**disclaimer: I must apologize for my photos as the lack of natural lighting makes it difficult to capture these dishes in the most favorable way and gives off a harshness not reflective of what these dishes truly look like**
Today I had a lunch meeting with my friend Patsy who is the Director of Communications at the Shangri-La Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui East. I’ve known Patsy a very long time and we are joined by my fellow food writer and blogger, Bernice Chan. Bernice and I also go back a long way, not only is she a close friend, but she’s also one of my son’s godmothers.
We took the MTR again today because it is the fastest mode of transportation from point A to point B but when I reached Kowloon side, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a new tunnel had been built complete with moving walkways and no longer did I have to suffer the indignity of walking on the streets battling the humidity and heat to get to the East side of HK where everything is built on reclaimed land.
I’ve always loved this hotel. I had my Junior Prom here so it brought back a ton of memories. We headed down to the basement level of the hotel and were escorted into Shang Palace, a one star Michelin restaurant, one decorated in traditional style furnishings and the ubiquitous red hues we Chinese love so much as we believe it brings luck and prosperity.
After we sat down, I, as the guest of honor, was offered something to drink. Since we were eating Chinese food, I opted for tea — a task rather daunting seeing they have every kind of tea imaginable. I picked “sau mei” one of my favorites and hard to find both in quality and abundance in the US.
A little plate of three amuses bouche was already on the lazy susan and I picked up my fancy chopsticks to sample them. Thinly sliced braised beef, garlic chives, shiitake mushroom chunks. Everything was so finely prepared with each morsel a perfect tidbit worthy of such a highly-praised establishment.
I had thought we were having dim sum, but as the ever gracious hostess, Patsy went ahead and requested Chef prepare a menu especially created for my visit. We did however start with an array of dim sum as a teaser, an appetizer if you will to whet the palate.
We each received a bamboo basket with two dim sum items: a shrimp “fun gor” (it has a different wrapper to the regular shrimp dumplings) and a vegetarian dumpling. The first thing I noticed was how delicate the wrappers were, how translucent and thin and how I could literally see the filling inside. My biggest gripe when eating dim sum in the US is the thickness of the wrapper which interferes with what dim sum is all about.
When I bit into it, I marveled at how I could taste the fine texture of all the ingredients inside while never really noticing the wrapper which holds them together. I would’ve been happy eating 10 baskets of these, but I knew what the feast I was about to embark on (I peeked at the menu of course!) had in store.
Patsy then requested a dish of Thousand year old eggs, or black eggs, with house pickled ginger slices. This is definitely an acquired taste, and I’m happy to say, I love it. The pickled ginger was perfectly flavored with just the right amount of sweetness and acidity.
On top of that, we also each received a little dish of the house-made XO sauce, a chili-based sauce with chopped dried shrimp and conpoy (dried scallops). A little of this on a bowl of hot steamed rice and I’m a happy camper!
My son received his own order of cha siu bao, or, barbecue pork buns. I saw how he literally closed his eyes after taking the first bite and knew he will never eat another cha siu bao outside of Hong Kong again.
Steamed crab claw with winter melon comes in your own personal miniature tureen. A tender piece of winter melon, braised in a superior broth with a hefty crab claw was ready for my teeth to sink into.
My son who ordinarily won’t touch visible seafood was asked to at least take a bite to taste and ended up eating the entire crab claw. The spoonful of broth sitting on the bottom of the tureen had the most luxurious umami I wish they had given me more, but I knew not to be greedy as there was a lot more in store for my palate to experience today.
Patsy was staying away from seafood today so Chef prepared a similar dish for her with the winter melon but instead, topped it with braised mixed fungus (mushrooms) instead of the crab.
Braised spare ribs, cabbage with chin kiang vinegar is a cube of pork with just a thin layer of fat keeping the meat moist and fork tender. Chin kiang vinegar is a dark vinegar which adds a touch of sweetness to the mix. The end result is sweet and sour, never overpowering and presented ‘wrapped’ like a parcel with thin shards of vegetables and an edible flower.
The dish which followed is simple yet delicious and goes to show how the most humble of ingredients can become something so exquisite. Braised giant mushroom, homemade bean curd, and sliced black truffle with oyster sauce is a pairing which offers a complete textural mix in your mouth. The truffle leaves a scent but doesn’t take over the natural, yet minimalistic flavors of the tofu.
For me, Boiled yellow chicken soup with wanton was simply the piece de resistance of our meal. The minute I saw the claypot tureen’s lid lifted and the rich golden broth staring at me, I knew that this would be the most heavenly bowl of chicken soup I’ll ever taste.
I think everyone stopped talking when we ate this. My son was slurping it with such vigor I had to glare at him a few times to remind him it was rude to make noises during a meal. This is the kind of thing I miss the most. Yellow chickens, or brown chickens/hens as they are called can only be found in lil Saigon or Chinatown and taste very different to the ones you find at the grocery store. And even then, the ones raised in the east have a taste different to the ones raised in the west. When i got to the bottom of my bowl, I was left with two plump shrimp-filled wontons which I ate with relish.
Our meal was coming to an end. My stomach was already full, but dessert was about to follow. I didn’t really care because I had already satiated my tastebuds and it was only day two of my visit.
I should’ve known better than to dismiss dessert all together because Chilled pumpkin cream with coconut ice cream and black glutinous rice arrived in a martini glass too pretty to resist.
While I was busy taking photos, my son had already ravished his and then started eying longingly at mine. I told him I needed to at least taste it first. I love the mix of flavors, never too sweet, and when I found the black glutinous rice on the bottom I wished I’d never promised my son my dessert. The nutty and chewy texture of the rice is the kind of stuff I live for. *sigh* oh the things a mother does for her child!
But before I know it, ma lai go (Chinese sponge cake) arrive and I gasped both in excitement and in chagrin. I was way too full to eat another bite, but here, in front of me, was the perfectly mocha-hued ma lai go reminiscent of my childhood, not the pale, yellow stuff we get in the US.
I took a bite, then two, reveling in the airy lightness I had almost forgotten it could be. Then I took one last bite before settling back and letting out a huge sigh, knowing that this meal will be remembered for years to come.
at Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel
64 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East