So, you've been once. Maybe. But it's time to save up your red notes and go back again. They've got new stuff on the menu.
Let's dig in.
You know you're at a fancy restaurant when you gotta figure out how to do one of these -- é-- on your keyboard. (Solution: Copy-paste it from the internet.)
The relaxed and low-key feel of Phenix (nay, Phénix) belies what's on the menu, which is equal parts clever and astonishing in cooking techniques to flavors to plating. The food comes from Exec Chef Michael Wilson, an Australian cooking French cuisine at one of Shanghai's most consistently reviewed hotel fine dining venues. He's been with them since the start and has ferried them through a Michelin star for 2017 and 2018. I'll say it again, to emphasize it: he's a clever guy. With the small collection of dishes in simple "Charcuterie", "Appetizer", "Fish & Seafood", and "Poultry & Meat" -- just three to six options or so in each -- they've crammed a lot of activity in a small amount of opportunity. Putting another way, in keeping things brief and to-the-point, with only a small amount of dishes, they're making sure every single one of them is a stunner.
Of course, it's French, so you've got to have that luxuriously whimsical thing-that-references-another-thing. Here's their burger and chips dish -- a collusion of high and low culture.
Beef bavette tartare, confit egg, potato glass, sea lettuce - 110rmb
Open the gates. Here's the lions share of what else is new.
Sweet corn custard tart, brown crab, bottarga basil - 120rmb
A bit of a Japanese influence here on the seabream. Crispy scales done with a Japanese technique called "matsukasa-yaki" ("pine-cone baking"). Crunchy!
Crispy scale red sea bream artichokes barigoule, squid piment d’Espelette, clam aioli - 280rmb
A riff on the suckling pig.
Confit suckling pig, boudin noir, celeriac, pearl onion ragout - 230rmb
La pièce d'indulgece: a duck neck converted into sausage. A delicious and slightly harrowing main course. Feels wrested from the table of Louis XIV himself. This one's starting a revolution if word gets out.
Whole duck neck sausage parsnip, kumquat, endive - 440rmb
Usually, we skip desert at these kinds of places. At the end of dinner and drinks, the bill is usually too egregious to tack another course onto. Better to just escape somewhere warm and boozy to lick one's wounds. Don't do that here.
Get the overripe cheese cake, replete with homemade digestive biscuits using Boxing Cat Brewery's hops.
Over ripe cheese cake spent grain digestive biscuit, chestnut flower honey - 95rmb
And / or... this... the "Shattered dream of the perfect vacherin strawberry, yoghurt, verbena" which looks like something out of Willy Wonka's factory (Tim Burton version).
Shattered dream of the perfect vacherin strawberry, yoghurt, verbena - 95rmb
Oh yeah. It's real good. For foodie types, Phénix is well-known and you're already heading back to try one or all of these show-stoppers. If you haven't been yet, well... yeah I'm recommending it. My favorite was the duck's neck, obviously, because I'm an evil person.
It’s hard to get a table at Yu Ba Xian, the elaborately decorated Cantonese palace in Xintiandi, unless you come during off-peak hours. Now, they are sweetening the pie to attract people who eat (and drink) on the later side with a widely expanded menu of dishes that are only served from 9.30pm-1am.
Spot prawn marinated with Yellow Wine - 62rmb each
Crispy fish skins coated with Salted Duck Egg Yolks - 78rmb
White chocolate “peaches” with a fruit mousse - secret menu
I’m in deep with Yu Ba Xian. I love the place, I love the décor, I love the stories behind the décor, and I love how utterly ostentatious the place is. There is not a second restaurant in Shanghai like it (uh, except their branches). All this to say, I was always going to be easily won over by their new menu. So, I brought a few friends with critical faculties to help balance the situation and… they loved it too.
Our table was heaving with dim sum, snacks, Singapore fried vermicelli, roasted pork neck, roasted pigeon with osmanthus, and a very Shanghainese-tasting plate of marinated turnip. The stand-outs, however, were the three listed above: the raw peony shrimp, served on ice, plump and crisp; the crispy fish skins, a homemade nod at the crazily popular fish skin/salted egg yolk trend that has swept Asia in the past year; and the trompe l’oeil “peaches”, which are only on the ‘secret’ menu. The cocktails were plentiful as well, including a respectable Old Fashioned, a rum and egg-white number served in a tea cup, and a Long Island that our photographer proclaimed to be the only one he’s ever had that was worth drinking (so I made him drink mine, too). There’s nothing quite like sitting underneath the imperial Chinese lanterns in Yu Ba Xian, soaking in the atmosphere, and the late night menu is just one more excuse to do so.
-Christopher St. Cavish
The chef — Hong Kong-born Sun Wailun — and everything that comes with that. There’s a fascinating story here at T’ang Court. The restaurant, on the fifth floor of The Langham Hotel, is the only Chinese restaurant in China to have three Michelin stars. That happened in 2016. Chef Sun took over the restaurant in fall of 2017. Think about that for a second. A three-Michelin star restaurant, the only Chinese one in all of China, changing chefs at a crucial period in the restaurant’s existence. The way Chinese kitchens work, that means that no small amount of senior chef positions — the guys on the woks, the guys doing dim sum, the BBQ guy — also changed. And now it’s up to Chef Sun to not only maintain the world’s most difficult restaurant rating, but also put his own stamp on the menu, without rocking the boat too much. It’s got to be one of the world’s hardest jobs. The guy is walking a tightrope. That’s what’s new.
Steamed red lobster with egg white and sea urchin - 380 rmb
Braised fish maw in crab roe broth - 420rmb
This is advanced-level, elite Cantonese eating. It’s delicate, it’s subtle, it’s expensive, and it looks simple, even when there is a ton of technique going on behind the scenes. These two dishes are fine on their own, and available that way, but I tried them as part of the new 1,200rmb (plus 16.6% service charge) tasting menu, which is a mix of dishes from the previous chef, though with Sun’s spin on them, and completely new Sun Wailun dishes.
To wit, the steamed lobster sitting on a bed of custard-like steamed egg white studded with sea urchin, a pretty technical dish (egg cookery is tricky and unforgiving); the steamed fish maw, a gelatinous paean to texture and mouthfeel, in an extremely rich broth made with crab meat, ground crab shell, and crab roe; and the world’s most rarefied beef & broccoli, made with thick cubes of Wagyu beef and ungarnished but for the crunch of dried lily bulb petals (not pictured, 580 rmb).
Is it worth it? Well, you can’t just walk in to this food and expect to be wow’ed. It’s a bit precious. But if you are already familiar with the more nuanced aspects of Cantonese cooking, if you are interested to see how Sun has put his stamp on the menu, and you want to see what three stars taste like, the new tasting menu at T’ang Court is the way to do it.
-Christopher St. Cavish