Episode 51: Summer of Shangri-La
Miantiao: Kitchen Table Group Brings— Chinese-Italian to Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel
A global pandemic may not seem like the time to open a brand new restaurant in a high-end hotel, but that’s exactly what’s happening at the Shangri-La Vancouver.
Culinary Director Alex Tung, Executive Chef Tret Jordan and General Manager, Hao-Yang Wang all gave Anya the inside scoop on this exciting restaurant concept.
Miantiao will be considerably different than Kitchen Table’s existing concepts. As opposed to the very Italian, casual nature of Kitchen Table’s other restaurants, Miantiao will be quite a departure. While rooted in Italian vibes and Italian culture, Miantiao will also touch on Chinese influences; an Italian Chinese dining experience.
In Mandarin, “miantiao” means noodle – a big ingredient in both Italian and Chinese cooking.
Now, how did this Kitchen Table x Shangri-La partnership come to be? Nick Rossi, one of the owners of Kitchen Table Group reached out to Tung, to discuss the possibilities of opening a restaurant in the Shangri-La. Tung and Rossi have a longstanding professional relationship, and it was with this, as well as the success of so many “iconic” Kitchen Table restaurants, that they decided to proceed with opening Miantiao.
As for the Italian Chinese theme, Tung says that at first he could only describe Rossi’s idea as “very interesting.” However, after much research, Tung realized all the parallels between the two cultures. The argument of where noodles originated, China, or Italy, as well as the fact that the Chinese have been curing meat in the same style as Italian Prosciutto di Parma for thousands of years, were just two historical food facts that seemingly brought together two distinct cuisines.
“Attitude wise, Italian and Chinese cooking are very similar,” says Tung. “The approach to food and family, the emphasis on citrus, olives, curing.” It’s all there!
According to the team, Miantiao will take Italian food, and highlight Chinese food sensibilities. Italian and Chinese products will both be showcased, in a style that stays true to Italian cooking’s simplicity.
Looking to make classic Italian and Chinese dishes more delicious, with even more umami, Tung says they are ready to “break all the rules.”
“if we weren’t restricted by thousands of years of tradition, how would we make a dish more exciting and tasty,” says Tung. “Rules were meant to be broken. How can we make a dish more interesting?”
As Chef Jordan says, the restaurant will be a “blending of the two cultures. If you break down the ethos of Italian, Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine, it all comes down to the ingredients. If you put an ingredient first, you will see so many parallels, including with preparations and techniques.”
Miantiao is also meant to challenge the customer. That’s part of the experience.
Miantiao’s Chef de Cuisine will be Justin Lee, a very talented young chef, currently at Superflux, with a past at the now-closed restaurant Crowbar. “His approach to cooking is very outside the box – I’m a big fan of his, we have a very special relationship,” says Tung.
While the exact menu is still very hush hush, the team told Anya that fresh pasta and noodles are definitely going to be a big part of their program. Pasta is a corner stone of many Kitchen Table restaurants, and Miantiao will not be an exception.
Their hint to Anya was to “think about recognized Italian and Chinese dishes, dishes that everyone loves – we will be making plays on, and doing our versions of these celebrated plates.” Updating these foods, and telling Miantiao’s story with the best possible ingredients, is what the menu has in store.
Furthermore, Chef Lee is passionate about working with ‘awful’ cuts of meat – hearts, feet, tongues – and Miantiao will absolutely be raising, embracing and showcasing these meats, as well as local vegetables and seafood. Additionally, expect the restaurant’s take on Cantonese Peking Duck; it is sure to be something very special.
In terms of balcohol, there will be an extensive beverage program. Both Chinese and Italian alcohols will be highlighted, such as amaro and baijiu. Exploring the diversity of the wine world in Italy and British Columbia is also one of Miantiao’s beverage goals; pairing Italian wines with Chinese cuisine will be a main focus.
Tung, who has worked as a sommelier in the past, mentions that he “always found really easy fits for Italian wines in Chinese food.”
“Chinese food is heavy on salt, umami, oil and on texture,” says Tung. “All Italian wines come with such bright, refreshing acidity that naturally works with the oiliness of Chinese food. The intensity resonates with Chinese food really well.”
There is also a Chinese tea program in the works!
As for dessert, Amanda Cheng from Mak N Ming will be Miantiao’s pastry chef, while still being completely involved with Mak N Ming. Cheng is of Hong Kong heritage, and will be taking flavours and thought processes from her childhood and bringing them to Miantao.
A bread program is to be determined, but a master baker is working with Miantiao to produce Roman style breads. The program will be very tailored, with flatbreads being heavily featured, although pizza is not a part of the plan – for now.
The Miantiao team and Anya also discuss a few buzzwords that might be associated with Miantiao’s concept – fusion and fine dining.
“Fusion has a bad rep from the 80s and 90s,” says Anya. “It was never really executed well. Would you describe Miantiao as fusion?”
“Fusion is confusion,” says Tung. “Some dishes [at Miantiao] will be purely Italian, some will speak purely from a Chinese lens, and some will be Italian in style but updated in Chinese ingredients, or vice versa.”
“Most cuisines these days have so many other influences as far as ingredients, techniques and flavours,” says Jordan. “We are starting with ingredients, then seeing what feels natural. We want to do what makes us excited.”
At Miantiao, fusion will be left to the 80s and 90s – maybe where it belongs!
As for the term fine-dining, Anya mentions that everyone “slightly cringed” when it was brought up. “Vancouver is not really a city that embraces what the rest of the world considers ‘fine dining,” says Anya. “Restaurants have adopted the term ‘casual fine dining.’”
“Fine dining in the past seems like a very budget orientated service, which translates to exclusivity,” says Jordan. “We are about the total experience of Miantiao, and all it’s little details.”
“Miantao won’t be fine dining, but it will do things in a fine dining way,” says Tung. “I call it understated service. We have a dedication to excellence, unique menu items and a certain standard; we want to overdeliver.”
Being accessible and approachable, and taking away the pretentiousness of dining is important for the team at Miantiao. As the restaurant is located in a hotel, taking care of guests and residents is key, but so is the downtown neighbourhood. This is not a hotel restaurant, but a Kitchen Table restaurant located in a hotel, doing its job through the vision of an independent restaurant.
“Building fantastic community based restaurants is a core Kitchen Table value,” says Tung. “We are building this restaurant for the city of Vancouver, not the hotel.”
Scheduled to open for summer 2021, in late June or early July, Miantiao will be a 180 seater space, open for breakfast, brunch on weekends, lunch, dinner, happy hour, and eventually late night.
“The overall picture of all of these stories is going to be so fun,” says Tung.