Led by Justin Tan, a Guangdong native who started cooking professionally at the young age of 16, T'ang Court is an impressive application of Cantonese-style fine dining in a beautiful Shanghai neighborhood appropriately called Xintiandi (literally, "Heaven on Earth.")
Chef Tan was trained personally by the head chef of T'ang Court Hong Kong, Kwong Wai Keung, and in Chef Tan's own words he desires to explore "creativity through simplicity." The simplicity theme shone through pretty strongly; many of the dishes he served would not seem out-of-place at a family Chinese restaurant anywhere in the US. Lots of incredible flavors set in a gorgeous, high-ceilinged dining room.
Earlier this year when I saw that the Michelin Guide planned a new Shanghai book in 2016, I got really excited. Known for its vibrant food scene and such all-stars as Paul Pairet's Ultraviolet, I was anticipating a pretty exciting slate of 3-stars. We got only one: T'ang Court at the Langham Hotel. Interestingly, another T'ang Court restaurant also at a Langham Hotel in Hong Kong also has three Michelin stars. How totally unsuspicious.
PRICE PAID: $140PP (INCL. WATER, TAX, TIP- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Like many luxury hotels in mainland China, walking into the lobby of the Langham is asking to be olfactorily (is that a word?) assaulted by a massive cloud of perfume that they douse the space with to differentiate it from the hazy, permanently welding-chemical scented air that looms over Shanghai. Totally gorgeous from the outside and the inside; this is an outstanding hotel.
We went up an elevator into a smallish, curved space enveloped by some massive draperies, which abut all the tables on the outside of the room. Those drapes would later prove entangling during water service; our waiter got wrapped in it and took a solid 15 seconds to struggle free. Not a well-conceived floor plan, but a pretty and airy room, with seating for about 20. Lots of private rooms hovered in the background with space for perhaps 90 more.
Service had a few small missteps as we arrived. After sitting for about 15 minutes, we were asked "Oh, you want to see the set menu?" Another 10-15 minutes after that until glasses of water arrived. The waiter got pretty tangled, as I already mentioned. He slammed the water into glasses in big, heaping splashes, maybe because he was flustered that the drapes incapacitated him momentarily. Kind of a strange start.
This first dish was an immediate home run.
Counterclockwise from the right: "black fungus," crispy green bean, yellow fruit (winter cherry), and a stack of fried suckling pig skin, cucumber, and BBQ pork.
The black fungus (mushroom is a perhaps more accurate word) is like really tasty rubber. Super pliant and soft texture, and a deep flavor.
The green bean has a hoisin-like sauce that goes great with the crunchy texture. A touch salty but still incredible.
The main appetizer is really a gem. The pork skin is supple, crunchy, and not overly salty. The middle layers of cracker and bean curd add texture. An under layer of bread is soft but dense. The sauce brings it all together. One of the best individual bites of this whole project. 10/10.
Next, some sea whelk (a mollusk) soup with chicken and pork. The broth is served magma hot, and the dish itself is scalding. The pork is in cubes and just melts apart as you bite down. Subtle layers of fat on the chicken adds umami and delicateness/softness. The sea whelk has firm texture, with lots of great oceanic flavors. Tastes the way a day catch boat smells. Last bite is the saltiest and best. 8/10.
Next up, a rich, oily dish of crabmeat dumpling (charmingly labelled a mille-feuille) on the right with local prawn on the left; crab eggs on top. Green veggies feel like a play on snow peas. The prawns are excellent, the sauce is decadently oily, and my only complaint is the bite size—they are too large to wolf down all at once and make an awkwardly oily splash when you try to bite them in two. Knife and fork don't work well either. 7/10.
Woah. So that's a sea cucumber. Braised and served with fish maw, the spiky-looking cucumber is almost as soft as jelly. It has a neutral, jellyfish-like flavor (that is, it mostly just tastes like unflavored gelatin), and not really my thing. The fish dumpling is hot, delightfully flavorful. 7/10.
Even the menu seems like it doesn't want to say much about this next course of braised seasonal veggies. Basically, some cooked greens that taste just like collard greens. Quite plain. 7/10.
On to the last main course—chicken fried rice. Made with Chinese rice wine, this dish is oily, plain, and delicious. I have to emphasize that while extremely tasting and shaped into an attractive sphere, this chicken fried rice is in no way different to me than chicken fried rice at a halfway-decent Chinese restaurant almost anywhere in the States. Maybe that speaks to the robustness of the dish, but I have to say that I was a little surprised that this was the final main course. Perhaps some dimension of precision existed here that I was unable to appreciate.
Lots of pine nuts, which end up dominating in texture and taste. 7/10.
Dessert is some lovely almond/vanilla-flavored tofu with mango, and hovering in the background is a confusingly swan-shaped pastry, made of egg yolk. Very sweet and soft textures throughout, an understated and tasty dessert. 7/10.