The new hot thing this week is...
What It Is: Lago is the marquee restaurant from the Bellagio, newly opened on Bei Suzhou Lu, Hongkou on the bank of the Suzhou River next to Waibaidu Bridge. This Shanghai Bellagio is of that world famous Bellagio in Las Vegas — it’s only their second branch in the world. The Bellagio in Las Vegas has about 90 restaurants and bars, an exclusive water show by Cirque Du Soleil, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, a conservatory, a botanical gardens, its own lake — its own damn 375,000 square feet man-made lake in the desert — and, of course, one of the world's largest and most famous casino floors. 20,000 people roll through and drop coin in this Las Vegas icon in a single day. Even in a city of in-your-face excess this place is in-your-face excessive. The Bellagio Fountains feature in a major scene in Oceans 11, remember? They symbolize... I don't know... wealth, happiness, success, and the inherent beauty at the center of all things.
Photos Credit: Bellagio by MGM Las Vegas
Photos Credit: Bellagio by MGM Shanghai
The Bellagio in Shanghai has exactly none of that. Most noticeably absent is the gambling, of course, but overall it’s… well. The Shanghai Bellagio does have BELLAGIO SUNNING on the side of it. Hmm. It's got 162 rooms. A spa. A pool. A business center. Three restaurants. Overall, aesthetics-wise... it offers the feeling of luxury as luxury was envisioned and conceived of in like the late 1990s. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice, luxury hotel. It’s nice. It's staid. It's tasteful. As much as these places can ever be. But it’s a nice luxury hotel for, oh say, 1997. And this here is Shanghai, China in 2018. We’ve taken luxury to the next level. We’ve taken it to an impossible level. Have you been to the Wanda Reign? It's like a diamond-encrusted jade hand grenade exploded in an abalone factory. It doesn't help that they’ve got the W Hotel’s 90-storey ram-rod LED screen phallus blasting WE LOVE SHANGHAI AND PARTYING BLAH BLAH BLAH right through their nice Suzhou River patio view.
A friend of mine mused, “it’s like they’re taking sand to the beach.”
So, if the Bellagio didn't bring their lake over to the beach (it's called "Lake Bellagio", seriously), they at least brought over the restaurant that is named after it — Lago — a modern Italian restaurant from acclaimed Spanish chef Julian Serrano, celebrated for putting traditional Continental cuisine through his own idiosyncratic, bubbly, molecular prism. The restaurant is one of the standouts of 14 restaurants at the Las Vegas Bellagio. (They've also got a Prime Steakhouse by Jean-Georges, incidentally.) Yelp loves it.
You know, Shanghai still swoons over a respected international luxury brand. Lago is the talk of the town. Or the WeChat Moment of the town, rather. SmartShanghai attended a media preview dinner on Monday night and already the place was at capacity with the key demographics in Shanghai F&B: other notable Shanghai chefs and people whose main thing is posting pictures of the free food they get on their WeChat feeds. This restaurant is the new thing. And they don't even soft open until February 2. The reviews are already coming in: *hungry face emoticon*hungry face emoticon*hungry face emoticon*.
Lago is actually on a river then. The Suzhou River. This is what it looks like. Sort of reminiscent of that season that Mad Men went to California. With a dash of Patrick Bateman-in-Shanghai realness. It's nice.
Lago is very much the sister restaurant to the one in Las Vegas and utilizes a similar pastels-and-plush color scheme. Sort of art deco-y light fixtures. Sort of '70s California. Sort of '90s New York. It's lounge-y. Almost club-y. And replete with an entry corridor that looks wrested from friggin' Arkham or something. To taste. It's nice. Yeah, it's nice. I guess.
The food is not nice. The food is excellent. "Small Plates. Bold Flavors." is the tagline. It's the Vegas Lago picked up and set down in Shanghai. You're looking at a (mercifully only) two-page menu featuring mod'ed out Italian staples -- Pastas, Risottos, Antipasto, Seafood, Mains, Crostino Bar, and Pizzas -- taken as starting points for the chef's original compositions, all deployed as sharable dishes, tapas style. It's a condensed version of the one in Vegas. It's "social dining." (AKA "All Chinese dining.") You're supposed to order 2-4 dishes per person and share among yourselves. I'd say this food is "Instagramable" but Serrano's been doing the details-obsessed molecular fine dining since before Instagram. He's behind the two Michelin star, AAA Five-Diamond Award restaurant Picasso, also in Vegas, which has been doing the same for French cuisine since 2002.
(But yes. The food is very Instagramable.)
"Carpaccio Di Manzo" -wagyu beef, parmesan, baby mushrooms - 158rmb
"Jamon Iberico de Bellota" - tomato, EVOO, bread - 488rmb
"Ravioli Festivo" - smoked corn, crispy squid, forest mushrooms - 178rmb
"Tartufo Nero" - black truffle, lardo, truffled cheese - 198rmb
"ABG-Dry-Aged Tomahawk" - bone-in beef ribeye, roasted potatoes, sauteed forest mushrooms - 998rmb
"Where Is the Foie Gras?" -- secret-ish item. Only available on the 888rmb multi-pax sharing menu. Truly worth searching for.
"Amalfi" - hazlenut, limoncello, merringue, sorbet, passion fruit - 68rmb
"Mattonella Al Ciocolato" - chocolate sponge, chocolate ganage, chocolate gelato, chocolate sauce - 68rmb
First Impressions: Honestly, I don't see where the hotel fits in within Shanghai's lux hotel scene, boasting none of the Adult Disneyland elements which have made the original Bellagio world famous. Maybe this one's for the callously rich — brand loyalists looking for a helicopter jumping-off pad to the Main Event on the casino floor, which will forever be in Las Vegas.
In as much as it is a shell for the restaurant Lago it's doing its job though. It just has to exist and have the name on the front. The restaurant environment itself just has to exist, which it does, despite the smudged, under-finished feeling of the mise-en-scene. (Hey, they just opened. Fair play.)
The food at Lago is fascinating though. The food is intricate and inventive. Very carefully done. Total sensoral packages, in each socially sharable, social media-friendly dish. Sights, smells, flavors. "Modern", of course. Not exactly "new". But very modern. And against the glut of Michelin-sanctified French chefs setting up shop in Shanghai 'lo these many years, it's a strong, new perspective in Shanghai's fine dining scene.
So yeah. What else can I say? It's real nice.