Cantonese Cuisine: A Bad Dinner at Shangri-La’s Shang Palace in Taipei, Taiwan
One of our favorite dim sum restaurants in Taipei is Shang Palace at the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel. We have been hoping to check out their newer dinner menu since the restaurant recently underwent a redesign — both in it’s interior decor and the menu itself. Many of the dinner items on the menu are noted Cantonese specialties that are not often served at other restaurants due to the intense prep work. Some dishes require multi-day prep, involve expensive or exotic ingredients, and are created to showcase the elegant artistic elements of Cantonese cuisine. Shang Palace focuses on the four cooking styles of the Guangdong province and offers quite an extensive dinner menu.
We’re contemplating spending New Year’s Eve at the Shangri-La this year and wanted to check out the view from the rooftop pool for the Taipei 101 fireworks so this provided the perfect excuse to make reservations finally!
Last time we were there, we were in the overflow rooms for dim sum and this time we secured a window side table in the new renovated main dining area. There were a few things on the menu we were quite interested in based on reviews and recommendations. The evening got off to a bit of a bad start when we were told that at 7:45pm, they were already out of the signature baked half-chicken with rock salt (requires 45 minutes prep time). Apparently the last 1/2 chicken was sold 10 minutes prior while we were trying to get a hold of a wine list. Our mistake – we should have just ordered it while trying to figure out drinks. A note about the wine list — we were slightly disappointed with the wine selections as there was a definite emphasis on Italian wines only. The French and US selections left much to be desired (or to adequately match the dishes we were ordering), unless you wanted to delve into the big boys that had five and six figure price tags. We ordered the 2002 Newton The Puzzle for NT $4800 a bottle. It is a blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
We started with the suckling pig appetizer that had quite a hefty price tag of NT $980 (over $32 US). The appetizer sat a few good minutes on the table while we waited for someone to bring the wine we had ordered earlier.
I had been craving suckling pig after our recent weekend in Hong Kong so I had high hopes this would satiate my craving. Yeah, big disappointment. The portion was quite small and not that good. If this was my first time trying suckling pig, I would probably never eat it again. After having an incredible one from the two Michelin-starred Ming Court in Hong Kong the week before, I was completely let down. As Brett pointed out, the skin was more brittle versus crispy. The pork had a much more greasy and thick fat layer than other versions we have enjoyed.
Next to arrive was the Crispy Crab Claws with Almond Flakes NT $380 each. These were absolutely delicious. The texture of the crab and the slight sweetness of the almonds were nice. This was a more reasonable option at around $10 per claw.
Since we could not get the crispy chicken with rock salt, we ordered the other recommended chicken — Crispy Chicken with Salt and Pepper and Lemon NT $680 for 1/2 chicken. Now, this was excellent. The chicken had a beautiful crispy skin and was more like what I expected the suckling pig to be like. They served the chicken with a dish of salt, pepper, and garlic and another with lemon juice. Loved the combination of the spices and the lemon on the chicken. I was not sure we would finish this dish as it was a big portion, but we pretty much devoured it.
I thought we were on the way back up and I was happy once again…until the next course arrived. Brett decided on the Wagyu beef sauteed with leeks and barbecue sauce for NT $2,880. Yes, that is $95 US for one entree. (Oh, how I wish we had gone with the US Beef Tenderloin with Black Truffles for less than half the price!) The picture in the menu showed this elegant dish featuring asparagus spears topped with the beef and crispy leeks. What arrived looked like they dropped the plate in the kitchen and just threw it back together. While the price is not necessarily for the plating, you think they would at least take some care in plating a dish that is $100! Unfortunately, it was not just the plating that was bad — the meat was overcooked. The first few bites I took were completely overdone and tough. The crunchy leeks completely overpowered the entire dish and left me unable to taste anything. I took off most of the leeks and it was much better and I could get some flavor from the meat again.
Our last dish was eggplant and peppers stuffed with ground pork and tossed in supreme sauce. These were not bad, but Brett did not like them. He has an aversion to the “ground” pork often used in dishes here — it is more like minced pork made into glutinous starch balls. These were ok, nothing real memorable.
One of their signature dishes we did not get that I wanted to try was the scrambled egg with bird’s nest and caviar ($50 US). Since Brett does not eat eggs, it would have been an incredible waste for us to order such a big dish for just me. Given our disappointment with several other entrees, I am glad we didn’t order it.
We finished and were the last people in the entire dining room at 8:50pm! A bit surprised – they were open until 9:30pm, but the dining room was empty. We sat for a bit and waited to see if anyone would come over to ask us about dessert or tell us last order. Around 9pm, our server (who I believe to be the manager) came over and asked if we wanted dessert before the kitchen closed. His recommendation was the sweet almond cream so we tried one to split. Although I am not a huge fan of hot soup desserts, the almond cream was good, but definitely a portion to share.
The grand total for dinner? Over $400 US including the wine! For that price, we could’ve gone to Joel Robuchon’s restaurant here in Taipei or to visit our favorite restaurant, Abu’s Authentic Cuisine two times! As compared to the Cantonese Michelin star restaurants we ate at in Hong Kong recently (ironically, the Shangri-la’s Shang Palace was awarded two Michelin stars in Hong Kong), this was quite a disappointment. We will still visit for dim sum as it’s some of the best in Taipei, but will continue the hunt for high-end Cantonese here. Anyone have any recommendations or suggestions for the best Cantonese and suckling pig in Taipei?