It's a tough act to follow, that's for sure. Let's just get that out of the way.
One of Shanghai's most personable, around-the-way chefs, Willy Trullas Moreno, made his Shanghai name at the homey and serenely soothing 20 Donghu Lu lanehouse venue before splitting with the building owners earlier this year. Willy, it seems, is doing quite well for himself, with designs for venues all over South East Asia. For their part, the concerns behind 20 Donghu, Fulu Group, are quickly revamping the place with several food and beverage options: joining the always dependable Sushi Oyama and Ochobo, is well-regarded French Japanese bistro Racines, and dressed up Peruvian traditional Ekeko, from the former chef of elEfante, Carlos Sotomayor.
Here's what he's doing with the place.
What is it:
General layout is the same as elEfante but they've really tried to break with the past in terms of... well, just look what they've done with the place. An in-house renovation team painted the space, Peruvian knick-knacks line the walls, multiple projectors are showing Peruvian countryside footage on loops on blankets suspended from the ceiling, and big patchwork sea creatures are climbing all over the walls and swimming through the air.
Like Raggedy Ann meets Cthulhu.
(Which is pretty neat.)
It's definitely a look, I'll say that. I think I've been to this art installation rave before.
But yes, projected onto blankets suspended from the ceilings (I'm gonna guess Peruvian blankets) is travel footage of the South American country shot by the chef himself. Apart from lending the mise en scène a certain informative National Geographic quality, it drives the point home: This is food Carlos Sotomayor inherited and grew up with and is presenting in Shanghai.
Pork belly 'chicharron' / butter beans / panca chili gastrique
'Solterito' / fava beans / olives / tomatoes / queso fresco
Octopus 'causa' / quinia / avocado
Sudado / yellow chili / lager
Prawn 'Anticucho' / corn relish
Beef cheek 'salted' / mushroom rice
'Suspiro' / green apple / meringue / popcorn
Ekeko is serving one menu only. An 8-course dinner for 488rmb. The menu changes monthly based on the lunar calendar. Each dish is accompanied by a card elucidating the particular course's socio-cultural place in Peruvian cuisine, a folk tale about its origins, or the chef's own experience with it. (The Sudado is his father's favorite.)
Overall, lots of seafoods in different permutations, corn, tubers, chilis, beans, fruits, and potatoes -- earthier, "home cooking" elements are mixed in with molecular sort of techniques. The beef cheek main, in particular, comes out of the kitchen dressed in cotton candy, which disintegrates when magic sauce is poured on it, a technique created by the ancient Incans.
In the presentation of the space and some of the tertiary graphics, not to mention some of the promo material around social media, it's hard not to perceive the ghost of the recently vacated Spaniard chef looming over the place a little bit. It seems they're trying to capture something of The Willy's trademark whimsical, droll, eccentric personality in regards to his persona and presentation. It's not a bad strategy. It's a good way to make fine dining an approachable and fun experience.
From my perspective the more personal touches from Chef Carlos Sotomayor are the strongest points of interest, and his clear passion for his native foods is evident. On the menu there are some great dishes (the beef cheek, the octopus) and some good-not-great dishes. It's one to try out now if you're keen and one to watch more closely in the coming menu cycles to see how it develops as its own unique identity.
Don't sleep on their Pisco either.