What It Is: The return of chef Jonas Noël, about ten months after Oxalis at The Waterhouse Hotel closed. In some regards, you could consider this to be Noël’s first fully fledged restaurant. Whereas he was operating under some strict constraints in Oxalis’ first iteration — crucially, not being able to change the moody dining room décor at all — this time he is not only the chef, but the project’s General Manager. That means all of the little decisions that add up to a restaurant were his to make, from the Jingdezhen plateware to the airy, botanical vibe of the décor to, of course, the menu.
The location this time, in an immature mall behind the Natural History Museum, is brave, and means Oxalis is going to have to become a destination restaurant. Still, as Noël told me, anything is easier than the South Bund.
First Impressions: Noël and I were natural enemies, to some extent. He came to Shanghai to work at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in April 2016, the same month I panned the place. I’ve since come around to his cooking, however, and Noël’s claim to have buried the hatchet with me, and I’m now happy to say I enjoyed the cooking Noël’s kitchen did on my visit last week, and the new open feel of the restaurant. I had many criticisms in that article, but I will allow that one of the positives of these mega-fine dining restaurants coming to Shanghai is that they bring talented people with them, and some of those talented people are bound to stick around and do their own thing. Like Oxalis.
FREE RANGE CHICKEN, "Served chilled in a pressed terrine", 78rmb
WHEAT & VEGETABLES SALAD, "Cooked in turmeric broth", 68rmb
After many years in fine dining, starting with Michel Bras, going thru Caprice at the Four Seasons Hong Kong immediately before Shanghai, and then into Robuchon, Noël has managed to discard the pomp and circumstance of his starred background and cook… food. There is undoubtedly a lot of technique to it all — see how finely the onions and bacon are cut on his flammekueche — but it rarely comes across as fussy.
FLAMMEKUECHE, "My childhood memory", Bread dough / Onions / Bacon, 78rmb
One of the more interesting things happening in the background is the collision of his French training with his traveling past, after stints in Norway, Hong Kong and now here. He uses Shaoxing wine instead of French yellow wine in his chicken terrine, for example, and shaves smoked salted egg yolk over his sea bream, which he crisps the Chinese way, ladling hot oil over the skin until the scales crisp. In no way is this Chinese food, or even fusion food, but it does show the mind of a curious chef, awake to his environment. Can you taste the difference? Probably not. But it’s there.
NZ COASTAL LAMB, "Roasted rump & braised shoulder", 198rmb
AMBERJACK YELLOWTAIL, "Grilled & made to share", 348rmb
Instead, the second round of Oxalis is more like a high-end brasserie than a chef-showoff, with slightly bigger portions than first round Oxalis (“customers didn’t get the concept of small dishes to share”) but a very similar menu. If there are change, it’s in the little details, like the towering souffle now getting a yogurt ice cream and a glaze of orange jam, or the braised coastal lamb now being served with carrots instead of zucchini. If you missed the first iteration of Oxalis, this one is close enough to give you an idea.
GRAND MARNIER SOUFFLE, "In the French Tradition", 78rmb