THAILAND - Six months after closing for renovations, Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Bangkok Hotel is once again open and boasts not just a more sophisticated look and a more spacious dining area, but also a large kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment and a new team of chefs from Hong Kong.
Some Bt120 million (S$4.7 million) has been spent on breathing new life into this 27-year-old bastion of Cantonese food and it's earning more than a few wolf whistles. The old Shang Palace was reminiscent of an old Hong Kong teahouse with classic Chinese furniture, rich artwork and fine woodcarving. The new interior, designed by Hospitality & Leisure Asia of Hong Kong, is pleasantly contemporary though still retains a strong Chinese heritage.
One of the improvements is the replacement of a wall by floor-to-ceiling glass, which allows the light to stream in while offering a great view of the Chao Phraya River. Subtle hues of crimson and gold contrast with the celestial-inspired carpets and the red Tang dynasty-inspired chairs under a canopy of crystal chandeliers. Hand-painted silk murals of flowers and birds provide the focal point.
The gilded Happy Buddha surrounded by five statues of children - a long-time Shang Palace icon- continues to greet visitors in the curved waiting area. The statues symbolise longevity, good health, good children, nobility and wealth.
Previously able to seat 160 guests, the restaurant now can serve up to 300 diners and there are also five private rooms decked out with lattice and glass features.
However, the restaurant's pride is its decentralised kitchen, which is spacious and well structured to maximise efficient food preparation. It is divided into several stations, each devoted to a different cooking method. Stir-fried and steamed dishes are cooked at the main cooking station while other areas are given over to a dim sum preparation room, a barbecue room with ovens and broilers and a meat plating room, as well as a seafood space lined with fish tanks.
The three new chefs are led by Sham Yun Ming and he works closely with dim sum chef Yip Kam Wing and barbecue chef Po Wai Cheng.
More than two dozen dim sum dishes are available for lunch. Each dish is cooked to order and served hot at the table in the ubiquitous bamboo basket. The classic dish of ha gao or steamed shrimp and bamboo shoot dumplings (Bt110) comes with soft translucent skin and a generous mouthful of shrimp. The steamed fish stuffed with minced
shrimp (Bt90) and deep-fried pork turnovers (Bt80) are equally tempting.
We particularly enjoyed the soon hock fish soup with preserved egg (Bt350). The mild tasting and tender flesh of the soon hook (goby) blends perfectly with the distinct taste of preserved egg, with the yolk enriching the broth and the white adding a gelatinous texture.
Po Wai Cheng offers a delicious barbecued meat combination (Bt750) featuring duck, pork, chicken and jellyfish. Equally succulent is the two-head abalone braised with oyster sauce (Bt3,000). The number of heads refers to the size of the abalone - the bigger the number, the smaller the abalone. Abalone served in restaurants normally range from two to 16 heads.
The main course is the popular Chinese-style wok-fried rice dish Yang Chow (Bt370) with barbecued pork and shrimp.
The meal ends with baked mini egg tarts (Bt90 for three pieces), which are crispy and not too sweet.
Tea drinking is an integral part of a traditional Chinese meal and at Shang Palace diners can explore a variety of rare leaves from the trolley service. The beverage menu also features Chinese white wine, cognac and bourbon.