Paris, the capital of fine dining and home to some of the world’s most renowned restaurants can now boast of the famous Asian eatery, the Shang Palace restaurant, which opened earlier this week. The restaurant opens its doors among much controversy whether Parisians are truly ready for gourmet Chinese cuisine. For most French people, Chinese eats rhymes with bottom-of-the-food-chain takeout. Shang Palace at the new ultra-luxury Shangri-La Hotel, is positive about making its mark; together with head chef Frank Xu’s refined Cantonese fare. From the crispy suckling pig to the lion’s head soup to the steamed crab claw in Hua Diao rice wine, the 60-odd items on offer are as faithfully rendered as they would be in a top-tier Hong Kong kitchen. What has been left out of the menu is the notoriously famous, sautéed duck tongues or braised snake on this menu: at least for now.
On his first foray outside China, Chef Xu brought four sous-chefs to handle key posts in his 20-man kitchen: a chopper, a dim sum maker, a barbecue expert, and a wok chef. Another difficulty was wedding authentic Chinese food to western table manners, resulting in a kind of clash of culinary cultures. Chinese dishes are traditionally brought from the kitchen one by one and shared by all, whereas the French tradition dictates that each shall have his or her own. Likewise, helping oneself — perfectly acceptable in even the toniest Chinese establishment — is associated in the West with a family-style meal, not high-end gastronomy. Then there’s the “lazy Susan”, the rotating circular tray in the middle of tables seating six or more. At the Shang Palace, guests at such tables will be given two pairs of chopsticks, one to grasp from the common plate, and the other to eat with. Wine glasses also had to be adapted so they would not constantly be knocked over while reaching for a tasty morsel of abalone or fermented bean curd.
We’ve eaten at the Shang Palace and all we have to say is that, once you’ve eaten at the Shang Palace – there’s no turning back. Bon Appetite!