Time to wok the talk
Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur
11, Jalan Sultan Ismail
50250 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (03) 2074 3904
Old-fashioned comfort food is given a few simple twists by newly appointed executive chef Tan Kim Weng at the Shang Palace.
A chef’s work speaks for itself. Despite being Shang Palace’s new chef for only three months, Tan Kim Weng is fast garnering rave reviews from the restaurant’s discerning clientele for the signature dishes that he has brought with him.
The last couple of Hong Kong chefs before him somehow failed to leave their mark, and now it is up to the Ipoh-born Tan to pick up the gauntlet and wok the talk.
Tan, who has over two decades of experience and multiple awards under his belt, readily admits to being a traditionalist at heart when it comes to Chinese food.
“I’m partial to simple, home-cooked dishes,” says the amiable chef.
“My current selection reflects my passion for traditional comfort food. Using market-fresh ingredients, I just give the dishes some tweaks so that the specialities are lighter and healthier without affecting or altering their original flavours,” he explains.
Chef Tan’s creation of Stir-fried Pork Belly With Basil and Soya Sauce (RM40++) is a good example of this approach. Best described as a cross between the perennial delight of ham yue fah lam poh (sliced belly pork with salted fish in claypot) and the famed Taiwanese sum pui kai (or “three cup” chicken), this dish gets the thumbs-up from us.
We like how the tender belly pork slices are thoroughly imbued with the herbal aroma of basil leaves, the mellow brininess of the soya sauce-based marinade, and the subtle sweetness of caramelised onion and bell pepper.
Tan, who is proud of home-made soups, also proves that his mastery in making soup is second to none. Drawing inspiration from classic Chinese soups such as old cucumber, radish and sweet corn, Tan concocted his Braised Cucumber With Fish Maw and Dried Scallop (RM80++ per serving).
“Instead of rich, starchy soups, I thought today’s health-conscious diners would prefer lighter brews. This soupy creation of mine is very yun – a cooling and nourishing tonic for the body. For textural contrast, I’ve added fish maw. Its slippery smoothness and slightly chewy quality complement the cucumber’s mushy softness ver nicely,” Tan says.
Every sip of the light and clear soup is succour for the soul; the green cucumber and wolfberries add a fresh and delicate sweetness that contrasts pleasantly with the distinct savoury flavour from the whole dried scallop.
Braised Oxtail With Garlic And Chinese Herbs (RM40++) is not a dish you’ll find in most Chinese restaurants, but Tan’s kitchen serves it. And his intepretation of this rustic speciality is bold. I’m swept off my feet after a tentative sampling of that supremely rich, full-bodied stock. It makes me wish we had some crusty bread slices or flower rolls so that we could soak up every last drop of the tasty beefy gravy.
This dish will make you want to gnaw on the chunky pieces of oxtail and pick every gelatinous bit clean off those bones.
Just when we think it’s impossible for the chef to outdo himself, out comes the Pan-fried Lamb Cutlets With Mongolian Sauce (RM25++ per piece). Tender, moist and pink at the centre, the fleshy cutlet which comes with a slightly unctuous peppery sauce is a carnivore’s dream.
“The sauce is a just concoction of ground black pepper, butter and evaporated milk but the trick is in ensuring that the sauce is cooked precisely to the right point,” he says. “If it’s removed too quickly from the heat, the sauce will be unappetising and watery but if cooked a little too long, it will thickened into a cloying mess.
“The cutlets also require some preparation ahead of cooking. I usually marinate them with some hot bean paste, oyster sauce, egg, sugar and corn flour for about two to three hours; just enough to tenderise the meat and let the marinade permeate it,” Tan adds.
As we linger over dessert, Tan generously shares with us some of his kitchen secrets, like how to sweeten pork broth with sliced ginger and dried mandarin peel. For the forthcoming Chinese New Year celebrations, he confirms that the festive menus will be a “mix and match” selection of his signature specialities and the customary festive dishes.
What is the one dish that this amiable chef favours in welcoming the Lunar New Year?
“Whenever I see waxed duck, sausages and meat, it means New Year is coming. For me, waxed meat rice is a must-have for Chinese New Year,” he enthuses. Well, I’m sure Tan’s growing legion of fans at Shang Palace will be beating a path there to sample his version of the dish.