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Review: Shang Social shows off a fresh approach to Chinese cuisine

There’s an advent of modern Chinese restaurants in Singapore. Diners are expecting more than the usual starched dining rooms and the pricey dishes of traditional Chinese restaurants. A younger and discerning group of gourmands are looking for fresher, more casual takes on this dining experience.

So, there are restaurants that are trying to offer that. Take for example The Dragon Chamber, a speakeasy-style concept by the Tunglok Group, that has walls filled with street art and a menu full of exotic meats (crocodile penis soup, anyone?) Or the relocated Min Jiang that now has a new home with contemporary furnishings in Dempsey.

Shang Social steers in a similar direction. This is the first stand-alone concept by the Shangri-La Group, a luxury hotel chain that’s known for its fine-dining restaurants. It’s meant to be a tasteful, more approachable take on Chinese cuisine, fitting in with the crowd at Jewel Changi Airport.

A Three-in-one Concept

Private dining room (Image credit: Shang Social)

Shang Social is divided into three different spaces. On one end, there’s the Dining space which offers a more formal sit-down affair with blush pink banquettes and tables. Then on the other, the edgy cafeteria MRKT has a menu of less elaborate, yet homely, bites like dim sum, noodles and rice bowls. The Bar is the concept’s dedicated drinks area with a slew of Asian-inspired cocktails and accompanying small bites.

Common Threads

All three spaces are unique but there’s still a commonality in design. There’s a peppering of Chinese motifs while Singapore-based design studio Takenouchi Webb (the same people behind Straits Clan’s beautiful interiors) weave in a palate of speckled marble, brass, oak and silk. The contemporary interiors make for a bright and sophisticated dining space.

The work of Shangri-la’s best chefs

From left to right: chefs Joe Hou, Mok Kit Keung and Rick Du (Image credit: Shang Social)

Shangri-La is pulling out all the stops for Shang Social. All menus across the concept are curated by the hotel group’s master chefs of Chinese cuisine. Chef Mok Kit Keung of Singapore’s Shang Palace brings in his expertise in Cantonese dishes and introduces a few of his signatures on the menu. Hailing from Shenyang is chef Rick Du, who shares with Shang Social an array of authentic, fiery Sichuan dishes. What’s worth keeping an eye out for are the Huaiyang delicacies here, a lesser-known style of Chinese cuisine defined by its use of light flavours and vinegar, carried out by chef Joe Hou of Shangri-La Nanjing.

One-bite wonders

Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Ball with Eight Treasures (Image credit: Shang Social)

Shang Social’s Dining menu appears traditional. But take another peek and you’ll find some interesting appetisers playing on a variety of textures. Sesame-encrusted glutinous rice balls are presented on little wooden staircases, along with a saucer of ‘eight treasures’ stir fry. The idea is to take a small scoop of minced pork, stuff it into a ball and eat in one bite. It’s a fun little reimagination of a dish that usually eaten with rice: it’s almost like a DIY bao with a nice crunch and a savoury shot of black bean sauce. The dim sum staple of rice noodle rolls (read: chee cheong fun) is also reinterpreted as coiled strings of crispy vermicelli stuffed with tender chunks of scallop. It makes for a messier bite, but you’d be too busy enjoying it to care about sweeping bits of your table.

Braised Diced Abalone with Spicy Mapo Beancurd

Braised Dice Abalone with Spicy Mapo Beancurd (Image credit: Shang Social)

If you’re craving for tongue-searing spice, Shang Social is sure to deliver. Chef Rick Du’s goes for authentic Sichuanese flavours, and what better way to deliver this than with the ubiquitous mapo tofu? Shang Social’s version goes for a more indulgent approach, of course. Diced beancurd comes swimming in a glorious pool of spicy red oil. The fiery hit from Sichuan peppercorns is addictive, but it is the addition of braised diced abalone that brings a salty mellowness to the dish. Bowls of rice are highly recommended to go with this dish.

Seafood Broth Rice served in Iron Pot

Seafood Broth Rice served in Iron Pot (Image credit: Shang Social)

Congee and noodles are commonplace in Cantonese cuisine. One that’s not often in the menu is a homely dish of cooked rice mixed in with soup. Chef Mok Kit Keung brings in a luxurious take to this nostalgic dish as well. Crispy rice, topped with prawns and fish, is kept warm in an iron clay pot. Piping hot seafood broth is then poured tableside. The simple-looking dish betrays the hours of effort that goes into it. The silky cream-coloured soup comes thick with flavour and collagen from hours of brewing.

‘Jiang-Nan Wok’ Braised Black-Marbled Pork

The braised black-marbled pork is a classic Huaiyang dish by chef Joe Hou believed to be created during the Song Dynasty. Pork belly is cooked for an entire day, leaving the meat extra-tender accompanied by wobbling chunks of unctuous fat. A sticky sauce, rendered from the process, is perfumed with tangerine and hawthorn. Chewy cubes of glutinous rice cake (read: nian gao) are left to braised in the sauce separately, absorbing all the rich flavours before it is served together with the pork.

Trip to the MRKT

Suzhou Baked Minced Pork Bun (Image credit: Shang Social)

Diners over at the Dining area won’t be able to order items from the more casual MRKT space. It is a huge pity because there are bites there that would be fit in nicely with the course of a formal dining experience. But no matter: it means there are more reasons to head back to Shang Social. Go for the pan-fried buns that’s stuffed with a sauce of minced pork (eat with care, it’s hot) and the hefty Suzhou baked minced pork bun.

Our Verdict

A word of caution: don’t expect the same level of service as you would at Shang Palace. Hell, your waiter probably won’t know what he is serving, but he knows the bowl is hot and you should definitely watch out for it.

But that’s not why you should be heading here. Shang Social is the place to be if you want to enjoy excellent Chinese fare without the airs of a starched-up, banquet-style dinner. Head over to the Dining area for a hearty meal with friends or hang at the Bar for a cocktail and bite of dim sum. All you have to do is just chill.

Jasmine Tay

Senior Writer

Jasmine Tay is the dining, culture and jewellery writer. She makes fine silver jewellery and causes mini-explosions in the kitchen when she can't afford fancy dinners. Sometimes she tells people what she thinks about art, and binges on the music of Danzig when they don’t agree.

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