Hong Kong is one of the world’s most vibrant international cities with a melting pot of traditions and customs, a sign of its Chinese and colonial past. While its cultural diversity can be seen throughout the city, a good place to start is Tsim Sha Shui in southern Kowloon. Until 30 June 2017, Kowloon Shangri-La is offering a unique Cultural Heritage Package combining your stay at a luxurious waterfront five-star hotel with a guided walking tour off the beaten track to unveil the hidden gems and fascinating streets around Tsim Sha Tsui.
Our discovery of Hong Kong’s rich culture, however, inevitably revolved around its culinary history and influences. A dinner banquet at the two-Michelin star Shang Palace at Kowloon Shangri-La is not only mind-blowing but also a snapshot of the philosophy and execution behind classic Cantonese cuisine.
Shang Palace has been part of the hotel since day one and is renowned for its traditional Cantonese cuisine with some contemporary twists. The success of the restaurant is attributed to evolution as opposed to revolution – not changing the tradition but rather developing its signature elements.
Decorated in red and gold motifs reminiscent of the Song Dynasty, the restaurant was refurbished in 2012 and a 20-seat grand private dining room and a brand new wine cellar home to over 1200 bottles of both Old and New World wines were introduced.
The theme colours are also displayed in the custom-made chinaware, a yellow show plate with four “Lingzhi” patterns, symbolising bringing all luck together in harmony.
The menu in Shang Palace includes an extensive selection of seafood as well as Cantonese delicacies such as bird’s nest and abalone. Our evening began with a sip of green tea, an integral part of Cantonese cuisine that is believed to remove the grease from food and help digestion. A unique Cantonese custom is to tap on the table with index and middle fingers as a gesture of thanking the person pouring the tea.
Another unique feature of Cantonese cuisine is the serving of soup before the meal. The soup is usually a clear broth prepared by cooking meat and other ingredients on a low heat for several hours; it’s called ‘Bao Tang’ (literally translating as ‘simmering soup’). The central ingredient for our soup was something highly prized in Cantonese cuisine for its rarity, and supposedly high nutritional value and exquisite flavour – Bird’s Nest. This delicacy is the harvested nest of swiftlets, made of hardened saliva. This was cooked together with Alaskan king crabmeat and conpoy, also known as dried scallop. The soup was viscous and displayed a mild taste with contrasting flavours from sweet crabmeat and salty conpoy. A small pinch of white pepper is optional to bring a little heat.
Our trio of entrees was a mixture of the familiar and the exotic. Barbecued pork loin glazed with honey sauce is fairly well-known although Shang Palace uses meat from a special breed of Italian black pig which is noticeably more tender and succulent than normal.
We began to step outside our comfort zone with Sautéed fresh milk and egg white served with dried scallops in a golden cup. The milk was extremely light and provided a creamy coating to the seafood. The trio was completed by chilled and marinaded Razor clams in house-made chilli paste with the addition of crunchy jellyfish. The whole mixture was served cold, following the order of a traditional Chinese banquet from cold appetizers to hot main courses. Definitely an acquired taste but it grew on us with each spoonful.
The meal had been an eye-opener so far but we were happy to place our trust in the chef and follow his lead on this culinary adventure. There’s nothing too exotic in wok fried Korean beef and asparagus with teriyaki sauce, but the Shang Palace hasn’t held two Michelin stars since 2008 by accident. The meat in this dish was the highest grade Korean A++ beef to produce the renowned melts-in-the-mouth sensation. An impressive nest crafted out of vermicelli noodles was fashioned over the meat with fried and shaved garlic.
Our experience at Shang Palace was something of a roller coaster ride with the familiarity of the beef and teriyaki sauce only temporary respite before we were plunged once again into the unknown. We have had cabbage stir-fried, pickled and boiled but this was the first time ‘coddled’. Coddling is a technique whereby the vegetable is kept in water just below boiling point to prevent overcooking and to retain as much texture and flavour as possible.
Our coddled cabbage was served with fish curd in a fish broth. Curd in this context can be slightly misleading if you have no knowledge of Chinese terminology. It doesn’t refer to the familiar process of coagulating milk but instead is a technique whereby fish mince is repeatedly beaten until it is gluey and creamy before the mince is compressed and deep-fried until golden brown. The end result is incredible – not only is the fish flavour perfectly preserved but the meat is more fluffy, elastic and moist than normal fish fillet.
Finally our ride reached the highest point of the roller coaster and we were ready for the finale. As devotees of matcha, we have tried the green tea in all shapes and sizes, but we were still taken aback by our final course – Sliced crispy chicken with Matcha toast. The creation of this dish is as imaginative as it is ingenious: Chicken is bathed in hot oil to generate the crispy and dark brown skin whilst milk is “stir fried” before adding in matcha powder to form a pudding with the familiar umami taste. This pudding is then placed on a small toast and topped with a slice of chicken skin. Roast chicken meat is mixed with shredded jellyfish and served separately in a basket made of deep fried vermicelli noodles. It is truly a masterpiece from creation, execution through to presentation.
After nearly two hours the dessert was in sight with petite four elegantly perched on top of a tree shaped golden stand. The assorted Asian flavour pastries – pink lotus seeds, brown walnut cookies, and white sugar pudding – were a fine end to an exciting meal.
Needless to say Shang Palace has worked hard to earn its reputation via not only quality of the food but the standards of service. No exaggeration to say that it is amongst the best we have ever received – friendly, exceptionally polite staff for whom no request is too difficult, and truly world-class.
Since its opening in 1981, Shang Palace earned many awards both locally and internationally. It has held two Michelin stars since 2008 and the restaurant was also awarded the Two Glasses Award by the China Sommelier Association in 2015 under the helm of Executive Chef Mok Kit Keung. A resident sommelier is on hand to guide diners through the extensive range and help with wine pairing.
A dinner experience at Shang Palace at Kowloon Shangri-La isn’t something you will forget anytime soon. For the western palate it is exotic, exquisite, and exceptional. The experience is a journey outside your culinary comfort zone yet one where you are spoiled with top-notch service, world-class wine, next-level cooking skills and premium ingredients. It will be a long time before we encounter another dining experience like it.
Shang Palace, Kowloon Shangri-La
64 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2733 8754
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Shangri-La Kowloon