‘Pivot to China,’ then suddenly–service breakdown | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Homemade tofu with asparagus and mushrooms
Homemade tofu with asparagus and mushrooms
Homemade tofu with asparagus and mushrooms


Lest I be accused of favoritism, since I just wrote about another outlet at Shangri-La at the Fort last week, allow me the defense that it was simply the logical progression. We had tried High Street Café and Raging Bull and found both restaurants excellent.


In search of a good Chinese meal to mark the President’s forthcoming trip to Beijing, we’ve been hearing good things about Canton Road, the swanky Chinese restaurant in Shangri-La at the Fort. So, after last week’s high note at Raging Bull, we decided to “pivot to China.”


Canton Road is part of the new renaissance of upscale Chinese restaurants that include Crystal Dragon at City of Dreams and Xiu in Greenhills, both of which I have reviewed.


The food, rather than being primarily Cantonese, takes a Cantonese basic scheme and rigor, perfected in Hong Kong and Vancouver, and applies it to dishes from various provinces.


Despite the name, Canton Road is an avenue that stretches far into the interior of China, and puts on the table dishes from Sichuan, Jiangsu and the much-neglected Fujian province. Even Xinjiang is represented, by a casserole of cumin-spiced lamb, a popular recipe often incorrectly tagged as “Mongolian”—though some might say this is a quibble over political boundaries more than culinary roots.


The restaurant has one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city, a classically high-ceiling arena of restaurant theater, with wood paneling, deep pile carpets and plush banquettes. It doesn’t go overboard with the chinoiserie and could even pass for French in one of its Oriental-obsessed periods.


If you go just before the lunch or dinner service starts, it’s a truly majestic space, and the kitchens are just as large.


There was a man in charge of the chefs, and then a man in charge of the man in charge of the chefs; they all come from different regions of China. Everything seemed regimented and hierarchical, but not in any way that I recognized from a French kitchen.


Good start


The evening started out well enough, with a waiter patiently walking us through every section of the menu, giving us recommendations for each section, telling us what the bestsellers were. It was a good set of recommendations, and he was able to answer questions about every dish we needed more information about.


One of our friends was craving dim sum. The waiter—who had picked himself up from the floor trying to get over the shock of a customer ordering dim sum in the evening—graciously said he would see what he could do about it. He bowed, introduced himself, and told us he would be taking care of us that evening. And that was the last we saw of him.


When it was time to order, he had been replaced by a chirpy little woman who introduced herself and told us that she would be taking care of us that evening. She proceeded to take down our order in a rather disdainful and contrary way. “Are you sure you would not like the very very expensive live fish instead?” she inquired. “Is that all you are having? No soup? How about some rare and pricey delicacies from the front of the menu?”


One of the things that Canton Road prides itself on is that the dishes are of a certain size, good for sharing, but not the small, medium, XL of a traditional Chinese restaurant. I’m sure that the banquet director can arrange for something different if you decide to book the function room with two large round tables, but for a group eating together, I would say that four or five people would make up a good table to eat just enough of everything in the middle.


Any more, and you’d either have molecular portions of the dishes, or have to order two of everything.


On the other hand, I can see a couple with a good appetite ordering two dishes and a vegetable or tofu dish and being very satisfied.


Very good indeed


The food was very good, indeed. The Canton Road staff is particularly proud of their deep-fried bean curd rolls, what we know in Binondo as kikiam or ngohiong (after the five-spice powder that flavors the dish); they claim that theirs is a modern Fujianese version.


They are also famous for their ho fan, the flat noodles that often turn out to be a ball of oil or a fettuccine slop, but apparently 20 tables had ordered it (or one table had ordered 20—I didn’t quite catch the explanation), so they were out.


What we had instead were: crisp pork belly, kung pao prawn in aged black vinegar, spicy cumin lamb loin, chicken in truffle sauce, homemade tofu with asparagus.


The spicy cumin lamb is like the food version of durian: when it arrived at the table it smelled of underarm, but was heady and rich once it’s in the mouth.


The service was good until the restaurant filled up, and then—I do understand that this happens at the best restaurants—it all suddenly broke down. Sometimes this happens because the kitchen is “in the weeds” or getting slammed; sometimes it’s a front-of-house problem. But our last order took 15 minutes to arrive; the desserts took a good half hour, and the bill another 20 minutes. The chirpy, aggressively upselling woman who was supposed to be taking care of us was nowhere to be found.


I must again mention my pet grievance in this hotel, which is that there is no parking validation: whether you have just plonked down 50 grand on a banquet or left your car there to go to the Mind Museum, the cost is the same, and it is not cheap. This must be addressed as soon as possible; meanwhile, service has to keep up so that the labors of the kitchen don’t go unappreciated by cranky guests.  —CONTRIBUTED



Canton Road, 3/F, Shangri-La at the Fort, Bonifacio Global City; tel.  820 0888

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