Sunday is for sleeping in yes, but this type of dimsum is worth waking up for.
EDSA Shangri-La’s Summer Palace scintillates during a weekday lunch but it’s thoroughly memorable on a Sunday morning. Yes, Sunday morning. It’s only on this day that dimsum service commences at 9am, a delicious open secret that only a few are privy to and partake of.
At this hour, the restaurant is as hushed as its interiors are elegant. The cool air envelops us before being swept away in swallows of hot Chinese tea. Today’s choice: oolong. Soon, the body is warm, the heart receptive to the forthcoming little heart warmers: dimsum. There’s a trolley service that begins at 11am and if your idea of dimsum harks back to that, then coincide your arrival then.
Siolong Pao (also xiao long bao; P158) is quite common in Manila, making good versions a rare find indeed. Summer Palace’s version is notable for many things but importantly, it’s served hot and stays that way. Salty broth squirts through its skin spilling into the mouth before ground pork comes tumbling in. Steamed Pork Siomai with Shrimps (P189) is practically dimsum de rigeur, and there’s no way you should deny this demand. Each siomai is a blossom adorned with a single peeled shrimp on which glimmer beads of roe, catching light and so fresh it practically takes flight.
Congee can be as dismal as plain rice boiled in water, flavoring optional. But on a Sunday, I feel I deserve sustenance, not penance. Bowls of Century Egg Congee (P120) satiate sufficiently, the distinctive flavor of the egg imbuing into the rice, its blackness stark against the whiteness of the rice.
A surplus of pastry-encased dimsum presents itself at table then. Pastry is my pleasure and that it extends to dimsum should be no surprise. The wrapper of the Fried Mango Shrimp Rolls (P180) crackles then collapses, a floury sort that wilts on tongue; a gush of oil – but only momentarily – then twin tastes of shrimp and mango. So identical in texture are they that it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other continues but it tantalizes to try.
Taro puff (P168) ingeniously crafted, its jaunty tail points up to pleasure.
My Bin and I, we examine and eat, enjoy and exhale. We debate the merits of dimsum dined on in Chinatown or here in a hotel. And we discuss whether Manila’s Chinese food is just as good as that of Hong Kong’s. “These Chinese chefs aren’t just in Hong Kong anymore,” my Bin remarks. “They’ve migrated all over the world.”
Baked Chicken Pie With Walnuts (P200) reminds me of a similar dish I had once in another Chinese restaurant: a platter of chicken chunks wading in a condensed mushroom soup glop plastered under a margarine crust. It was homely but here, restraint rules and exquisiteness reigns. Chicken pieces are glazed with not engulfed in a cream sauce, while walnuts whisper their almost indiscernible crunch. Pastry so flakey, slightly sweet, is brushed with egg – it blooms amber under heat, its charming “top hat” – messy strands of pork (or chicken) floss.
The familiar filling of asado, most commonly in siopao, finds new home and a new name in Baked Pork Pastries (P168). Its characteristic red sheen bleeds onto visible swirls of crust puffed by the oven’s power.
My Bin suggests a respite from dimsum and orders the Suckling Pig (P1,200). The Chinese do miraculous things with pork, and this fine specimen is a sparkling paradigm of it: its sheen is a come-on, its crunch to be conquered, and its fatty meatiness something to swoon to the floor for. Of course hits of hoisin sauce help too.
Steamed scallop dumplings (P178.50) sparkle like jewels in a box.
Deep-fried 2 kinds of egg – duck and chicken -with almond seed (P200). Pick up whole with the lettuce leaf and bite carefully, it will fall apart and lay bare its luxe version of seafood with a lick of mayonnaise.
Egg Custard Buns, bitten open. Tell me, how sexy is that?
For my dimsum dessert, a new discovery: Egg Custard Buns (P200). Globes of dough are imprinted with a brown spiral, its reach a descent into deliciousness. I bite and there’s a whoosh of warmth — of butter? oil? what is it? Ripped asunder from its doughy cover, I’m startled by the liquid that floods my mouth, a distillation of all the glory an egg yolk can hold. First, a fluid of glimmering gold tinged with salt and sweet; and second, a center holding a concentrated richness of yolk that so ravishes, it’s obscene. I eat one, swoop down to scoop up another, and then hide the last under a wooden dimsum cover. I don’t want my Bin to touch any of these. Okay fine, I allow a single bite.
At this early Sunday hour, service is straightforward and never obtrusive. Where crumbs have cascaded, a quick plate change occurs. Water glasses are refilled in a flurry of motion, while empty plates are whisked away. Because we are seated near the restaurant’s entrance, we hear the receptionist taking reservations and we see diners departing. They look at us and we look at them. Knowing glances are exchanged between us, acknowledgment of an open pleasure available to all but partaken – for now – only by a few. “So you enjoy this too?” Their looks seem to say. “Yes, yes we do,” is our unspoken reply.
EDSA Shangri-La, Manila
1 Garden Way
Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong
Sunday dim sum brunch is from 9 am to 2:30 p.m.. In August, Weekend Dim Sum Dinners are held every Friday and Saturday, 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. .
For reservations, 633.8888 ext. 2777 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.