This review of a Shanghai restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Eating out at a chain restaurant may be a generally down market experience in the West, but that’s not necessarily the case in East Asia. The small Fook Lam Moon chain of Cantonese restaurants, which started out in Hong Kong, is highly regarded and the Shanghai branch is reputed to be one of the best places to eat in China’s eastern megacity. As far as I know, the New Fook Lam Moon in London’s Chinatown is unrelated.
Located in the Shangri-La Pudong Hotel, Fook Lam Moon has a great view of the famous Bund skyline. Although it’s not as opulently decorated as some of the plushest Parisian and Viennese restaurants, it’s still richly gilded with chandeliers, flowers and occasional accents of deep red – a colour considered by superstitious Chinese to be good luck. Some of the hard-backed chairs can be brutally uncomfortable though.
As expected, the menu is available in English which is just as well as my Mandarin is pretty shoddy and the staff only seem to speak halting English. While most of it is dominated by Cantonese dishes, there are a couple of Shanghaiese dishes too. If you have money to burn, then Fook Lam Moon is certainly the place to do it. Besides pricy shark’s fin soup and bird’s nest soup, there are several abalone dishes – many of which cost at least £100 all by themselves. While severely tempted, I wisely decided to settle for something a little cheaper instead.
Liquor soaked chicken doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but these small slivers of chicken served on the bone work very nicely. Served cold, the rice wine soaking gives the tender meat a slightly sour, mildly aniseed-esque flavour and it comes off the bone very easily.
The stuffed lotus roots are a complete contrast to the sourish chicken. The slices of lotus root are very tender with a texture reminiscent of stewed Western root vegetables. Although the rice stuffing adds little, the sweet glaze gives the dish a distinctly syrupy taste that’s unusual but works quite well. The sweetness becomes excessive and a bit boring in such a large potion though – a small serving would work much better.
Eight treasures duck doesn’t seem to be served that widely in the UK which is a real shame. Traditionally, a whole duck is deboned, stuffed with a variety of vegetables and then gently braised. Served here as a half-portion, the braised duck is tender, moist and very flavoursome – the distinct taste of the meat is still very evident, but is much more gentle unlike its boldness in roast duck.
Oddly, the stuffing here is served on top of the meat itself and doesn’t consistent of just vegetables – there’s pig’s stomach, baby bok choi, rehydrated mushrooms, squid and even the occasional sliver of barbecued pork. It’s highly likely not that all of these disparate additions were actually braised inside the duck itself, but it all works pretty well. The thin, fluffy, airy, slightly chewy pig’s stomach is my favourite, while the rehydrated mushrooms are intensely musky. It’s all bound together by a mildly tangy ginger and garlic sauce.
At this point my jet lagged brain remembered that Cantonese food is served in portions designed for sharing, which explained my sudden semi-bloatedness but I still found some room for dessert. In hind sight, given the relative richness of the duck, I should’ve chosen a light, more refreshing dessert instead of the walnut soup served with glutinous rice dumplings.
The Euro Hedgie, a notorious dessert snob, thinks that Chinese desserts are far inferior to their Western counteparts and while that may be true to a certain extent, I think that they’re just very different and won’t appeal to those of us who grew up on Western desserts. The watery, savoury, distinctly nutty walnut soup is therefore an acquired taste, as are the sticky, fluffy, gnocchi-esque, spherical rice dumplings which have a crisp, coarse, sugary bite to them.
Although my meal at Fook Lam Moon wasn’t perfect, it was still very enjoyable and showcased some lesser-known dishes that deserve to be more widely eaten. Given the opportunity, I’d jump at the chance to eat at Fook Lam Moon again and I might even trade an organ for the abalone.
Name: Fook Lam Moon
Branch tried: Shangri-La Pudong Hotel, second floor, 33 Fucheng Lu, (Huayuanshiqiao Lu), Shanghai 200120
Phone: (86-21) 5877-3786
Opening Hours: seven days a week 11.30-22.00.
Reservations: highly recommended
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: ¥700 (approx. £70 at time of writing, but you can pay closer to ¥350 or £35 when shared between two).