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The Brunch List: September 2015

Humdrum times at Wolfgang Puck and Thought For Food and bliss at Table No. 1 and Yue 1525.
2015-09-04 23:25:53

Yue 1525


Good for: Crispy fried pigeon



Situated on the second floor of the Pentahotel on Dingxi Lu, Yue 1525 has, over the years, remained out of the laowai loop. With the exception of a few laowai-local couples, this place is largely patronized by local families of several generations. That's often a good sign.

The chef here is a bona fide Cantonese, so expect the standard fare that you'd fill up with on a Guangzhou Sunday afternoon. Their steaming game is strong, with options like har gau, or shrimp dumplings; chashao bao, those puffy barbecued pork buns; or, one of our faves, Chaozhou fen guo, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables and peanuts.



Balance of texture is essential, so some crispy eats are necessary, too. For that they've got youtiao wrapped in rice rolls or shrimp fried in bean curd that's as fine and delicate as a layer of phyllo dough.



All of the above is solidly executed. But on our visit, the fried pigeon was the stand out performer. They lacquer it in malt syrup, which, when it makes contact with hot oil, transforms the skin into a crispy umami laden shell. It encapsulates a layer of swoon-inducingly tender, juicy flesh. If you've ever had misgivings about eating one of these birds, Yue 1525 will convert you. Prices are reasonable, as well. Two can walk out of here satisfied for under 300rmb.

- Justin Fischer

Daily: 11.30am–2.30pm
For a full brunch listing click here.

***

Thought for Food


Good for: Those blessed few with their lives in good shape.



This is the restaurant in the back of The Living Room By Octave, which is "an urban wellbeing center". You know, "a place to be your possibilities", "where positive learning happens" and "wellness professionals support a better you". Sort of corporate training with some Pilates thrown in. Hey, no judgment from us, man. "Be the wish you charge to see", or however that one goes. 



The restaurant is at the back of that angular, burnished iron building on Jianguo Lu. The dining room is really pleasant -- large with a lot of space and a glass wall looking out over a sort of Zen garden. Or maybe it was just an empty space. For brunch they offer an elaborate salad bar with smoked salmon, fruit, bread, and lots of vegetables that look misshapen enough to be authentically organic. Otherwise, there are three set meals.



The vegetarian set offers cucumber and mint gazpacho, and a choice of burnt cabbage, cauliflower puree and Parmesan, or roasted veg with tofu and almond skin. The fish set has squid noodle broth and slow poached salmon. Finally, the meat set comes with chicken and beetroot soup, plus roasted pork belly or Australian beef flank. All the dishes come together on one tray, with little offerings of pickled vegetables, grilled broccoli, spinach, and black or brown rice. 

Like a lot of healthy food, it sounds better than it tastes, though none of it was bad, and the presentation was creative. The squid noodle broth -- just a clear soup with pieces of thin squid cut to look like noodles -- was billowy and mesmerizing to look at, though a little tasteless. The slow-poached salmon was high quality, though the accompanying pickled fennel overpowered the simple flavor of the fish. But hey, it was very healthy, the space was lovely and my colon was probably high-fiving my small intestine with all the good that meal did me. Not exorbitant either, with dishes from 88-168rmb.



The desserts deserve mention for aesthetics alone, especially the "Watermelon Texture": a bowl of fresh watermelon, watermelon sorbet, watermelon jelly, mint, crushed pistachios and dried cranberries. Simple, sweet, refreshing; cold, clean and clear. Coming out at the end of a slightly bland meal, this was something really special. 

- Nick Taylor

Daily: 7am–10pm

***

Wolfgang Puck


Good for: Something easy for groups.



When the Wolfgang Puck empire opened in Xintiandi earlier this year, we gave it a resounding shrug of the shoulders , and the brunch didn't offer much more excitement. Their short brunch menu has just five dishes and five ideas for a "liquid brunch" (three juices, a bellini, and a bloody Mary). A small menu is often a good thing if the kitchen is focused on doing those few things very well. However, the rest of the menu -- the Italian-American fusion Puck made his name on -- is also available all day over the weekends, and almost everyone there except us was eating pizza. Perhaps we should have done the same.

The yoghurt parfait was attractive, but too sweet. The layers of strawberries and raspberries should be enough to give this dish its sweetness without adding sugar to the yoghurt. Not a disaster, but nothing special, and soon pushed aside. Huevos rancheros were more exciting: a single egg topped with chunks of avocado and tomato, sitting on black beans and two fried corn tostadas, between which lay a few slivers of cheese, and the whole tower teetered on a smear of ranchero salsa.

The grilled flatiron steak and eggs with béarnaise sauce was hearty and well presented, with the meat cooked to a perfect pink in the middle. But for all that, the potatoes were too dry, and the eggs were too firm to have any fun melding their juices into the meat. All the elements on the plate sat shyly rubbing shoulders, rather than getting together for any kind of raunchy gastronomic dance.



Given the ritzy name and location, the prices here aren’t exorbitant, with selections from 70-195rmb. The atmosphere was sunny and pleasant on a Saturday morning, the clientele came and went busily, and the experience was perfectly fine. But if you're expecting any sort of pizazz, you're not likely to find it here. Maybe we should have gone for a pizza. 

- Nick Taylor

Sun: 11am–2.30pm

***

Table No. 1


Good for: Eggs Benedict Aficionados



You probably don't go to Table No. 1 nearly enough. Don't worry. It's not your fault. Even we sometimes forget that there is actually a great restaurant near the Cool Docks. Now that they serve brunch, you have one more reason to hit up this oft-overlooked eatery.

The menu fits on half a page but covers a surprising range. Chef Christopher Pitts takes the mandatory Eggs Benedict and reproduces it in four distinctive permutations. Naturally, there are the more familiar smoked salmon and Florentine variations, but the standard Benedict is anything but, with a slice of braised beef tongue slipped between the Parma ham and the egg. Then there is the piece de resistance "Chef's Choice" Benedict. It's stacked with glazed Wagyu brisket, house made bacon, and a pinch of pickled lime for garnish. This is the one you want.



For those disinclined to order a Benny, there is poached eggs on toasted sourdough, to which they'll add bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, or mashed avocado for a little extra cash. There is also steak and eggs and, toward the lunch-ier end of the spectrum, barbecue pork ribs with chipotle slaw.

Sweet options suit every kind of appetite: healthy and sensible (fresh yogurt, granola, and berries), decadent and indulgent (blueberry pancakes with poached apricots), even wanton and irresponsible (French toast with marmalade and seared foie gras).



If you order that French toast and foie option, you'll probably need to allay your guilt with a salad. A Niçoise salad with Bibb lettuce, seared tuna, soft-boiled quail eggs, and marinated white anchovies should provide some absolution.



Finally, for liquid refreshment, a new cocktail list comes courtesy of Rick Starr (formerly of Light & Salt's Library Distillery). Starr plays to the cocktail nerd set with drinks like the Corpse Reviver #8 and mixes his own version of a Bloody Mary, made with kimchee and Absolut Peppar vodka.

It's a hotel, and a nice one, to boot, so plan on dropping close to 400rmb for two. Bump that amount to 600rmb should you wish to hit the sauce. That includes the automatic 10% service charge.

- Justin Fischer

Sat–Sun: 12–3pm

For a full brunch listing click here.

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