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Step into Summer Palace and you’ll know immediately what the Chinese consider to be lucky colours. Gold wallpaper, gold-painted carved wooden screens, gold picture frames, red chairs and red lattice panels dominate. There’s a swirl of blue carpet and grand chandeliers in this tiered and ornate jewel box inspired by the actual palace in Beijing. Tables are well spaced, noise levels pleasant and a lack of natural light is made up for by bright golden lighting. The crowd is mostly well-heeled local families on our visit, though its location in Admiralty makes it a popular business choice, especially during lunchtimes.
With nearly 25 years under his toque at Island Shangri-La and its sister Kowloon property, most of it as Executive Chinese Chef, Ip Chi Cheung has been a standard bearer for traditional Cantonese cooking in Hong Kong, eschewing fads and perfecting classics. Sliced barbecued suckling pig is textbook, the meat white and moist, separated from the lightest crackling by a layer of steamed bread. You could almost believe it’s good for you. Soya chicken marinated in rose wine is tender, the sauce adding depth of flavour, though the barbecued pork with honey sauce was dry and chewy. Sprigs of curly parsley accompanied many dishes, a garnish that should be retired and left to grow in peace. Faring better was the lobster wanton soup with porcini, served in a steaming hot superior soup, allowing the chicken stock to shine. The presence of the lobster and porcini, however, was barely discernible. Our favourite dishes of the evening were pan-fried vermicelli with prawns, a gloopy-looking pile of noodles that turned out to be a crispy, slightly chewy and absolutely delicious, and deep-fried chicken wing stuffed with crab meat and onion, a glossy baton of poultry encasing shreds of sweet shellfish that’s devoured in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare. Dessert was chilled mango pudding that glowed orange, topped with an unnecessary glacé cherry.
As befits a high-end Cantonese eatery, premium teas are offered. A decent selection of big name, big ticket champagne and mostly French wine is available, several by the glass, with most bottles well over $700. Oenophiles can also order from the extensive wine list from Petrus, the hotel’s French fine dining restaurant.
The biggest surprise and let down of the evening was the service, which was lacklustre at best and inflexible at worst. We ordered the set menu and no substitutions would be countenanced. Dishes came out too quickly and sometimes piled up on the table – requests to slow down were ignored. Getting the attention of staff was difficult at times.
A substantial meal for two including a glass of house wine each starts at about $700, which is very reasonable for the quality of the food