Historically Shanghai has always been a very special place for Singaporeans. From the late 19th century, merchants capitalised on the admiration that we islanders have for the Chinese port city and started on a branding frenzy, naming all things Shanghai. So by now we have a Shanghai Department Store, dozens of Shanghai tailors and the ubiquitous Shanghai brand towels, among others.
But what about its food?
Not many people could name Shanghainese dishes apart from probably only the Xiao Long Bao which was brought to our shores and popularised by Din Tai Fung a decade ago. Newer establishments peddling Shanghainese fares are also sprouting up, touting Jiang Nan cuisine in recent years as we become more adventurous with our palettes.
Despite the rising competition, Grand Shanghai at King’s Centre remains Singapore’s oldest Shanghainese restaurant, and virtually the only one dedicated to Ben Bang Cai or Shanghainese fine dining.
The kitchen is helmed by Chef Tang, a Shanghainese native who has more than twenty years of experience preparing Ben Bang Cai. With his team, they have been making adjustments and creating modern interpretations of traditional Shanghainese fare.
I was glad to be able to resample their Signatures Menu on a recent visit.
Cold plates, comprising mostly cured meat, vinegared vegetables and pickles are often staples on the tables of old Shanghainese. And I did enjoy the first platter of the Deluxe Cold Dish Combination, which comprises Drunken Chicken, Jelly Fish in Spring Onion Oil, Crystal Pork, Crispy Eel, Vegetarian Goose, Baby Cucumber with Minced Garlic. All the items were exquisitely crafted and stayed as faithful to their original forms.
Shanghainese love food with a little extra tinge of sugar, and spice is often replaced by vinegar or scallion oil. So the next three dish are great testaments to that. The Braised Lionhead Meatball with Hairy Roe, is basically a fish-pork ball mixed with hairy crab and its roe. It was a little sweet but it had the right dose of umami, which was good enough for me. Afterall, without the sweetness it ain’t Shanghainese!
The Pan Fried Yellow Croaker Fish and Stir Fried River Shrimps/ Sauteed Shimp with Salted Egg Yolk are two exemplary hallmarks of Jiang-Nan style cooking where the much lesser seen premium river or lake produces caught from the Southern Yangtze meanders took centre stage through lightly seasoned-cooking-preparation.
Like the good ones which I have had in China, the simplicity of both dishes were done with great execution, akin to eating fine dining tempura with lightly poached ebi Kaiseki style, with the soya based tare replaced with black vinegar and ginger oil.
Beancurd skin aka Shanghai style is also prepared slightly differently from the other Chinese. Shanghainese have a habit of braising their beancurd skin in a light chicken stock unlike their Sichuanese/ Hunanese cousins where cold beancurd skin sheets is often mixed with chili oil and eaten cold. I enjoyed the version here which was stir fried and served with Snow cabbage and soya bean. It was also a rather brilliant way to substitute our usual carbohydrate-laden noodles with nutritious protein like beancurd skin.
We also had each a beautiful basket of Xiao Long Bao with sweet crab meat, definitely the piece de resistance to conclude our meal before the paltry Shanghai Pastry combo of Chilled Aloe Vera with Crystal Jelly/ Souffle Egg White Balls with Red Bean. Inspite of the uninspiring dessert, it was still a rather spectacular meal.
Apart from food, the restaurant also takes great length to recreate the atmosphere of old Shanghai, from the decadent Victorian Chinoiserie furnitures, to the velvet upholstery and a live Shanghainese band with singers pelting out classics every night from the 1930s. A great showcase of an era bygone. Spectacular as it was as it is.
PS: Grand Shanghai is offering a 1 for 1 six course Set Menu promotion till the end of June 2016. Some of the dishes include the Double Boiled Cordyceps Flowers with Chicken Soup, Steamed Cod Fish with Soya Bean Crumbs and Braised Whole Abalone in Brown Sauce. Do check out their website!
390 Havelock Road, King’s Centre, Level 1, Singapore 169662
Tel: +65 6836 6866
Operating Hours: 12.00pm to 2.15pm, 6.30-10.30pm daily
The above article is written by Guest Writer @ramenking2016. You can find him on instagram where he shares his love for food and travel