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Skip the wonton noodles, stay for the ambiance

Just before you approach the congested Tabuc Suba bridge in Jaro district, you will see an intriguing building lit up with traditional Chinese lanterns. Painted in come-hither red,  the building literally screams, "Come and visit me!"  The building has undergone a few reincarnations as a cafe and art gallery. Lately it houses "Dai Pai Dong" 大牌档, a Hong Kong kitchen inspired restaurant. In Hong Kong, a Dai Pai Dong refers to an open-air food stall selling homemade dishes like noodles, dim sum and clay pot rice. One warm Saturday evening, I decided to have dinner in the restaurant after a leisurely walk at the spruced up Graciano Lopez Jaena Park to admire up close the magnificent, newly restored Jaro Belfry. Just beside Dai Pai Dong is Balay Sueno, an all-white, newly restored heritage house that now enjoys a second life as a special events and catering place.

I adore the interiors of the Dai Pai Dong. Decorated in both and chic and kitschy Chinoiserie, it is the perfect place to enjoy a solo dinner or a dinner date. The place was quiet and empty with only a couple of tables occupied. I liked it that way though. It's like having the entire restaurant to myself. Hehehe. 

The menu offering is sparse and simple, sorely lacking the signature Hong Kong dishes that define a real Dai Pai Dong. Anyway, I settled for the generic Hainanese Chicken Rice paired with hot black tea. Much to my horror, the tea was served lukewarm in a melamine tumbler. I want tea properly served so I gave the food attendant the unsolicited, spicy advice that decent tea should be served in ceramic cups to retain the heat. If you want more customers, serve tea properly! 

The Hainanese Chicken Rice didn't satisfy my unusually large appetite that night so I ordered another dish in the menu. This time, it’s another generic Chinese fare--Wonton Noodles.  I also ordered a slice of lemon square which was served from the cafe upstairs. 

I'm very forgiving when it comes to reviewing food, but I have to stay the wonton noodle dish was salty enough to elevate my blood pressure by several points. Too salty that I left it virtually untouched. I enjoyed the lemon square (I bake a better version at home though) to wash the salty aftertaste of the Wonton noodles. My verdict? Skip the food at Dai Pai Dong next time and just have coffee and cake in the cafe upstairs. Oh Dai Pai Dong, work on your menu and polish your food preparation techniques to attract more customers. The building is too pretty to be hastily reincarnated into another joint. 

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