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Photos: Brandon McGhee

[Newness]: Can Phénix at The Puli Keep Its Michelin Star?

Heavy pressure on the hotel's new chef.
By Jul 23, 2019 Dining



2/F, 1 Changde Lu, near Yan'an Xi Lu View ListingTaxi Printout

The Place:

Phénix in The Puli hotel. For the past few years, it has been the domain of Australian chef Michael Wilson, who won the restaurant a Michelin star for his modern, really damn good cooking. This is the place that made the stuffed duck neck sausage (with head) that you may have seen on your Moments over the last year or two.


Wilson's Whole duck neck sausage, still on the menu, 540rmb

Wilson left in April and now the restaurant is in a weird position. Do they continue serving his food and hope that will be enough to let them keep the star this September, when the 2020 awards come out, or do they bank on a new chef to earn his own star for his own food?

It’s really a high-stakes gamble, with lots of strategy and guesswork, and it’s very debatable — I asked ten well-known chefs and professional F&B managers in Shanghai about it this week and got ten different answers for what they should do. The responses ranged from scrap Michael’s menu and start new, to keep the best sellers and replace the rest, to make slow and incremental changes.

Losing the star would be a real slap in the face for the restaurant and the hotel, but there’s no well-defined path for them to follow. As several people who would know told me, in Europe, if the chef of a chef-driven restaurant left (and under Wilson, Puli was chef-driven), Michelin would likely take the star back at the yearly assessment and make the next chef try to earn it again. Others told me that's a myth.

What's New:

The chef. Pierrick Maire. Maire was last at The Beach House and before that at Yannick Alleno’s one-time restaurant in Beijing’s Shangri-La hotel. He’s from Marseille. He’s been at The Puli for three months. The star is his cross to bear. Meanwhile, he's also got to juggle breakfast, lunch, brunch and room-service from The Puli's undersized kitchen. Fun times!

First Impressions:

I went last weekend after seeing all the hotel's press on social media about Maire and his menu, to find that he has changed just five dishes. Befitting his hometown, four of them come from the ocean. The fifth is a duck dish with seared foie gras under a drift of elderflower with cherries on the side. I liked the cherries. That’s the best thing I can say.

Duck breast, foie gras, cherries, almond nougatine, yuzu-cherry sauce, 230rmb

Where Wilson’s food was upfront with flavor and drama (see the duck neck, the frogs legs or the strawberry vacherin), Maire’s food is exceedingly mild and overly careful; I get the sense he is playing it safe. Two of the five dishes lean on the crutch of a spoonful of caviar on top. The duck dish uses the foie gras to similar effect. Gratuitous luxury. For a Phénix devotee like me grown used to Wilson’s cooking (much of which remains on the menu), it was, quite bluntly, a let down.

Sea urchin, oscietra caviar, green apple gelee, vanilla-celery bavaroise, 250rmb

I also found it disingenuous that the 8-course tasting menu, which is how chefs show off their skills, was 50% Wilson’s old dishes. I asked a chef friend how that would be seen in the industry. He said “it was like wearing someone else’s underpants.”

Seafood soup, sea scallop, saffron-tomato broth, 110rmb

Beyond the plate, there are bigger questions and forces at work here. Who owns the dishes that Wilson created while working for The Puli, him or the hotel? Should the hotel be entitled to use them as they see fit? How long after taking over the stove should the chef change the menu? If the hotel seems reluctant to wipe the menu of Wilson’s dishes, which earned them the star, why are they simultaneously promoting Maire and his personal history to the media? Can they have it both ways? My sounding panel of industry people was split over these questions. Several were hardliners who said that Maire should have changed the menu immediately. Others said he should get a grace period of up to six months.

Langoustine, Champagne-lobster sauce, fresh herbs, 290rmb

Perhaps this is inside baseball, too detailed and irrelevant for the reader to care. All hotels have their own quirks and problems, and chefs must work within their system to offer the public the best food they can produce.

Barramundi, clam ragu, potato puree with caviar, lemon-verbena emulsion, 280rmb

I wish Maire the best in the face of heavy pressure, from the hotel (I am assuming), from Michelin, whose inspectors were just in town, and from filling the large shoes of the chef before him. The dishes I had aren't to my taste, but maybe he's yet to really find his groove. Good luck, chef.

Phénix Eatery & Bar, 2/F, The Puli, 1 Changde Lu, near Yan'an Xi Lu. Full listing here.



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  • 1 year ago ekusoY Unverified User


    I find the pictures of the dishes stunning. Are those the new dishes? Very creative.

    You mentioned the Michelin inspectors were in town - in my humble opinion we should let the professionals decide where his food stands not a writer in an online magazine. Reading at your review it seems you knew the former Chef well, possibly this could have influenced your opinion ?

    I am not an expert in kitchen management but being new in town with the pressure of Michelin guide and having a new team working under you isn't too much to ask to have a full revamping of the menu without creating unnecessary tensions ?

    I will be going back to pulli to try the food and make my own opinion.


  • 1 year ago Kenny G Unverified User

    I agree with Yusoke, the pressure seems to be coming more from this article.

    In a city where restaurants and Chefs keep moving around, change is only normal. And given that some of the best restaurants in town do not even have a Michelin star, this might not be a big deal at all.

    I will be going back and have a try myself.

  • 1 year ago grapejuice

    This article is extremely weak. It sounds as if you were good friends with Michael and that he's pissed off that the new chef hasn't changed the menu yet. It takes time to train a new kitchen, especially in China, and even more so when you are defending a Michelin star. Your "people who should know" and saying "I asked ten well-known chefs and professional F&B managers in Shanghai about it this week" without quoting them is disingenuous. Aren't you a restaurant critic? Shouldn't you know? As your bio says you have "A decade of professional cooking in the US; several years of writing & editing in China."

    As someone who has eaten at Phenix half a dozen times one could ask was it worthy of a Michelin star in the first place? Several good dishes, with as many hits as misses, but lacking consistency which is necessary for a Michelin star. I found that many times it was better when Michael wasn't there. I look forward to trying the new dishes and will be interested to see if Maire has improved on some of the old.

    I have had the duck neck sausage that you rave about on two occasions hoping it would live up to the hype but found both times that it was basically an Instagram worthy dish that was bland and "leaning on the crutch" of foie gras to make you want to try it. Maybe you should go back in a few months and objectively look at the food instead of writing a hatchet job article that is the definition of poor journalism. The last paragraph isn't fit for a middle school English class. This writer isn't "to my taste, but maybe he's yet to really find his groove. Good luck," Christopher.

  • 1 year ago Nate550 Unverified User

    I could not agree more with Grapejuice.
    What a poor piece of journalism ... no objectivity.

  • 1 year ago B_L Unverified User

    Why are so many people in the comments so upset that a restaurant critic was critical of a restaurant? Do they come here for positive reviews of every restaurant? If you do not enjoy or a share a critics taste, then do not follow their advice. Do not expect them to adjust moderate their opinion to fit your sensibilities though.

    "in my humble opinion we should let the professionals decide where his food stands not a writer in an online magazine"
    What do you expect a food writer to do if not report on and provide critique of food?

  • 1 year ago grapejuice

    It's not being critical of a restaurant it is how you do it. What you write can have a serious effect on business. A chef is an employee of the hotel, without the hotel you don't have a restaurant, without the restaurant you wouldn't have the star. When you leave the restaurant you don't take the dishes with you. Commune Sociale has a great new chef. Sergio is slowly putting his own influence on the menu and improving the restaurant. It takes time. Should he have scratched the whole menu, closed the restaurant for 3 weeks and trained everyone on his new dishes then re-opened?

    If you want to write an article on what happens when a restaurant changes chefs then fine. To use an article to say that you don't think the new chef is as good as Michael and that you disagree with keeping Michaels dishes fine. That is a restaurant critique, but the way this is written seems like I am a friend of Michael and he mentioned that he didn't like the fact that they are still using his dishes so I wrote an article to put pressure on the new chef to change the menu. How does he know that there is "heavy pressure" from the hotel or from Michelin? Did he talk to them? If he did quote them. Quote anybody. The only heavy pressure seems to come from the author himself.

  • 1 year ago the other alex


    I think you might want to reread the article without the chip on your shoulder, bud. From your comment, it seems you have no problem with the content, but you feel the tone was too harsh? The author clearly and explicitly expresses his own opinion, acknowledges positions counter to his, addresses the ethics of ownership, and then ends by wishing chef Maire well. If you think is what a hatchet piece reads like, I envy your padded echo chamber.

  • 1 year ago grapejuice

    It's about the way it was written. There is nothing too harsh about the criticism, though the criticism is quite harsh, that's a critics prerogative. He also didn't see if there were any changes as to how the old dishes are executed. The article is complete conjecture and quotes nobody yet implies that unknown people have said this and that. It starts in the title "Heavy pressure on the hotels new chef." and ends the same way. He didn't talk to the hotel, he didn't talk to the michelin guide people but implies that he knows what they are thinking. However, it seems like he talked to Michael. Complete conjecture on my part. I thought Christopher's article about Botanik was more in line with how a critic should write. It was an accurate assessment of what is an excellent restaurant. He also could have weighed in on what he, as an experienced critic and chef, feels about the questions at hand but doesn't. However, if you want I will just shut up and continue bouncing around the room in my padded echo chamber.

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