At first glance, this cookbook can be maddeningly frustrating because there’s a lot of information missing. I couldn’t find the year it was published on the copyright page (an online search revealed that it came out in 2006), or any information on which Shangri-La hotels participated in the production of the book. And although the names of the chefs who contributed recipes are listed, it doesn’t give any biographical details about them, nor does it tell us at which branch they worked. Freelance writer and long-time Hong Kong resident Robin Lynam is given credit for writing the introduction, but who penned the words to the following chapters?
Dig a little deeper, however, and you will come across some interesting information. Ever wonder why the Kowloon Shangri-La’s Chinese restaurant is called Shang Palace while the one at Island Shangri-La is Summer Palace? That’s because the Kowloon branch opened first.
The book tells us, “Usually the first property will be in the heart of the city and have a Shang Palace, while the second will be away from the city centre and be designated a Summer Palace [...] Every rule has its exceptions however.
In Hong Kong, the city’s centre can only be said to be in the middle of the harbour, the equally important Central and Tsimshatsui districts lying to either side of it, but even Hong Kong could not have more than one Shang Palace, so when the Island Shangri-La opened in 1991 a Summer Palace became one of its foremost attractions.”
I wasn’t aware that all branches of the restaurants have their own unique pattern of fine bone china, or that they used to serve only Cantonese food, at the Shangri-La group’s insistence.
“Until 1998, the hotel group took a purist stance on the issue of allowing other influences to be felt in the kitchens. But to meet the demands of today’s diners, fine dishes from different parts of China have been added to the menus – without compromising the excellence of the Cantonese cooking on which the restaurants’ reputations are based [...] Today, robustly spicy Sichuan choices are offered alongside more delicate dishes from the south. In China, elements of the local cuisines are often represented on the Shang Palace or Summer Palace menus, and chefs are at liberty to incorporate some Western elements into a dish should they feel so inclined.”
Also interesting are the recommendations on the type of drink – wines, teas or spirits – to pair with the dishes.
Some of the recipes will be difficult for most home cooks to pull off (the monk jumps over the wall, with sea cucumber, fish maw and goose feet, for instance) but many are much easier. They include steamed crab claws with Chinese rice wine; deep-fried Chongqing spicy chicken; bamboo clams with black bean sauce; roasted honey pork neck; braised bean curd with mushrooms; fried rice with scallops and egg whites; braised pork belly with star anise sauce; stir-fried squash with dried shrimp; and mango cream with sago and pomelo.