Summer Palace

A palatial banquet in the local mall

As with the outlets at Kowloon’s new W hotel or Central’s Four Seasons, the restaurants in the Island Shangri-La are housed in both a hotel and a shopping centre. The phenomenon of an integrated hotel-residential-retail-commercial complex seems to be finally catching on in Hong Kong. But of course, Admiralty’s Pacific Place was the SAR’s frontrunner.

Eating in such a staid and settled location is not to everyone’s taste. However, the Shang has always achieved an envied level of refined intimacy in its restaurants. Naturally, if you’ve lived in the city long enough, this is hardly ‘new’ news.

A large central column and high ceilings work perfectly as dividing, privacy-generating features. Only the rather dowdy chandeliers do anything to take away from is a simple and elegant dining room.

Just like its twin, the Shang Palace across the water, Summer Palace specialises in everything and anything that’s Cantonese. From the traditional golds and reds that shimmer from lacquered wood carvings, to the service that is nothing but impeccable – the flagship for the hotel chain remains an institution.

If its interior betrays these regional roots, then the large menu simply only serves as a reinforcement. As any local Hongkonger will know, Cantonese dishes are normally divided along these lines: barbecue, abalone, shark’s fin, soup, bird’s nest, poultry, pork, beef, noodles and seafood – and dim sum the star of the lunch menu. There are also some seasonal specialities and chef recommendations to mull over in the ordering process.

A large tea assortment and an impressive wine choices add to the difficulty of the selection. Although I discovered that a bottle of Victorian 2005 Stonier Pinot Noir was a fine accompaniment for my dinner.

The signature stewed spare-ribs in a clay pot ($175) is deliciously rich and tender. Its dark, terracotta-red colour matching the surroundings. The braised bamboo fungus stuffed with diced vegetables ($150) is exquisitely presented and has a wonderful, crunchy consistency. For dessert, the double-boiled aloe vera was a real, refreshing treat to round the meal off.

Naturally, as with all authentic and immaculately presented food, these delicacies come at a price. Though the eclectic bunch of shoppers, hotel guests, local residents and business crowd had no complaints during my recent trip to Summer Palace.

Only one curious tourist asked a question of the kitchen. He had never heard of an abalone before and wanted to see one before he ordered it. A fresh uncooked abalone was duly dispatched but the unusual shape and markings of the mollusk worried the Frenchman. “We do not have these in Paris,” he exclaimed nervously. It’s a just a different kind of snail I reassured him…a much more expensive snail.

Review by James Moore

Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong, Pacific Place, Supreme Court Road, Admiralty, Hong Kong Tel 852 2820- 8552