The Langham Shanghai Xintiandi’s signature Cantonese restaurant T’ang Court has become China’s first establishment to be awarded three Michelin stars — and one of only three Cantonese restaurants worldwide to achieve that feat.
It is no secret that China is a nation of foodies, so it is curious that the Michelin Guide took this long to launch a mainland Chinese edition. The Michelin Guide Shanghai 2017 was finally unveiled in China’s financial capital last September, with only one restaurant — T’ang Court — bagging the coveted three-star rating.
In doing so, the establishment, which is The Langham Shanghai Xintiandi’s signature Cantonese restaurant, beat out the usual suspects such as L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Yongfoo Elite (two stars each) as well as perennial favourites Da Dong and Lei Garden (one star each).
At a private tasting session for Options last October, executive chef Justin Tan’s culinary flair came to the fore. A native of Guangdong province, he hails from a family of chefs (Tan’s grandfather, father and brothers are all chefs). Tan counts 23 years of experience in various kitchens and has distilled this wealth of knowledge into a refined menu.
“The place I come from, Zhanjiang, is the cradle of Cantonese cuisine,” says the 39-year-old via email (he was not present during our visit). “My memories of Cantonese cuisine are of traditional or typical Cantonese dishes, such as barbecued meat, white chicken and sweet and sour pork.”
Not surprisingly, the dishes bore a classically Cantonese flavour profile, but creative presentations prevented them from being staid or stodgy. Case in point: The T’ang Court appetiser, an elegant sampler of toothsome treats, included roasted suckling pig layered with barbecued black-hair pork, crispy bean curd, cucumber and sweet sauce, all presented on a bao (steamed Chinese bun) wafer, is a delightful accord of textures and flavours.
Simplicity also rules in Tan’s kitchen. The Chicken Fried Rice, the most humble of dishes, was elevated to perfection, thanks to the use of premium, healthy ingredients such as goji berries, and a touch of Chinese rice wine. But as with any form of creative expression, simplicity is not the easiest thing to achieve. “One needs to know the basics inside out, yet the vision needs to be broad and the exposure needs to be wide, and then one will have the power to convert complexity to simplicity,” says Tan, explaining how he strives to attain this goal.
Growing up, Tan’s passion for the culinary arts was ignited by observing his family members working in the kitchen. His fundamental skills, however, did not derive from his kinfolk. “I started from the most junior position in the kitchen, and then learnt the basics of Cantonese cooking through on-the-job training,” he says, recounting his early years spent ingredients — local and seasonal — and ensure that our cooking skills are top-notch so that we can deliver a consistent quality, I also put a lot of thought into the way the dishes are presented so that visually, they can ‘wow’ or surprise diners. I update the à la carte menu on a half-yearly basis, but for set menus, I update them on a quarterly basis. I always look for the best-quality ingredients and make sure their supply is stable. Then, my culinary team and I will go through several rounds of cooking and food tasting. My team members will give their comments for improvements and enhancement. The same best practice applies to our service team.
Besides chronicling developments in the luxury watch industry, Aaron De Silva also runs The Time Traveller SG on Instagram (@thetimetravellersg) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/thetimetravellersg)
This article appeared in Issue 773 (April 3) of The Edge Singapore.