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[On The Radar]: Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire
A big name in dining launches his first concept on the mainland. We sent Chris St. Cavish, scourge of French restaurateurs, to check it out.
By Jul 26, 2017 Dining

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On The Radar is a weekly SmartShanghai column where we profile new venues that you might like to know about. Here are the facts and our first impressions.

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Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire


2/F, 480 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Yueyang Lu View ListingTaxi Printout






Quick Take: The finest in dining and snobbery from a Rolling Stone of a chef.


What It Is: Pierre Gagnaire is another one of these monumentally revered French chefs, who was making hit songs – er, dishes – before most of us were born.

Gagnaire has had a restaurant down in Hong Kong for many years now, and it looks like he finally got his China bank account set up, because like many before him, he’s now here in mainland China to deliver his particular flavor of fine dining to the poor, starving masses of Shanghai.

This is at the Capella, an ultra-luxury all-villa hotel on Jianguo Xi Lu. It used to be lanehouses. Now it’s a mix of retail and the hotel, and the whole thing is called Jian Ye Li.



First Impressions: Better than Robuchon, the obvious comparison and the last mega-chef to wash up in Shanghai. (No one seems to have noticed Marc Meneau at Wanda Reign, so…) Let’s start with what they get right: the food.


Photo provided by venue: the man Gagnaire himself



Gagnaire may have gone full-white up top but his cooking is not old. He is contemporary and his dishes are truly his own, the mark of an excellent chef. He doesn’t have to rely on three-decade-old buttery mashed potatoes and an overpriced egg to draw in diners (even if he does have one on his menu, with Oscietra caviar and Champagne sauce, for 488 rmb – what is with these guys and their precious eggs?). In this respect, Gagnaire has more in common with Jean Georges, a sort of “French food meets the world’s flavors” thing going on.

To wit, a very refreshing dish of thinly sliced pineapple with sweet crab and a carrot foam – a bright and summery combination – and a tartare of beef, foie gras and smoked herring, an earthy and deep dish that is the polar opposite of the crab.


Pressed crab, dill flavoured pineapple carpaccio; carrot foam, 138 rmb



The rest of the menu veers between avant-garde combinations like the above, and Gagnaire’s takes on French classics: gougeres (er, cheese puffs), a delicious frog en cocotte with tons of garlic and parsley, and then main dishes, which is where the restaurant really shines. The ginger-flavor lobster fricassee, with cinnamon-spiced semolina and apple, even at 408 rmb for half a lobster, is very nice, and I’m a cook-your-own kinda guy.


Ginger-flavoured lobster fricassee, cinnamon spiced wheat semolina, apple dice, 408 rmb



I can’t tell you what a Tchatchouka is without Googling it – and neither could our waiter, a problem we’ll get to in a minute – but I can say it’s part of an excellent lamb dish, with grilled cabbage.


Fresh herbs lamb crepinette, grilled cabbage and Manchego Tchatchouka, 268 rmb



After all of that, I only had room for one dessert, a frozen nougatine with apricot and rosemary — good enough to recognize that there is some pastry talent in the Gagnaire kitchen, and enough to tempt me into going back when they open the bakery downstairs.


Frozen nougat Montélimar; apricot and rosemary syrup, 80 rmb



Except.

Except.

The service. I know. Whining about service is as bad as getting bad service but at a restaurant with the pretensions that Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire has, the poor guy dressed up in waiter’s clothes ought to know how to play the role. Explain the menu. Know what the dishes are. Be able to answer questions in at least one language. Chinese is fine! C’mon, guy. “This is China” is no longer a valid excuse in 2017 Shanghai. I get better service at Wagas. My theory on service is that it’s only worth mentioning if it’s either really bad or really good, and the service at Gagnaire is not really good.

And then there’s this, which the hotel GM wants you to know he doesn’t condone, but I didn’t notice any “soft opening” discount on my bill, so I am going to give my full opinion. As my date and I were settling the bill and getting ready to leave, one of the European managers came over to make conversation, asking us how everything was, and we told him. Food, great. Service, pretty bad.



He agreed and then told us something to the effect of “oh you know, it’s impossible to train those Chinese people”.

What? That’s the goodbye you’re going to leave us with as we walk down the staircase and out into the night, after spending 1,500 rmb on dinner? The irony – in a night of bad service, the worst came from the European guy, trying on some casual racism against the people he’s meant to be training.

Nope. Not going along with your stupid expat solidarity here. Go to Din Tai Fung or Hai Di Lao, Belgian Guy, and then let’s talk. In the meantime, give me back the bumbling but at least well-intentioned Chinese waiter.

Teething problems! They are painful!

Great food. Bad service. Less expensive than you might think. Nice looking place. A sort-of Jean Georges for the French Concession. That’s what Gagnaire has brought us so far.

Thanks?



- All photos by SmartShanghai / Brandon McGhee (except that one of Gagnaire)

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7 comments.

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  • 2 years ago Capella Shanghai Unverified User

    Thank you for visiting le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire and compliments on our culinary team! Your review of the restaurant will certainly help us to improve during this critical period. While we are glad to know that our food is well-received, it is with great concern that we learn about your experience. It is the hallmark of Capella Shanghai’s service philosophy to embrace cultural diversity. We remain relentless in our effort to raise our service standards as we lead up to the official opening of the restaurant and hotel.

    At this soft opening phase of the restaurant, we recognize that there are a few ‘teething’ problems, as you have rightly highlighted. We are working hard to ensure that similar experiences do not recur.

    We hope you will give us another chance to serve you again in the near future.

    Warm regards,
    Dorian
    (General Manager)

  • 2 years ago jacobflowers

    Yikes. Word to the wise for restaurant proprietors is to make certain you vet your management staff thoroughly. Fully agree with Chris here, having excellently trained local staff is far from impossibility here in Shanghai. Element Fresh is also great in this respect, and they aren't even incentivized by tips which is even more noteworthy.

    Poor belgian guy is going to either be placed on a short leash, or have a very stern talking to.

  • 2 years ago bigfish

    '' I get better service at Wagas '' hahaha that made me laugh so hard , also it is true Din Tai Fung or Hai Di Lao have absolutely insanely good service!!!!

  • 2 years ago sun.chen

    I love your reviews. Thanks for calling out the casual racism

  • 2 years ago wzshanghaiwz Unverified User

    Full agree with Chris' review.

    @Capella - I realize the restaurant is in soft opening, but when paying 600 RMB pp, there are some basic expectations. Last week several friends dined there and the air conditioning was not working properly. It was uncomfortably hot and I'm sure the management was well aware. It made the dining experience quite poor, and no apology or comment was made about it. Even when it was mentioned, the reaction was 'we're sorry, we know'. Additionally, the staff made no introductions or recommendations to the menu at all. as for the casual restaurant, it was very apparent the foreign staff was paying much more attention to the european clientele.

    The food was great, but one gripe I had was is the mandatory, overpriced bottled water...I believe here and Otto e Mezzo are the only two restauarants in town still doing this.

  • 2 years ago Cstonerun

    Had almost the exact same menu as Chris and have to agree, it was realllllllly tasty. Don't overlook the cocktail bar - will definitely be back just to sip on some Jianguo 480's. Luckily I had great service the night I was there...

  • 2 years ago MentossssssJ Unverified User

    Went there last week for dinner with friends and that was actually a good dicision i made for choosing le Comptoir, casual place, totally delicious food especially the lamb I love the most. We girls love the place, and the service is not that bad? We were served with smiler and good manner.

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