Elijah Ferrian finds exquisite Cantonese cuisine at an old standby in the Saigon food scene. Photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
It may be my first time sitting down at Shang Palace, but they have been quietly churning out phenomenal Cantonese dishes since 2007. While we get acquainted with the ambience of the restaurant, I notice how relaxed all of the guests are.
This place is focused on people sitting down and forgetting that anything else is happening, aside from the fine service and well-executed dishes landing on the tables. I couldn’t help but notice that there is a very nice selection of French and Australian wines, giving the restaurant a unique ability for pairing a spicy Shiraz with Chinese fare. The owner splits his time between Saigon and Australia, and feels Aussie wine is a perfect complement to their food.
Shang Palace is a long-time Cantonese restaurant that often gets overlooked just because it has been around for so long. There’s a table of famous moviemakers, a group of well-dressed professionals, and a few families enjoying both home-run favourites like rolled rice noodles drizzled with sweet soy sauce (VND55,0000), all the way to more ‘out there’ plates like jellyfish with sesame oil paired next to thin pieces of beef shank (VND150,000).
We feast on a crazy array of bite-sized dishes that allow for a kind of artistic foray into how adventurous and potentially life-changing traditional Chinese cuisine can truly be. Shang Palace prides itself on perfect execution of traditional fare, as well as providing some of the ‘weirder’ bites one may encounter. I had never had a century egg (VND100,000), and I felt that I was being challenged by our hosts to be uncomfortable with certain foods, but I rather enjoyed the deep black-crimson long-fermented shadow eggs that the entire table promptly gobbled up.
Seafood scallop steamed dumplings (VND85,000) were crisp and clean tasting, while the prawn and chive fried dumplings were exquisitely rich and balanced by a long, vegetal finish owing to the large pieces of fresh chive dancing with the dense protein filling of the seafood (VND58,000). One cannot overlook the Peking duck (VND500,000), served dim sum style with roasted duck skin wrapped in a rice flour crepe, accompanied by cucumber, chive, carrot, and a hoisin dipping sauce. The most fun, yet refined finger food one could possibly dream up.
A delicate chilled mango puree with vanilla ice cream (VND90,000) concluded the seemingly endless waves of food. Although it may sound a bit tame compared to the rest of the meal, it was a seriously perfect way to end a lunch consisting of so many broad, contrasting bites of food.
There are a handful of good places for dim sum and Chinese cuisine in the city, but Shang Palace delivers a refined dining experience that maintains a seamless balance of tradition and creativity. Invite your friends here for ‘tea’, like the Chinese invite for dim sum usually goes, and go bite-for-bite Cantonese style.