Yannick Alléno and his team are clearly very proud of their Shanghai Bistro. I know this because they've displayed their faces in every possible location. Yannick smiles winningly from the front page of the menu. The walls in our private room were graced not with prints of fine art or Loire landscapes, but with portraits of two of the chefs, who gaze directly into your eyes as you sip your Bordeaux. The steak tartare is quinelled by a suited assistant, right at your table. Confidence exemplified.
Combined with the high price point and Alléno's constellation of Michelin stars, this raised my expectations of the food considerably. The service was also exemplary: the sort of relaxed attentiveness that immediately puts you at ease. As a party of seven, including two teenagers, we were given our own private room. The view over the central courtyard of the Raffles complex was a lovely backdrop. Unfortunately, the hollow acoustics were not so lovely. The playlist was good (Maggie Rogers, Christine and the Queens) but we barely heard it over the echoes of our own conversation.
Auxiliary details are pretty immaterial compared to the food, though. So: the menu. It’s a good size, but there are some issues. For example, I try to eat vegan or vegetarian as much as possible. I'm terrible at sticking to it beyond my own kitchen, but I do try, honestly. There wasn’t a single vegan or vegetarian option on the main course menu. Not even a lone-ranging ratatouille. If you’re swerving meat and fish, you’re stuck with a couple of entrée options or a selection of sides. This is pretty poor.
To start, we shared a few plates. There are some standout dishes here. The brie stuffed with black truffle and mascarpone (130rmb) is one of the best cheeses I've had: a decadent, oozing wedge in dramatic monochrome. We also ordered a charcuterie platter (168rmb) with some excellent features: a light terrine, beautifully cured meats and some cute little sweet-pickled vegetables. There were several underwhelming elements, though. The escargot (78rmb) were served à la Masterchef (roughly translated as “with superfluous and tasteless foam”) and lacked the classic, garlicky punch. The shrimps with homemade mayonnaise (78rmb) were also disappointing. I assume that the lack of seasoning was intended to allow the shrimps to shine, but the result was a light but bland, hotel-restaurant-level entrée.
The mains were similarly hit-and-miss. I ordered the scallop, seafood and caviar with champagne sabayon and lobster pilaf rice (198rmb). The sabayon was satisfyingly buttery and rich, surrounding a perfectly tender scallop. Great cooking. The rice, however, seemed like an afterthought: it somehow managed to be both dry and oily, and carried neither flavour nor evidence of lobster. Others on the table ordered the whole roast chicken (160rmb; tasty roasted garlic, but otherwise unremarkable), sea bass (158rmb; lovely, light, olive-y sauce with just the right proportion of capers), steak tartare (198rmb; "beautiful", as reviewed by my actually-French friend) and – at the teenage end of the table – “L’Hambourgeois” (135rmb), which I wished I’d ordered.
I’d highly recommend getting some of the French fries (28rmb) on the side of whatever you order, regardless of their incongruity. I’d probably go back just for half an hour with some frites, a good book, and a large glass of anything from the excellent wine selection.
It’s hard to come to an overall verdict on Bistro by Yannick Alléno. There was some strong cooking and I enjoyed the evening, but there were also several disappointments. For such a well-decorated chef (and such a chef-decorated venue), I’d expected greater attention to detail and much more flavour. I think the fairest way to judge this place is by its name: it’s very much a “bistro” rather than a Michelin-contending restaurant. It has the obligatory paper placemats, carnivorous menu and excellent fries. It is certainly not priced as a bistro, however, and that’s what annoyed me. We paid about 500rmb each for a starter and main, plus a couple of drinks. Charging restaurant prices for bistro food is only acceptable if your food is impeccable. Here, it isn’t really worth the price tag.
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