Surely, It's Not the Best Restaurant In the World
I still remember what I said to my friends at the end of my first a la carte meal at Phenix:
“If the Michelin Guide does not include this one, I’d be really disappointed. "
Then, I've published my first review 《 躺着赚钱的璞丽，只吃Brunch你就亏了 》and have been a loyal fan of this restaurant promoting it to all my friends and family.
On the day the Guide was released, I was the one who passed the news to Chef Michael Wilson. A few months later, the Guide asked me if I was interested in doing an interview with Michael.
然后，就有了那一篇《 躺着赚钱的璞丽，只吃Brunch你就亏了 》和日后的安利。
That happened shortly after I dined at PHÉNIX for the spring menu. Upon hearing my positive feedback, Michael, who's been suffering from a severe "star-loss mania" at the moment, said to me,
" Well it's much better than what it was one year ago, isn't it? "
The arrival of the Guide did not instantly raise Shanghai to the level of New York, Tokyo or Paris. In becoming a world-class food capital, Shanghai still has a long way to go. But you have to admit, the food scene in Shanghai is getting better.
PHÉNIX is not the best restaurant in the world, probably not even the best one in Shanghai, but it is one of those restaurants that grows with the city Shanghai, with patrons like you and me.
I reckon there's nothing more important than this.
当时刚去璞丽吃完 春季新菜 ，正饱受“失星疯”困扰的Michael，听到我的肯定意见，如释重负地说了一句话：
"Your first Michelin star, you did't know about it? "
It was Septmeber 2016. Setting up for lunch service in the kitchen, Michael Wilson received a wechat message read the following:
"Your first Michelin stat, you did't know about it?"
He paused a little, staring at these few words, making sure he didn't get it wrong, then pick up the phone and sent a voice message.
"No, I've only found out when you told me..."
He sounded trembling. Must be the excitment.
This is when luck came out to play. Well into his fifth year in China as the Executive Chef at the PuLi Hotel, on an ordinary Wednesday morning, during the few minutes preparing herbs for lunch service, 31 year old Australian Chef Michael Wilson was crowned a michelin star, realizing a dream that's out of most people's league.
运气总是这样突如其来。来到中国、担任璞丽酒店行政总厨的第五个年头，一个平凡无奇的周三中午，摆弄着几棵装饰香草的几分钟里，31岁的澳洲人Michael Wilson，凭借开张不过半年的PHÉNIX Eatery & Bar，忽然完成了从一名普通厨师到 Michelin Starred Chef 的转变：一个许多人穷尽一生都难以企及的梦想。
"When I was 20, I dreamt about working in Europe. "
When it comes to Michelin starred chef, we can't avoid looking at the "resume".
It seems like every Michelin starred chef boasts some sort of a great past, many stories to share, and of course, a resume filled with all kinds of big names.
Michael doesn't come in fancy. Grown up in a family from Melbourne surburb, Michael was the middle child of "the Wilson five". All boys.
At the age of 15, Michael started working at a local restaurant in South East Melbourne. Like every young man fresh into the business with zero kitchen experience, Michael started out washing sinkful of dishes.
Never spent a day in culinary school, Michael taught himself through a decade of hard working under the guidance of Andrew McConnel (the opening chef of M on the Bund 18 years ago), Guy Grossi, Raymond Capaldi and the like. Life was tough but it did pay off in the end.
在不大的墨尔本摸爬滚打，十年光阴流转，一天也没上过厨师学校的Michael几乎是“自学成才”，烤过面包蛋糕，揉过意大利面，做过柠檬塔、焦糖布丁，最后成了墨尔本本地明星厨师Andrew McConnell（18年前M on the Bund的开业大厨）麾下一员战将，并在机缘巧合下步老师后尘，被推荐来了上海工作。
"When I was 20, my dream was to go to Europe and to work in some really nice restaurant. "
"Look at you now. "
"Now? I'm nobody."
He then showed me a picture of a recipe book written by some celebrity French chef, his recent favorite read before going to sleep.
"Still learning. "
"Throw fish on me I'll cook it. "
I became a fan of Michael's cooking because of a lobster pasta.
Apart from the obviously large population of Chinese/Asian immigrants, Melbourne's Italian community has also played a critical role in shaping up the city's dining habits...After world war II, the influx of Italian immigrants has not only laid a solid foundation for Melbourne's now flourishing coffee scene, but also brought better pasta techniques.
However, at a French restaurant as French as PHÉNIX（where the oyster has to be strictly French), you probably shouldn't take a pasta dish too serious (it was an off menu special and I only found out because Michael told about it. ) But it was actually one of the best pasta dishes I've had in Shanghai: handmade, al dente, with a simple sauce and fresh lobster tails...all makes it a rare find in this city (OS: I did hear there's a few big names coming to Shanghai for future pasta competition...)
It's on the menu now. 😂
Speaking of lobster, or any kind of seafood, you know for an Aussie grown up next to the sea, it's instinct that comes in play. Go fishing, you don't even need a bait to get a dinner feast...top quality, no compete.
"Throw fish on me I'll cook it."
But eating seafood in OZ can be awkward. It's either overcooked or overseasoned, a lot of the times.
Michael has quite the opposite approach which I really appreciate. It's always simple and clean, never overdoing the work, leaving the room for you to taste the flavor of the seafood, or any other ingredients.
Another major plus, as far as French cuisine is concerned, it's really light on the palate.
I thought he picked it up during his days in Mediterranean, turned out he learned the trick in China, catering to local palate.
Although for years, Sichuanese and spicy food has been the indisputably most popular food trend in China, the Chinese tends to dislike heavy flavors when it comes to western food (unless it's chips, fried chicken or pizza). Michael has taken advantage of this preference, marrying it to his belief in healthy food and fresh ingredients.
"I wanted PHÉNIX to become the kind of restaurant you could go more than once in a week."
And it also turned out his food is not only palate-pleasing but also quite eye-soothing. For example, this beautiful cut of the codfish floating above a green sea of broad beans, covered in thin-sliced abalone, embraced by a tender hug of foam that reminds of [the tip of a wave] or the morning mist; two tiny purple flowers, sleeping amongst a throng of seaweed-like dills, painting a tranquil early spring view of a seaside fairytale...
Hold your breath, instagram it, it's an art piece.
Sharp color contrast, clean geometrics, coupled with garnishes of edible herbs and flowers (and never too much of it!), the plating has always been delicate, exquisite and meticulous...you know how much effort was made.
When he talked about the old days of making Crème brûlée and lemon tarts, I seemed to find my answer. Almost all chefs I knew who started out this way had something in common, great taste, a little OCD, gifted in plating...
I bet that beef tongue covered in "birdshit" (gribiche sauce) was an accident (lol).
This April marks Michael's 5 year anniversary at the PuLi. Coming to Shanghai, getting a star might be the work of odds in favor, but it's not sheer luck.
This spring menu, born out of self-claimed star-loss paranoia, was the best of Michael's creation. Grab it before it's gone, this fine but very short spring days of Shanghai. You can also find more about Spring Menus You Should Check Out Before It's Gone!
看似简单的菜单里，却实在不简单。Less is more，吃得出创意，更吃得出一颗倾尽全力的心。
Text & Photo ：喜北 aka Xiaoyi