As you can see from the photo above (not mine!), orders are by invitation only. I was given the privilege to try some of Empire’s Artisan Bak Kwa, and I would love to share with you what I thought. I know you’re all dying to know the verdict, especially since Empire’s Bak Kwa is so exclusive. There is no price stated on their Facebook page, there are no reviews, and barely any photos.
I do wonder though, why they choose to be so exclusive, limiting themselves from such a big market, especially during Chinese New Year.
(I wonder what happens if they invite you to order, and you turn them down. Are you blacklisted, and never allowed to order again? Haha. I doubt anyone who was invited would say no though :P) Empire Artisan prides themselves in Applewood Smoked products, in this case, Applewood smoked Bak Kwa. Their packaging suggest finesse and grandeur, after all it has to look good for the exorbitant price you pay.
Disclaimer: I placed these slices of Bak Kwa in my own box for photography purposes, but this box is not the one that Empire packages their Bak Kwa in. When I first opened the box, the most distinct difference is the aroma of the Bak kwa. You can smell the woodiness from the applewood, which is very different from the usually sweet meaty smell you get from Bak Kwa. The Bak Kwa was nicely grilled, with even charred bits all over the meat. The bak kwa also had a nice colour to it! Thickness wise, it was on par with other contenders like Bee Cheng Hiang and Lim Chee Guan, perhaps verging on the thicker side. So how was the taste? The taste was not very different from run-of-the-mill Bak Kwa at first, but if you pause and really savour it, you’ll notice that the sweetness comes on very subtlety unlike the sugar coated commercial brands. (I do like that sticky sweetness though heh)
…Then the smokiness hits you.
As with any good quality food, the taste lingers, so the sweetness and woodiness of the applewood does leave a light aftertaste. But not so that you feel like you need to run for 88 minutes (I read that 1 slice of Bak Kwa = 88 minutes of running. But seriously, that doesn’t matter. Don’t ruin CNY please, it’s just once a year!!)
To be honest, a normal person probably wouldn’t be able to taste a major difference, despite the major difference in price. The Bak Kwa was rather fibrous, perhaps they used more lean meat instead of fatty meat. It also verged on being dry, but since most Bak Kwa has this texture if it is not eaten on the very day it is made, or even within a few hours, I’ll let that slide.
You may argue that I’m not a discerning taster, or that my palate isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate this delicacy (and hence why I wasn’t invited to try this, along with the majority of Singaporeans) But trust me, since each slice is allegedly valued at close to $30-40, I savoured each mouthful that I ate.
Since each bite is almost worth $3, I definitely focused on the flavour. I have never eaten something so mindfully before. But I had to… after all, this is almost like eating gold! 😛
Empire Artisan Bak Kwa is good, but is it worth the huge jump in price? To me, I think not. It’s good, but not $700 better than other brands, like it’s (alleged) price suggests.
That being said, I think other meats have better potential to be cooked in applewood than this kind of pork. More delicate meats like fish would be favourable, or perhaps meat which requires slow-cooking for 24 hours or more, since it would allow the applewood smokiness to be absorbed into the meat.
If Empire Artisan sells other types of meat, I think they would be worth a try! (Applewood smoked salmon sounds pretty delicious)
For now, and for the sake of my pocket, I’ll just stick with good ol’ Bee Cheng Hiang or Lim Chee Guan 😀
Rating: 7/10 What do you think? 🙂