If Shang Palace has been a little inaccessible because of its off-the-map location, take heart for the Shangri-La Group has just opened its first standalone Chinese restaurant and it’s not Shang Palace.
Located at the Moshe Safdie-designed Jewel Changi Airport, a S$1.7 billion mixed-use complex boasting 135,700 square metres in size and more than 280 shops and F&B outlets, the brand-new Shang Social is no less impressive than the development that it occupies.
Occupying a staggering 6,000 square feet of space, Shang Social offers 220 seats spread over three distinct areas: the MRKT for casual communal dining and takeaways; the BAR for Asian-infused cocktails, craft beers and sparkling tea; and the more formal Dining room.
Featuring three of the four pillars of Chinese cuisine, namely Huaiyang (a cooking style that wikepedia describes as native to the “region surrounding the lower reaches of the Huai and Yangtze rivers and centred upon the cities of Hiai’an, Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province”), Szechuan and Cantonese, Shang Social taps on the regional cuisine expertise of the chefs helming Chinese restaurants in the cadre of more than 100 Shangri-La properties throughout China, namely Chef Mok Kit Keung for his Cantonese cuisine expertise, Chef Joe Hou for his experience in Huaiyang cuisine and Chef Rick Du for his mastery in Szechuan cuisine.
For the sheer breadth of its menu offerings, it would be impossible to recommend the best dishes in each of the restaurant’s three concepts but here are five plates you should not miss:
1.Bamboo noodles with dark soy sauce and lard (S$6) from MRKT
Springy egg noodles handcrafted by artisans (known to ”ride” on a long pole of bamboo to knead the dough) are served enrobed in fragrant pork lard – complete with crisp cubes of lard – and a dark soy sauce-based concoction. A brazenly bare noodle dish indeed but after one bite, it all becomes clear that the noodles and the accompanying lard are all that matter.
2.Signature pan-fried bun with pork ($5.80 for 3 pieces) from MRKT
Also named Sheng Jian Bao, this street snack has the same pork and chilled meat collagen filling of a xiao long bao but instead of a thin fold of dumpling skin, the dough that coddles the meat is decidedly thicker and instead of being steamed, the sesame-crusted dumpling is pan-fried then simmered in a shallow pool of water so that the steam from the water cooks the ”bao” completely. A perfect ”bao” is one with skin that is tender to the touch yet elastic to the bite with the soup stock still intact when you bit in. This one aces it on all counts.
3. Free-range chicken with homemade pickled ginger and fermented rice in sizzling claypot ($22 a pot) from Dining
If you’ve had the confinement food of chicken with wok-toasted ginger and fermented rice wine, this dry version with almost similar ingredients of cubed ginger and fermented rice, without the wine, is a heart and tummy-warming dish that speaks of hominess. Sweet, gingery and slighty piquant, it’s great on its own but even better with rice.
4. Jiang Nan wok-braised black marbled pork (S$26) from Dining
A Huaiyang specialty that is not unknown in Singapore, thick and marbled chunks of pork belly are wok-braised with black soy sauce and rock sugar until suitably – not meltingly – tender. But what’s interesting are the gelatinous bricks of mochi-like rice cakes arriving alongside the pork for a flavour and textural counterpoint. It’s so comforting that no one will fault you for asking for seconds.
5. Red grouper fillet stewed in pea mash soup with pickled peppers and Chinese cabbage ($78 for 500g) from Dining
For those who think that 水煮鱼is the only Szechuan fish option in restaurants, this dish will open your eyes to the wondrous world of Szechuan cuisine that emphasizes hearty flavours rather than tear-jerking and tongue-numbing spiciness. In a claypot big enough for eight are slices of grouper fillet with pickled mustard green, pickled chilli peppers (the size of your pinky but the shape of a pumpkin), French beans and black fungus in a semi-thick broth of stock with mashed peas. On days when you want a simple meal, this pot of rustic soup does it. Nothing else is needed apart from a bowl of rice.
Jewel Changi Airport, 78 Airport Boulevard, #01-219 to 222, Singapore 819 666