Temperature, taste and fragrance – these are the three ingredients of Cantonese cuisine that distinguish one restaurant from another. And one of these restaurants manages not only to preserve timeless classics, but also to remain vibrant and culturally relevant to today’s palette. Ask around and you’ll know that the 51-year-old Shang Palace needs no introduction. Its delights speak volumes, evoking a familiar warmth and sense of place that brings back memories in which many find solace.
The end of a legendary era now comes with Chef Daniel Cheung at the helm, flexing 37 years of high-level Cantonese cuisine. He brings with him a wealth of experience of cutting his teeth in prestigious kitchens – The Peninsula’s Spring Moon restaurant, the revered Jockey Club where the rich and famous have dined, and more recently a Michelin star Shang Palace Kowloon – where the native of Hong Kong has become one of the territory’s most respected leaders.
Through his skilled hands, a refreshed menu featuring his exquisite interpretation of age-old classics with understated traces of contemporary creativity marks Shang Palace’s new beginnings. Some of his beloved dishes include lightly braised bamboo marrow and imperial bird’s nest topped with crab coral – a popular dish in the 70s and 80s, the succulent Cantonese crispy fried chicken with spiced salt and the spotted garoupa with silky egg white sauce and crispy parma ham. Among Cheung’s stellar repertoire were two mesmerizing dishes that really stood out and spotlighted masterful displays of technique.
The first is an entrée of applewood-smoked bean curd rolls unveiled in wraps of aromatic applewood smoke (pictured above). Despite looking like a walk in the park, there are layers of delicate flavors and textures achieved only by painstaking technique; fresh earthy shiitake first fried then braised in a flavorful blend of soy sauce and oysters; shredded crispy mustard green stalks shocked by blanching in hot water then cold water afterwards; finely grated carrots fried for crunch. The result is a harmonious one-bite orchestra held together by curd skin steamed and then smoked with pu-erh tea.
The other is a rustic but pristine 50-year-old recipe of baked shrimp pomelo zest brimming with heritage and nostalgia (pictured above). As a base, Cheung pairs its superior broth with fresh dace and a dried mix of scallops, sole and shrimp. He then proceeds to boil the pomelo skin and soak it in ice water, then squeeze it to remove as much water as possible – the key to eliminating the unpleasant bitterness found in the skin.
After repeating the process more than five times, the skin is gently simmered in hot oil – but not boiling, more like a confit – until it puffs up. It steams with the top broth for about two hours to give a delicate but powdery texture similar to that of taro. The final touch of a brined sauce sprinkled with shrimp roe and flavored with light hints of lard completes the dish, again, simple.
Another noteworthy tribute goes to Cheung’s sincere attempt to adapt to regional ingredients by adapting his beloved Hong Kong recipe of crabs baked with Chinese peppercorns to local live prawns with white pepper from the Sarawak (pictured above). A robust dish that teases all the senses.
Of course, aside from Cheung’s new dishes, guests will still be able to enjoy the renowned – and well-guarded – nostalgic dishes from the Michelin-starred restaurant that had been enjoyed across generations in the resplendent space. While it may serve to relive nostalgic memories of the old, it is Shang Palace’s unwavering status as a bastion of knowledge of Cantonese cuisine and heritage that will inspire younger generations of foodies to come.
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