Fenyang Lu, near its intersection with Huaihai Lu. Madison is tucked just behind the HoJo
in a building that is still undergoing some finishing touches. Fenyang Lu, of course, turns into Donghu Lu once it crosses Huaihai so Madison's nearest neighbors are restaurants like Elefante
and a host of severely mediocre teppanyaki joints.
What it is:
Scarcely a year in, Madison chef and owner Austin Hu discovered that his restaurant was on borrowed time. ICBC, the bank that owns pretty much the entire block, had begun threatening to evict all tenants so it could turn the building into some sort of entertainment complex for big wigs. By March of this year, ICBC's plans were finalized, and by May Hu shut Madison's doors with the promise of re-opening a few blocks away in June.
Naturally, construction delays threw a spanner in the gears, so they're a few months behind schedule. In fact, the approach to the entrance is still in some disarray; to the casual observer, the place looks like a construction site. Nevertheless, enough progress has been made that Hu now has a fully-functioning kitchen -- it's at least three times the size of his original, by the way -- and can open Madi's, the more casual bar area off to the left of the soon-to-arrive main dining room.
The menu here skews more toward classics of comfort cuisine. We're talking mac & cheese, French onion soup and clams casino as well as a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich and a seriously kick-ass burger with arugula, saffron aioli and cheddar cheese. He gets a little exotic elsewhere on the menu, as well, with dishes like crostini smeared with bone marrow and topped with pickled shallots. There are also a few different permutations of duck on the menu, like French fries dunked in duck fat served with duck fat gravy and a cheese sauce. As expected, Hu's still holding up the locavore mantle. Several items feature ingredients sourced from China; the "Beijing Blue" cheese crumbles on his spinach salad come to mind, for instance.
This is all a ramp-up to the grand opening of the main dining room, which is slated for October 12. If you've ever dined at the previous location, you'll already have a pretty good idea of what to expect here; the menu is remaining about 90 percent the same with the exception of the usual seasonal adjustments. Think dishes like porcini ravioli with crispy thyme and parmesan or sturgeon confit with Jinhua prosciutto or his signature chicken liver and foie gras mousse. The biggest change is a the addition of a five-course degustation menu.
This is by far the most dramatic change. Madison's original location was beginning to look shabby and threadbare. Those horseshoe-shaped banquettes, a holdover from the previous tenant
, were downright awkward. And that empty street-level vestibule made the restaurant feel like it was perpetually closed for renovations. None of this was Hu's fault, mind you. He did a fine job with the hand he was dealt, but this new space feels like the restaurant he wanted to open in the first place.
Still, there is one vestige of Madison 1.0. They ripped out that signature patina-covered door and constructed a doorway around it here. It's a nice touch. The rest of it is totally new -- simple and spacious. Floor-to-ceiling windows make it bright, and in spite of the hardwoods, brick walls and high ceilings, the din of diners stays at a manageable volume. The music is upbeat and fun with a penchant for indie rock -- deep cuts from Hu's iPod, I presume. The main dining room, while still under construction, has a slightly more formal, buttoned-down look to it, but given Hu's track record, he won't let the space take itself too seriously.
Small plates like the bone marrow crostini, ricotta meatballs and duck fat disco fries are 35, 60 and 58rmb respectively. Sandwiches range from 48 for a grilled cheese to 65 for smoked duck with paté. Soups and salads go from 45 to 55rmb. Snacks like Spiced popcorn or salt and vinegar kettle chips are 20 and 25 respectively. Prices for the main dining room's menu remain the same with starters ranging from 48 to 78rmb and mains from 168 to 218. The five-course tasting menu will set you back 598rmb per person.
A surprisingly mixed crowd of locals and foreigners all presumably loyal followers of Austin Hu.