Foodstuffs: Pourcel Bros.
Maybe you've heard that the Pourcel Bros -- a twinned pair of decorated French chefs, whose last place in Shanghai, Sens & Bund
, came to an ungracious end
-- are returning to Shanghai. In fashion. They'll be heading all of the food operations at the Expo's French Pavilion, and, being the French Pavilion, the food operations are an integral part of what the country wants to showcase.
But they're also going to be running a second project, a non-Expo restaurant -- hopefully something that sticks a bit longer than Nov 1 -- and I've found out that it's going to be in a prime, historical location: Shaanxi Lu's Hong Fangzi
, the "Red House." They haven't settled on an English name yet. It's a difficult task, moreso than normal, as Hong Fangzi is fraught with history. The story goes that it was quite a famous restaurant in colonial days, changed its name to something to more Red when that became appropriate, and then limped along on its reputation for a long, long while (HFZ
, a French-run revival attempted in '06, died in, oh, 2007? The Chinese landlord has been running it since.) The Chinese name, Hong Fangzi, is known across the entire country; finding an English or French one to stick over that that doesn't involve "rouge" is what's sticky (the word associates with "Bar Rouge
" -- owned by the same company that ran Sens & Bund, which ended harshly; sensitive situation.)
Anyway, besides that minor point, the Pourcels are moving ahead. The three-story space, on the 6-8th floors of a handsome red-brick building, is going to be completely re-done -- lobby, lift, interior, everything -- to something more classically French, with contemporary touches (designer's rendering below). That's from the mouth of Gilles Bihi-Zenou, a Shanghai veteran, who's brought the Pourcels back. (Bihi-Zenou's story is interesting itself. He got into F&B just a couple of years ago, opening Cantine
, and Delish
, before seizing the Expo's opportunity, and the Pourcel's itch to try again in Shanghai, to aim much higher. He, and his partners
, are responsible for the Pourcels' return.)
The sixth floor is going to be more of a wine lounge (with private rooms), the seventh floor is purely operational, and the eighth floor is going to be a 50-seat fine dining restaurant (naturally; the Pourcels' French restaurants fluctuate in the number of Michelin stars, but, regardless, are widely praised), and the whole thing is going to be targeted towards Chinese customers. Heavy emphasis on the wine. To paraphrase Bihi-Zenou, once you start getting to 500-600rmb for dinner, many Chinese customers stop seeing the value of just the food. The value in a 10,000rmb bottle of Chateau Lafite makes a lot more sense to them, though, and that observation is going to be at the crux of this new restaurant's positioning.
There is a lovely terrace up there, and they might get that going for brunch -- us white people: love
that brunch -- but that'll be secondary. Bihi-Zenou says they're looking at the logistics of importing fresh seafood -- lobsters, oysters -- from Brittany twice a week.
So why might this work, where Sens & Bund failed? Fine-dining in Shanghai isn't doing so hot at the moment, regardless of the name. (Ask Martin Berasategui -- his struggling Restaurant Martin
just started a 100rmb "tapas night."
) But the Pourcels, and Bihi-Zenou & Co, have a couple of things going for them.
For one, important Expo people are looking for non-Expo venues to host important visitors. The Pourcels' name, and the Expo connection, is good for that (the same need for off-Expo entertaining could prop up Restaurant Martin as well). And for two, without dredging up the details of dispute that closed Sens & Bund, the nature of the Pourcels' involvement here seems to be different. On the Bund, they were more fly-in, fly-out chefs, popping up every so often but not involved closely in the day-to-day. Here, says, Bihi-Zenou, Jacques Pourcel is going to be spending significantly more time: up to three or four months during the course of the Expo.
Bihi-Zenou and company received the keys to the property last week. They're aiming for a June 1 opening.