SINGAPORE - The announcement of the closing of Lei Garden's Orchard Shopping Centre branch on Tuesday ends another chapter in the Singapore food scene.
It's not quite the end of Lei Garden as the restaurant still has one more outlet in Chijmes. But it does mark a passing of sorts as the Orchard Road branch is closing after 25 years.
I do not have many memories of the outlet as I had dined there only four or five times and had always ordered just a soup, a vegetable and a plate of seafood horfun with egg gravy, dishes that my friends and I loved there.
Nonetheless, Lei Garden has played a significant part in Singapore's restaurant history. Its first outlet, which opened in 1987 at the now-defunct Boulevard Hotel in Orchard Boulevard, was a first in many ways.
It was among the first restaurants from Hong Kong to open here, paving the way for restaurants such as Crystal Jade in Cairnhill Hotel and the now-defunct Tsui Hang Village in Hotel Asia, both of which opened a few years later.
Before that, from the early to mid-1980s, the popular upmarket Chinese restaurants were run by hotels such as Min Jiang in Goodwood Park, Shang Palace in Shangri-La and Mei San in the then-Holiday Inn in Scotts Road, which is now the Royal Plaza on Scotts.
Outside the hotels, there were also locally owned restaurants, such as Charming Garden and Dragon City, both at the now-defunct Orchid Inn hotel in Dunearn Road and both now gone.
These served cuisines ranging from Cantonese to Hunan to Sichuan, with mostly traditional dishes on the menus.
But Lei Garden was different. It introduced what was contemporary Hong Kong cooking at the time to Singapore, featuring new dishes created by chefs from the then-British territory.
I remember my first taste of the mango sago dessert, called yangzhi ganlu in Mandarin, when the restaurant in Boulevard Hotel first opened. No other restaurant here served the Hong Kong dessert before that, but it was so popular that it didn't take long before other Chinese chefs here started adding it to their menus. Today, it is found in most Cantonese restaurants here.