If I had a yuan for each time I have endured pretentious twaddle on the subject of "authentic Chinese food", I'd be in a position to rebuild the Great Wall of China in Mexico thereby trumping two twits with one stone, in a manner of speaking. Attempting to slot the magical cuisine of China into pre-determined categories is just silly; Sichuan is spicy, Shandong is salty and crispy while Cantonese for example is predominantly sweet and subtle…you see what I mean? Ultimately one should be led by taste and flavour, not by bogus claims to authenticity. The late great A.A. Gill was cynical on a variety of subjects but never on cooking. "Making food out of earth and water and sunlight is a salutary blessing for those who have had their narrow lives made bitter and inedible, and the spell, the concoction, the offering of food is a wholly good thing from compromised hands. To feed someone is to wish them well, to add to their lives, to offer them warmth and comfort, well-being and hospitality. To give someone a diamond is to own them, decorate them and make them richer. But a baked potato gives them another day of life."
I recently dined at the Shang Palace and I have to say it lived up to its billing. History buffs will know that this signature restaurant at the Shangrila Hotel is named after the Shang dynasty, circa 1766-1122 BC, which was renowned for its complex social structure, development of a written language and the use of bronze. We started with the Chongqing Chicken: tender morsels of chicken wok tossed with chilli and Szechwan peppercorns with a numbing after-bite that can be mildly addictive. This was followed by Boiled Chicken which sounds boring but was intensely flavourful and, like revenge, served cold in a sauce made with fresh ginger, shallots and spicy bean oil. Then it was time for Salt & Pepper Prawns: succulent, lightly seasoned and very tasty with the added benefit of gluten-free. There was a side dish of pickled radish which my dining companion spurned as a waste of time but after one taste, he polished off the entire bowl with the zeal of the newly-converted. We then sampled the beef pepper shank with sesame and fresh pepper which was good without being memorable.