you get.
Take the Pork Dumpling with Hot Chili Vinaigrette (Php 168/6 pieces) for instance. That’s six pieces of kinchay in black vinegar with chili oil which makes for one helluva ride for uninitiated taste buds.
Another example is the delicate yet delectable Radish Pastry (Php 138/3 pieces), which look like little fried pastry puffs with a grated radish center. Again, the taste of the radishes is quite mild, but just enough to tease the palate.
5. Hard-to-Find Dishes
There are some dishes on the menu I’ve never seen or heard of before that pique my curiosity, some more than most.
My hands down favorite was an appetizer called Steamed Glutinous Rice Stuffed in Red Dates (Php 230). Imagine sticky mochi-like rice wrapped in sweet dates and drizzled with a sweet coating of glaze. This should be a dessert, not an appetizer, but in Chinese cuisine they like an assortment of different tastes and textures in their meals, so a sweet start to dinner isn’t out of the ordinary. Fair warning, this is addictive. Once you start, you can’t help but keep popping them in your mouth like popcorn – they’re so good!
One I wasn’t so thrilled with (but may float your boat) is the restaurant’s Chilled Assorted Egg Loaf in Yang Zhou Style (Php 180), which resembles our local kakanin, with a white gelatin like top with salted egg yolk and century egg quarters in the bottom, lending a mild salty, earthy taste to the delicate appetizer. The combination of flavors isn’t my favorite (I prefer the jellyfish), but to each his own.
6. Inhale Bone Broth Soup
Lamian is a type of noodle-making method invented in China made by twisting, stretching, and folding a lump of dough into strands, resulting in chewy noodles with a bit of a bite – my favorite kind! The simple yet delectable La Mian with Scallion (Php 200) is served with a big bowl of Paradise Dynasty’s ethereal bone broth soup, which has been left cooking for over a day with choice vegetables until it looks like a milky fog in a bowl. Pour the broth into the noodles once you’re ready to eat and don’t stop until you’ve licked the bowl clean.
If you’re looking for a dish to pair with your noodles, I highly recommend their Deep-fried Garlic Pork Ribs (Php 338), with a crunchy outer shell and pork so tender you’d think it was melting in your mouth.
7. Mains for Sharing
Bringing the family out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant usually means lots of food to share, and at Paradise Dynasty, all the food is good food! A favorite that I always order when I go back is their Stir-Fried Shredded Pork in Black Bean Sauce with Chinese Crepes (Php 288), with the pork shreds being so tender, I mistook it for chicken on my first visit. The . saucy strings of pork hide shredded scallions underneath, so all one has to do is give it a good toss around for the sweet and salty hoisin sauce to marry with the other ingredients, before wrapping it up in a crepe. I do have one gripe about the crepes, and that is it gets hard pretty quickly, and you end up with little holes in your Chinese pancake with the contents spilling out one end, making for quite the messy meal. Ask your server for wet wipes before you begin eating.
The Spicy Szechuan Crispy Chicken (Php 298) looks intimidating at first, but trust that the chilies are all dried and that the strong smell is from the Chinese five spice. Pick out the chicken chunks and red peanuts in the dish and start from there, the crispy crunch of the well-seasoned coating will have you coming back for seconds, maybe even with a few bits of dried chili if you’re feeling adventurous.
8. Delicate Desserts
To wind down an epic Chinese meal (with no MSG – how bouh dah?!) full of flavor, delicate desserts are in order. I’ve never really thought of vegetables to be be an end to a meal, but their Pan-fried Pumpkin Pastry (Php 128) changed my mind. It has a slightly chewy texture, and if you didn’t know what it was, you’d probably think it was a mochi pancake. What a sneaky way to get your 5 a day.
The Chilled Aloe Vera in Osmanthus Honey Juice (Php 100) has only a little bit of sweetness, and is a mix of slightly sour and tart flavors with a flowery aftertaste.
My favorite way to end any Chinese meal is with a bowl of Chilled Mango Pudding (Php 100), and this definitely hits the spot with the sweet mango and sago bits in a thick, cold pud. The consistency is more of a cream than a jelly, and the thin layer of milk on top sweetens the fresh fruit even further.
I was in for a pleasant surprise with the Glutinous Rice Ball tops with Grated Nuts (Php 138). This Chinese version of mochi covered in ground peanuts is extra chewy, it almost sticks to your teeth, but not quite. Biting into it revels a black sesame creme that is positively delightful!
If you’re not a fan of black sesame, their Chilled Glutinous Rice Roll with Red Bean Paste topped with Grated Nuts (Php 128) is probably a better option, with the layers forming a beautiful swirly pattern oozing with red bean paste. Mmm…
*Bonus: The View
With S’Maison at the Conrad being so near Manila Bay, the view in the afternoon is spectacular! You get a clear view of where the water meets the sea and it’ll get even prettier at night when fireworks light up the night sky.
I think I’ve fallen in love with Paradise Dynasty. I really have. The interiors are gorgeous you’d think you were in a hotel, but the prices are that of any decent Chinese place that serves lemon chicken, Macau crispy pork, and Yang Chow fried rice. And it’s in the south! If you ever find yourself in Pasay wanting to try something new with the fam, drop by and give this a try, and let me know how it went!
Paradise Dynasty is located at the second level of S’Maison, Conrad Manila, Seaside Boulevard corner Coral Way, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City and is open daily from 11am to 10pm. For inquiries and reservations, please call +63 2 828 8333.