As summer draws to a close and temperatures continue to drop, we start to seek out more comfort foods to warm our cold bellies. One of the most satisfying things to have on a chilly fall evening is a piping hot bowl of soup noodles. For some people, that might be pho or ramen. If you’re looking to be a little more creative, you can’t go wrong with Deer Garden Signatures (8580 Alexandra Road, Unit 2015), located upstairs in Venezia Place next to Old Xian’s Food and Haroo Korean Homestyle Cuisine. There is also another location in Union Square at 8388 Capstan Way, Unit 1213.
Continuing with the current trend of Hong Kong-style cafes with a bit of a Taiwanese-inspired twist, Deer Garden Signatures offers an expansive menu that rivals similar cha chaan teng restaurants around town like Alleluia Cafe. While staples like the baked pork chop on rice might be preferred at these other eateries, Deer Garden is best known for its soup noodles.
Rather than ordering a pre-determined item off the regular menu, the “Noodle Combos at Your Choice” ($9.50) provide hundreds of possible combinations. The order sheet might look a little intimidating at first, but the process is actually very straightforward.
It starts with picking the soup base. There are no fewer than six different variations of the restaurant’s popular MSG-free fish soup, as well as five other possible soup bases like Thai tom yum goong and Malay laksa soup. Some of these are spicy, so order accordingly. Most, if not all of the soup bases come with cabbage, mushroom and bean curd as a standard.
From there, move across the page to choose between the ten different noodle options. These range from Korean style sweet potato crystal noodles to Italian penne. You can even get rice in soup if you prefer. On the lower half of the page, you can pick two toppings (additional toppings are $1.50 each). A wide variety of meat, fish and vegetable options are offered. The noodle combo comes with a complimentary beverage and you can add optional side dishes for an additional cost.
It can take you a little bit of time to decide exactly what you want. In my case, I went with the following (above):
- Coriander and century eggs fish soup
- Rice noodles (thick)
- Pork liver
- Pork stomach
Some people might be turned off by my offal selection and the uninitiated may be hesitant to order anything with century egg, but it doesn’t get much warmer and more comforting than this. Commonly found in congee, century egg is preserved for weeks or months (not actually a century) until the egg white darkens significantly with an almost gelatinous consistency. The yolk turns a greyish green color.
What I really enjoy about bowls of noodles like this is the contrast offered by all the different textures. The cabbage provides a bit of crunch to counter the tender chewiness of the pork stomach. It all works really well together, especially with the well-balanced fish soup for a piping hot bowl of savory delights.
In another bowl, we went with a different combination:
- Watercress and almonds fish soup
- Udon noodles
- Beef tendon
- Deep fried fish cake
Even though both bowls started with a fish soup, they each offered a distinctly different flavor. The almond really comes through here, offering an aromatic quality for a light sweetness to counter the umami. The deep fried fish cake won’t arrive crispy, in case you were wondering. The same can be said if you opt for the fish puffs.
While it is not explicitly mentioned on the menu, you can request a side of XO sauce if you want a touch of spiciness with your meal. Many other restaurants charge for XO sauce, so this is certainly a welcome bonus.
XO sauce originated in Hong Kong and is made primarily with dried scallop and chili peppers, with some versions including the XO cognac from which the sauce derives its name. It’s a different kind of heat that you should really try. XO sauce is great with dim sum too.
Along with each bowl of noodles, you can choose up to two additional side dishes for a small additional charge. The oddly-named Desert Wings with Ginger ($2.75) are just deep fried chicken wings. The three wings arrived super crispy with plenty of juicy meat inside.
We also got the Pan Seared Ox Tongue ($2.75). Each of the two slices is about a centimetre thick and is generously seasoned with salt and pepper. I found it too salty for my tastes, but that can be balanced off by the fish soup.
Along with the custom soup combinations, Deer Garden also offers a range of other dishes common among Hong Kong style cafes. One such example is the Malaysian Curry Seafood on Rice ($11.75), which is similar to what you might find at Mui Garden. The thin yellow curry is also available with beef brisket, chicken filet, pork chop, or tofu and mixed vegetables, among about a half dozen other possibilities.
In this case, the mixed seafood consists of some prawns, sliced fish, squid and imitation crab, along with potatoes and bell peppers. This dish is best enjoyed by scooping some of the sauce and toppings onto the provided plate of rice, ensuring that every bite of rice is suitably covered in the curry.
Each of the three meals comes with a complimentary hot tea or coffee. Alternatively, you can pay a small premium to upgrade to other beverages. Interestingly, the Iced Milk Tea ($1 extra) arrived in a takeout cup.
Deer Garden also offers a wide selection of bubble tea too. You don’t have to get the usual tapioca balls either. Both the Peach Calpis Slush with Mango Jelly ($2.50 extra, left above) and the Mango Slush with Grass Jelly ($2.50 extra, right above) arrived in the same kind of cup as the iced milk tea but with the suitably larger bubble tea-style straws. Calpis is a light, uncarbonated, yogurt-like beverage from Japan and comes in a variety of flavors.
Deer Garden Signatures is an excellent choice at any time of the day. With midday and late night specials, as well as the restaurant’s signature custom soup noodles, you’ll never leave hungry. Just make sure you bring cash, as Deer Garden does not accept any form of plastic payment.