Summer Palace located at the luxury Hong Kong hotel, Island Shangri-La, is a restaurant worth taking a detour to dine at. It’s not just us that thinks so either, the esteemed Michelin Guide (Hong Kong and Macau) has awarded it 2 of their sought after Michelin stars, giving their seal of approval too.
Having not one, but two Michelin stars to its name, might make you think that this is a restaurant that is out of the reach to most, but when we visited we found that it actually had a relaxed atmosphere, busy with people eating sociable lunches at round tables, much like any popular restaurant.
It’s true that, like the rest of the Island Shangri-La, the decor inside is classical, opulent and luxurious; you’ll be dining under crystal chandeliers, embroidered butterflies adorn the walls and a fleet of formally dressed waiters mill around the restaurant; but there was no stuffy atmosphere, this is most definitely a place where people come to enjoy good food.
The food is the star of the show at Summer Palace, don’t expect fancy presentation, or molecular gastronomy; the focus is solely on the food and the ingredients used. In line with the Shangri-La’s ‘Rooted in Nature’ initiative, there are several dishes on the menu that use locally and ethically sourced ingredients, something that, as environmentally conscious diners, we were really pleased to see.
However, there was one other feature of the menu that we were really impressed with and that was the extensive vegetarian section, most of which was also vegan. No need to get anything different made; simply make a reservation and enjoy picking from the menu, sampling the creations of this award winning chef and his team.
The Vegan Food:
The vegan food at Summer Palace is most definitely unpretentious, this is Cantonese food that showcases the quality of the ingredients and the flavours of sauces and seasonings used. Don’t be fooled by the simple descriptions and straight forward presentation of the dishes served, you only need to eat them to understand that this food is a cut above the ordinary.
As we perused the menu we were served dainty cups of rosebud tea with 2 miniature rosebuds floating in a warm pale tea, lightly perfume flavours setting the scene.
We started with dim sum; a basket of steamed vegetarian dumplings with black truffle pesto. Perfect mouthfuls of dumpling filled with diced vegetables and smoky undertones, the truffle was subtle, the mild chilli paste condiment had just the right amount of chilli to add flavour without overpowering the delicate dumplings and the marinated chilli beansprouts added a satisfying crunch.
To follow, we chose a ‘Double-boiled bamboo fungus soup with morel mushrooms and cabbage’ as we were aware from the Michelin summary that “double boiled soups are a speciality” at Summer Palace. Generally we love double boiled soups, a cooking method that is synonymous with the people of Hong Kong and which involves locking the flavours and nutrients of the soup ingredients in to a double boiling jar before placing it in another pot of water to cook over a medium heat.
The broth of our soup was light yet full of a rich mushroom flavour that left a full and lingering taste, it had a layer of sourness that made it interesting, lifting the earthy mushroom flavours. Meaty morels floated next to delicate, sponge like bamboo pith and soft stems of cabbage which made for sweet, mild mouthfuls in contrast.
The ‘Sautéed lotus roots with honey beans and fresh lily bulbs’ was one of our favourite dishes. Honey bean actually refers to the kind of sugar snap pea used as opposed to the use of honey so we were happy to order the dish which was a collection of 3 vegetables with wonderfully contrasting flavours and textures.
The peas were sweet and fresh, the lily bulb flakes were nutty, almost a little bitter and the lotus root was salty; together the mix of sweet, salty, nutty and bitter seemed to produce an experience that was better than eating any of the ingredients on their own.
‘Stir-fried cashew nuts and eggplant with marinated termite mushrooms’ was one of the ‘Rooted in Nature’ dishes that used locally and ethically-sourced ingredients. The asparagus was fresh and high quality as expected, the aubergine had been cut into soft fillets that seemed to melt when eaten, giant cashews mingled and the whole dish was coated with a glossy sauce that built to a pleasing chilli and pepper heat.
More spice came from the ‘Stir-fried shredded black fungus with wild yam in vegetarian X.O sauce’. This dish had a chilli heat that we can only describe as ‘sparkling’; it may sound odd to some, but it really is the only way to explain the sensation. X.O. sauce normally isn’t vegetarian, let alone vegan, so we were happy to get to try this sauce which originated in Hong Kong. The nuts and vegetables were glazed in just the right amount of sauce and cooked so the texture of the beansprouts and wild yam remained firm.
We were pleased to see some of Summer Palace’s signature dishes were vegan and so orderd a selection to try. The ‘Stir-fried minced vegetables with pine nuts served with lettuce’ consisted of pine nut rich diced, mixed vegetables and pieces of thin crispy pastry, which were spooned onto trimmed lettuce leaves for us by our waitress before we added a sweet, dark sauce and rolled them up like pancakes. A light, yet full of flavour, fun dish to share with others for sure.
A classic dish that most westerners will be familiar with ‘Sweet and sour gluten with pineapple’ was thankfully way better than any we’d tried before. We would have been disappointed if there was nothing special about it, so were pleased to taste the first mouthful and agree with each other that it was excellent. The sauce was of course both sweet and sour but it had a smooth as silk, delightfully gooey and glossy texture and a level of richness that really set it apart. The gluten pieces were crispy on the outside and soft (not chewy) on the inside and mixed with pieces of red and green pepper and fruity pineapple; this was a great version of this popular dish.
For our rice course, we opted for another ‘Rooted in Nature’ dish ‘Vegetarian fried rice wrapped in lotus leaf’. The rice was light, the grains fell apart from each other and the seasoning was subtle yet perfect.
There were a few different dessert options that were vegan but we couldn’t resist the ‘Sweetened glutinous rice congee with coconut juice’. It was a take on rice pudding, sweet and warming with soft peanuts and grains adding to the soothing rice that had been finished with coconut cream. We enjoyed it a lot although it’s worth noting that this isn’t a dessert for people with a small appetite as the serving size was particularly generous, a hidden bonus for some perhaps?
We also sampled ‘Chilled sesame sheet rolls’, a Hong Kong speciality made from black sesame, sugar and water chestnut flour. They were jet black and like a light rolled pancake but with a gelatinous (not chewy and firm) texture and full of sesame flavours.
The Vegan Food Quest Verdict:
Make a reservation at Summer Palace to experience a straight forward, high quality Cantonese vegan meal where locally sourced ingredients are prepared by 2 Michelin starred Chef Ip Chi Cheung, to craft both Cantonese and Hong Kong favourites for your tasting pleasure.
Go with friends to make the most of your luxury vegan meal, that is best shared with others in this sociable and relaxed atmosphere.
We were guests of Summer Palace but please rest assured that their generosity in hosting us didn’t influence our views.
Supreme Court Road,
Telephone: +852 2820 8552
Opening Hours: Lunch 1100-1500 & Dinner 1830-2300