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A Feast of Treasured Legacies

May 13, 2019 Dining No Comments Email Email

The Shangri-La Hotel derives its name from the wondrous Himalayan utopia depicted in James Hilton’s novel, ‘Lost Horizon.’ Like its  famous  namesake,  the Shangri-La Hotel has provided rest, comfort and serenity for travelers for nearly half a century, while epitomizing the best and finest in Asian hospitality.

And at the centre of Shangri-La’s culinary firmament has always been Shang Palace.

Launched in 1971 together with the Shangri-La Singapore, Shang Palace has been a constant star. Both hotel and restaurant would make history as  the first of their respective, and soon to be iconic, lineages. Shang Palace Singapore is the forerunner of an international chain of 38 Shang Palace restaurants worldwide; today Shang Palace Singapore is the only F&B concept remaining from the hotel group’s opening – and the flagship of Shang Palace brand.

The cuisine and the man behind it

At the restaurant’s helm is Chef Mok Kit Keung, whose sterling 40-year career saw him bring Shang Palace Kowloon to its second Michelin star in 2011. Chef Mok is a master of Cantonese gastronomy who is dedicated to preserving traditional flavours and identities. This harmony of the historical and contemporary is expressed in his 3 new ‘menus’ – Nostalgia, Signature, and Innovation.

The first – Nostalgia – features dishes from yesteryear that are ‘lost’ or ‘rarely experienced’. Preparation of these heritage dishes is often painstaking, time-consuming and intricate – in other words, they call for the master’s hand. These dishes also require the master’s eye: Chef Mok has made considered edits by Chef Mok to preserve original flavours and textures.

These skills experience and passion are evident in dishes such as the Sautéed Fresh Milk, Crabmeat and Egg White accompanied by Deep-fried Pork Rolls with Preserved Bean Curd, which replaces buffalo milk with fresh milk and wraps the pork rolls with pork fat hand-sliced so thinly that they’re translucent – only possible with a master chef; as well as the in Boneless Quail Filled with Bird’s Nest in Supreme Broth, which replaces shark’s fin with bird’s nest and requires fastidious delicacy to retain the skin and form the tiny  game  bird during the deboning process, such that the final presentation is a dramatic unveiling of a plump whole quail.

In the Innovative menu, Chef Mok applies his distinctive brand of creativity to transform traditional flavours. His travels often colour his culinary perceptions – take, for example, the Stewed Coral Trout with Foie Gras and Black Garlic. His Parisian trips inspired the use of buttery foie gras to elevate the dish with silkiness, and black garlic’s sweet-sharp flavours to balance the richness.

Likewise, Chef Mok’s sharp observations of local markets and produce are deftly integrated to create new dishes so harmonious they taste like they have history. The Coddled Sliced Soon Hock Fillet and Young Coconut in Fish Broth is inspired by the ubiquity of coconuts in Singapore, and  uses  both young coconut water and flesh to make something fresh and light, sweet and savoury. In this menu, all the favourite flavours of Cantonese cuisine are present with clarity, with an elegant touch of familiarity.

The Signature menu showcases dishes that Chef Mok has made famous over the years, including a number that have brought him acclaim and awards – and often rightly so. These dishes, a mix of tradition and innovation, have all been filtered through his experience, his culinary mastery and his passion.

His Sautéed Boneless Chicken Wing Skewered with Abalone and Mushroom, for instance, and the Oven-baked Cod Fillet with Egg White and Dried Scallops are triumphs of mindful adaptation. Memories of beautiful  dishes were refined and elevated with precise, often labour-intensive techniques, and premium ingredients.

There are also deeply traditional dishes such as the Deep-fried Whole Boneless Chicken Filled with  Fried Glutinous Rice, meticulously recreated from scratch with kampong chicken, meticulously deboned, then stuffed with glutinous rice wok-fried with preserved Chinese sausage, dehydrated prawns, dried scallops and dried shiitake.

Throughout his constant explorations, especially in to new ingredients outside of China, Chef Mok remains  focused on traditional Cantonese cooking, underpinned by some 60 sauces that he makes in the restaurant. Th ere is no added MSG in the entire menu and Chef Mok works with producers to create non-MSG sauces. At Shang Palace sustainable sourcing of produce is  also a key objective actively practiced.

An indelible legacy of hospitality

The Shangri-La, in its very name, resonates with the restful wonder of James Hilton’s lost paradise, and Asian hospitality at its finest. Every hotel, whatever  its location, shines with a familial warmth: a genuine caring concern for one’s personal comfort crystallised in the saying, “Great hotels are made of great employees.”

Each Shang Palace encounter forges connections  and builds relationships: between chef, staff and diner, between business and community. It does this by delivering the effortless service and hospitality that is in the nature of its staff. The multitudes who have dined at the restaurant throughout the years attest to this, including families across generations, and local gourmands and international hotel guests. “Joy comes from seeing my guest smile,” says Chef Mok, “when I cook from the heart.”

Yet behind and beyond impeccable dining experiences is a larger tale woven from the inspiration of its values – Shang Palace looks to leave legacies. Chef Mok often says, “It is the duty of the ch ef to pass down knowledge … and to share wholeheartedly.” – be it by training and imparting knowledge of traditional cooking to new chefs; by ingraining the spirit of Asian hospitality in new service staff; or, by safeguarding the roots of cuisine so that families can share stories of meals at Shang Palace from one generation to another.

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