Ones to Watch: Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire, Akme, Seul & Seul

Ones to Watch: Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire, Akme, Seul & Seul

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The Western dining scene in Shanghai has seen another wave of new openings this summer. Meanwhile, in the local blogshpere (including review sites such as DianPing), many had fought in a war of reviews. 

Alas, in this enormous metropolis dwells tens of millions of people, everyone has a mouth and every mouth has an opinion. In the begining of the day, the fine balance between one opinion and the opposite had always been the foundation of modern civilization. After all, it's interesting to hear something different. 

So I guess I'll have something to say as well. 

上海的西餐厅,最近开得有点猛。

接踵而至的,是一场口水大战。

上海人那么多,西餐经验丰富的食客也不在少数,每人一张嘴,众口难调,有各种意见也是难免。有人说好,有人说坏,意见相左,才是现代文明进步之基础。要是所有人都说一式一样的好话,未免太无趣。

个么我也来刚两句。

先说菜和整体印象,有争议的严肃部分,留到最后说。

Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire

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Add:  480 West Jian Guo Road

Hours: Weekends 17:30-22:30 Weekdays 17:30-22:00 

Tel: 021-54669928

Avrg. Price: 5 - 600RMB

A couple weeks following the opening night, I was there with a few friends, all of us curious about what the great man and his team has to offer for Shanghai. As the name Le Comptoir suggests, it's a bistro with a facelift, decidedly casual, however, with certain references to Chef Gagnaire's signature dishes and requires no less than the level of precise execution found in many of his fine dining institutions. 

The kithcen is helmed by Romain Chapel, son of the legendary French chef Alain Chapel. Speaking of the French, the youngsters might still rock a dream of touring the world, while the rest seem to be a little conservative. Working in Shanghai (not New York, not Tokyo, Shanghai! ) is a big deal for anyone in the culinary world, a bold move and usually a reflection of an open-minded, forward-thinking personality. 

It was busy, bustling - a result from both the name of Pierre Gagnaire and heavy marketing with local wechat accounts and media. It felt a little cramped as well - a re-incarnation of cozy, authentic Bistro experience in a beautifully refurbished 1920s Shanghainese shikumen building - for these old lanehouses, AC doesn't work well during the hot and humid summer days of Shanghai.

(I figured it's getting better.)

赶时髦去了次晚餐,行前瞄到几张照片和菜单,一看都是单点,连个套餐影子都没有,便知是高级Bistro路线,看到菜就更印证了这一点(而且名字里的Comptoir也很不言自明,法语的Countertop,听听也知道是Casual Concept)。菜色休闲轻松,和带上老爷子名字的fine dining相去甚远,但制作手法依然教科书般精细,也看得出一些致敬之处。

主厨是法国名厨Alain Chapel的儿子,实打实的名门之后。法国人么,年轻的还愿意去看看外面的世界,稍微上点年纪一般很少愿意出国,不过就算出国一般也是大纽约大伦敦,最差最差也是香港,肯来上海这种新兴市场工作,算是有胆识和魄力。

上座率很出众,大概跟前期推广有关,但桌位比较拥挤,不知是不是为了营造法式小馆那种Cozy亲切的氛围……不巧撞上魔都40度,挑高天顶的二楼老房子,人一多,空调就心有余力不足。

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▲ Foie Gars terrine

▲ Foie Gars terrine

▲ Foie Gras Soup with Oysters

▲ Foie Gras Soup with Oysters

Thanks to Odette and UltraViolet, I've started building up appetite for foie gras and oyster (or any kind of seafood that makes sense). The soup boasts a creamy, dense texture that works well with a piece of bread, or two (exactly what I did). Make sure you have a glass of something to neutralize the bold flavor, as the umaminess tends to linger on. 

The eggplant terrine also has a surpringly concentrated flavor. All I had was one bite (stealing from friend's plate). Not enough!

菜品方面,印象最深刻的是鸭肝酱生蚝。在OdetteUltraViolet之后,对肝和蚝的组合兴趣有加肝酱浓郁鲜咸(鸭肝酱里据说有洋甘菊,不过吃不太出来),猛然想起Robuchon的一盘鸭肝酱螯虾松露饺子,算是异曲同工。这道菜,十分下酒,不过也有小伙伴表示太咸,用面包擦个盘底倒是完美。下次想尝试鲍鱼鸭肝

貌不惊人的茄子冻,入口惊艳,只蹭到一口,没拍照片。

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▲ Mac & Cheese D.I.Y., extra point to the celery!

▲ Mac & Cheese D.I.Y., extra point to the celery!

They say DO NOT ORDER CHICKEN at a restaurant but I always do. An improved, adult version of Mac & Cheese, whimsical and playful but still fits in the image of a Pierre Gagnaire restaurant. FYI, it's MIX IT YOURSELF. However, it's a challenge not to overcook a piece of chicken breast...thighs could be better!

主菜部分,忍不住点了我最爱的鸡。鸡胸肉配Macaroni,外国人从小吃到大的Mac & Cheese的精致版本,分两盆上桌,一盘素面朝天的弯管面,一盘挂满芡汁的雄壮鸡胸,一时没了主意,亏得小伙伴聪明,说你要不要试试把鸡的Sauce混面里试试?这!就!对!了!鸡胸肉有点柴,没吃完,若用的是腿,不定是道有趣有料的菜。

▲ Smoked Fish Platter is designed for a small party...

▲ Smoked Fish Platter is designed for a small party...

In a sentence, this place intends to attract an educated audience that come in small groups (2 to 4) who don't take either themselves or the dinner experience too serious. The pricing is not cheap, but still slightly cheaper than the renowned Villa Le Bec, and the vibe was a little more rigid than expected. 

Maybe it's the Capella package?

Sharing Dish分量不算大,人多的话要多点几份。简单来说,是个三两个朋友开瓶小酒轻轻松松吃顿饭的地方,价格甚至比类似定位的le bec还便宜几分,不过氛围有丢丢太正式了,也可能是要衬得上Capella的规格吧。

▲ Hazelnut Ice Cream Puff, priced at 70 something.   啊,讲老实话,虽然我还是更中意Pierre Gagnaire的Fine Dining,但过阵子应该会再回访,因为菜单上还有很多看着好玩但我没有吃到的东西。  不能就这样放过!

▲ Hazelnut Ice Cream Puff, priced at 70 something. 

啊,讲老实话,虽然我还是更中意Pierre Gagnaire的Fine Dining,但过阵子应该会再回访,因为菜单上还有很多看着好玩但我没有吃到的东西。

不能就这样放过!

AKMÉ

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Add:  55 South Wulumiqi Road, 1F

Hours: 17:30-23:00 Monday thru Sunday

Tel: 021-64289799 021-64699969

Avrg. Price: 7 - 800RMB

Taking the ground floor of a charming four storey luxury villa around the corner of Heng Shan Lu and West Wulumuqi Lu, previously owned by a local wine importer ASC Wines, nestled in the heart of former French Concession, AKMÉ opened its door with a determination but had stayed very quite until recently. 

I was among the first ones who set foot in this then mysterious property back in April. Food was impressive but there were a few things to be fine tuned (it was soft opening) and I decided to wait. Two months later, the Chef Owner came in town and I was summoned for a tasting and an interview. 

这家我动作很快,4月份听闻风声就心血来潮连去了两次,后来听说人家还在soft opening,推广上也很低调,就准备等等再写。

这一等就是两个月,结果等到采访主厨加试菜。

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Akrame Benallal, a successful chef-owner with a sharp mind and great business sense (10+ locations around the world), embarked on a trip to Asia as the kitchen in Paris is currently under renovation. The main purpose is to check out his outposts in Shanghai and Hong Kong, to develop new recipes on site and to make sure everything is on the right track. The Chef heading this Shanghai project is Louis Pacquilin, trained under the awe-inspiring Alain Ducasse, came to Shanghai straight from Quebec City, Canada. 

At the begining I was concerned as Louis didn't work for Akrame for long. But my worries was put to rest as the young master seemed to have a tight control over his kitchen and knows what he's been doing - through a large window diners were invited to watch the live kitchen show. At least for the three visits I had over the past few month, it was quite consistent. 

最近主厨Akrame Benallal趁着巴黎餐厅翻修,跑到亚洲来出差,趁机和厨房一起研发新菜。掌管厨房的是年仅25岁的Chef Louis,曾在Alain Ducasse门下修业,一看就是科班出身的好少年,和生在贫民窟、阿尔及利亚裔的Akrame形成鲜明对比。

 

老实说,本来很怕菜不好吃,因为年轻的主厨从来没有烧过Akrame的菜(非常重要!),不过我的担心好像是多余的,两个人合作貌似蛮愉快,小朋友对厨房也很有掌控力的样子。至少三次下来,我喜欢的那几个菜表现都挺稳定的。

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My favorite dish goes to Grilled Blue Lobster. It's best cooked medium rare, slightly opaque white with an unique hue of a pearl, was as tender and juicy as you could imagine.

The lobster tail was grilled at the side of the table using a portable grill - a little trick to engage the diners and makes the food seemingly tastier (usually works very well). An educated diner should avoid having it grilled for too long (skip instagraming this one!). Otherwise this previous piece of lobster would easily be overcooked and for this you can only blame yourself not the kitchen. 

碳烤蓝龙虾,三次都有吃到!为了追求视觉效果,侍者捧着造型优雅的炭火炉到桌边象征性翻两下再搁盘子里。龙虾个头稍小,但不妨碍它好吃。最好是半熟不熟,略略透明的龙虾肉,兼有生鲜与焦香,蘸不蘸酱都美不胜收;垫底的肉碎汁,估计是钳子里抠出来的,盖了几片萝卜,口味偏咸,建议用面包扫盘底。

不过,矜贵的蓝龙虾,这么烤伐烤伐,一歇歇就熟了呀!!!千万别顾着拍照,赶紧放盘里,太熟了就不好吃了。对的,第三次就发生了这种惨剧……为了拍照牺牲了龙虾的熟度这种事情,我再也不干了!

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The pigeon, roasted precisely medium with sage and buckwheat, was close to perfection. The key is to use fresh farm-raised pigeon instead of the frozen ones prevailing the market. The foie gras flan, which I finally gave a try third time in, proved to be rather delightful and was the highlight of that night. 

鸽子只吃过一次,印象深刻,不是冷冻鸽子,火候拿捏精准,亦无腥味,可与高阶粤菜馆一争高下。我一直很抗拒的鹅肝(我说过很多遍了,我真的不是传统煎鹅肝的粉丝),第三次终于在套餐里吃到,才发现是个flan布丁的形式,调味适口,吃完一点也不腻!!!

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The famed black dessert, consists of roasted pineapple, vanilla ice cream and a heavy dose of bamboo charcoal powder, was both tasty and instagramworthy, the only downside: get ready for a pair of blackened lips.

Four Course Prix Fixe priced at 588 was not a bad deal. Feel free to pick your favorite dish such as Lobster (paying a substitute fee) and Piegon. 

FYI, it looks modern but the sauce and seasoning sticks to the core of French cuisine. You need a bottle or bottles of sparkling water to refresh your palate for each course. Btw, there's a charming little garden in front of the villa, ideal for wedding receptions...

主厨很得意的那个乌漆嘛黑的烤菠萝配冰淇淋(“黑色是我最喜欢的颜色!”),一定要配上边上撒的饼干碎(可能是shortbread一类黄油酥饼),口感才够丰富。吃完一嘴黑,比喝葡萄酒还过分。

Prix Fixe 588,可以吃四道菜,而且是自选,所以又可以选龙虾又可以选鸽子简直完美!听说楼上还有家粤菜好吃,不过价格不菲,改天去瞧瞧。

P.S. 这家的菜虽然看着新式,口味却依然很法国很重口,酱汁很浓稠,必须开酒,如果不喝酒就只能猛灌气泡水才能把味蕾洗干净了。

再P.S. 自带个漂亮院子,超适合办婚礼的样子。

seul & SEUL

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Add: 798 West Nanjing Road, Taikoo Hui N301

Hours: 18:00-23:00, Monday thru Sunday

Tel: 021-52999889

Avrg. Price: 7-800RMB

This one is the lastest opening among all three. Apart from the 10 course tasting menu priced at 498, there's also a tapas menu served in the lounge area and outdoor terrace. The pricing strategy somewhat reminds of Sabor, a similar concept near the bund from Spanish Chef Diego Guerrero. 

As a project headed by former executive chef at Andre, seul&SEUL is born to be phenomenal (or controversial) from day one. The Chef, Johnny Jiang, born and raised in Shanghai, finally made his way back to hometown after 12 years of expedition with lengendary Andre Chiang.  

The owner, Bill, was a former colleague of Johhny's from Bund 18 era. This is the partnership every chef dreamed of: having someone from hospitality (ideally from the kitchen) to be the boss. Makes life a lot easier. 

三家店里,这家开得最晚,同时还有tapas菜单,目前算是毁誉参半。推广和差评文估计你们也看了不少了,还是简单讲讲感受吧。

Andre前任行政总厨Johnny还乡后的作品(dei额,阿拉上海宁),说是南法料理。老实说我是没看出来到底哪里南法了,吃下来就是摆盘清爽的现代法餐……不过我既没吃过Andre也没去过南法,可能我眼力价差,看不出个中reference吧;也有一个说法是Andre本身在南法待了很久,对他的菜系影响深重,那么师从Andre的Johnny也无可厚非。

10道菜价格只有498,让人想起去年开张的Sabor。老板Bill亦是厨师出身,这一点我觉得很妙:出来独当一面的厨师,碰上一个同是Hospitality背景出身、默契投缘的老板,大约是前世积德。

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Menu looks like a replicate of Taipei's raw...not that I care, I always skipped reading the menu as I believe it's best to keep it a surprise. 

菜单……实在是长得很像台北的那间raw(我没吃成),不过其实长成什么样都无所谓,我也不爱看,就是喜欢给自己留点惊喜。

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A few things that made my night: sweet shrimp(Amaebi) with a hint of green curry on top of a rice craker was a delightful kick-off. Potato croquette with foie gras stuffing plus a topping of pickled onion, a bitful of classic and authenticity, no more, no less. Squid Squid Squid (Squid 3 way) was one of my favorites of the night, especially the soup!

还是说几道我喜欢的菜:甜虾、海葡萄、稀释的绿咖喱和米饼的开场清爽,作为甜虾控很满意;千层酥小土豆塞了鹅肝,顶一小坨腌过的红洋葱,正统经典的口感,俏皮可爱的表达,印象加分;鱿鱼鱿鱼鱿鱼的三吃蛮有趣,尤其喜欢热汤一冲就集体卷成花的鱿鱼汤。

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With the Chef being a hardcore Shanghainese, localization is a must. Crispy fried gluten balls paired with sea urchin (not a fan though...), Scallion Lomein using angel's hair and sakura shrimp, and a piece of beef steak resting on top of a dash of sauce made from Gillardeau oyster, possibly a nod to a famous local delight, oyster sauce stir-fried beef

本地化尝试也是有的,譬如用到上海人的油面筋搭海胆(虽然我实在是不喜欢油面筋那股味道,跟海胆也不太搭),用天使面、樱花虾做成西式“葱油拌面”,最喜欢的还是吉拉多生蚝做成酱,来一出法式“蚝酱牛肉”

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This wagyu cut has a decent marbling (suggests a premium quality) with an appetizing red and pink color...I was told this was tri-tip, similar to Skirt Steak & Flank Steak, a "cheap cut" popular in the US. More and more decent restaurants started using these cuts for their flavor and texutre, much underrated by the grand steakhouses and the general public.

Well, I'm a big fan of cheap cuts, as long as it's prime quality and done right. 

Throughout the meal, I did not see any groundbreaking technique or anything over the top. From what I've seen, seul&SEUL is probably not pitting itself against the ambitoious biggies in town. Like Sabor from last year, its ambition lies in making the so called "high concept" more accessible to the general public. As an entry level option for someone who's not ready to spend $$$ on a meal, it's more than perfection. 

这块和牛肉,等级很好,油花丰富,切面桃红樱粉交错,煞是好看,吃半天没吃出是什么部位,猜测是小馆子爱用的“冷门部位”,问厨师,答曰"Tri-tip",果然不出所料,和Skirt Steak、Flank Steak很类似的一块三角形牛腰腹肉,大牌牛排馆子一般觉得这种肉“不上台面”,但如果肉源足够好,风味和口感的表现,通常被低估。

反正,我是很喜欢这种“好吃的低级肉”的。

整顿饭的感觉,很平铺直叙,并没有什么惊世骇俗的创意。我想也是因为,seul&SEUL并不想与上海诸多大牌一争高下。它的存在,和去年的Sabor或许很类似:精致的概念料理,普通人也能吃得起。

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Time for something serious

1. Who told you it's Fine Dining?

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Big names sell. This also applies to restaurants. In the most extreme case, someone who interned at a michelin starred/worldly famous restaurant can have "michelin executive chef" in his/her title, which is rather ridiculous. Besides, the trick also incorperates words like luxury, opulent, prestigous, VIP only...anything suggests a $$$ experience is good. 

And then the diners found out the truth. Oi, this looks different from what we had at the signature restaurants in Paris/Hong Kong/London/New York! 

I mean, not that the food isn't good. It's all about expectation management. Who told you a celebrity chef can only go for Fine Dining institution? For a rising market, someone likes to go all force with the most luxurious dining experience, some tends to be conservative and to test the water with casual concepts...it's a difference in business and investment strategy, based on study and understanding of local markets. 

或许是国人太重视明星效应,总之,和大牌厨师有关系的餐厅,营销号们的套路总是挂钩米其林,并着力突出奢华尊贵,全力营造高大上形象……

结果食客慕名前去,哦,是只Bistro啊?啊呀好像跟这个厨师在巴黎/香港/伦敦/纽约的本店长得不大一样嘛!我是不是被坑了啊?当我们上海人不识货啊?

这种落差所带来的后果,是难以想象的。然而,谁规定大牌厨师就只能开Fine Dining了啦,有人喜欢用旗舰店树立形象,也有人倾向于以休闲餐饮试水新兴市场,至多只是商业策略不同。

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2. Who to blame for the bad service?

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Almost all the western restaurants have had this. Bad Service!

They got me the wrong bottle...the explanation was way too brief...my plate  for the main dish was cold...they only care about the expats...my wine bottle slipped into the wine bucket and I tasted water...they could smile a little more often...

As for diners, we've had, more or less, all of these bad experiences with service.

Meanwhile, all the restaurants had been complaining about how difficult it is to get service people. Not like some other industry where people tend to build their career by staying long on one position, F&B is the industy you've seen people come and go. The boom of restaurant scene in Shanghai has caused a severe shortage in staffing. And it's not just the people serving your table but also managers and even higher management that requires a relevant working expriences and education background. 

Back in the states, one of the very basic common sense was, the girl waits your table might be a senior student from the arts college nearby, or a model/young actress who just moved from West Coast who's trying to support herself in the city. Thanks to the tipping system, it's probably the best incentive program I've ever seen in modern life. 

不要说新餐厅了,几乎所有西餐厅,被怼得最多的就是服务啦!

不知道你是不是有这种感觉,去吃西餐的时候,特别注重“服务”二字,当然西餐厅收服务费的比例比中餐要高,但我们似乎总是预设,服务是西餐体验不可或缺的一部分。

什么拿错酒啦,说错话啦,盘子没热啦,只照顾老外啦,酒滑到冰桶里去喝了半杯水啦,甚至服务生没有笑脸也会被指摘一番。

这些批判,你和我多多少少都有过,对不对?

与此同时,几乎所有餐厅,都在抱怨服务人员难招。餐饮业本就流动性极大,上海井喷式的新餐厅,导致的“用工荒”,已经不是一天两天了。这不仅仅是说给你端盘上菜的服务生,很多餐厅连经理级别的职位都招不到合适的、有相关行业背景的人。

在欧美,餐饮行业管理是可以拿到学位的,而很多基层服务员都是兼职,他或她或多或少都有一份day job,可能是隔壁大学的学生,还有那些希望出人头地的小模特、舞蹈演员、话剧导演……在美国,工资更是与小费挂钩,服务质量与笑没笑到位,直接影响收入。

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China? The lacking of systematical training, fixed compensations and very rare part-time openings in higher end restaurants all makes it difficult. Not to mention our service people do not grow up eating the food, some of them probably have never seen 99% of the stuff listed on the menu...On the other hand, local diners, in general, tend to be condescending and do not treat service people with enough respect, which also contributed to a low self-esteem among service people. 

To give you an example, a girl friend of mine, years of studying oversea, good looking, born with a decent family background - happens to love F&B and has devoted herself to service - has always encountered the following comments:

- Why do you get into service after all?

Apart from the staffing shortage, the management of any new opening usually need sometime to fully understand the market (well you can say they didnt do the homework) and figured out the solutions to issues that's been exposed through daily opertion: dim light, loud music, cramped space...

On the other hand...if I ask you to pick me a perfect restaurant in Shanghai, would you be able to name a few?

相比欧美市场,中国的服务行业缺乏系统训练,更鲜有兼职;服务团队与管理、出访团队之间,可能存在语言障碍,而我们的服务生也不是吃西餐长大的,菜单上的菜90%以前可能见也没见过……待遇么,更是一般固定工资,很难激发积极性。

服务行业,让人感觉“不体面”。食客对服务生,也缺乏基本尊重,服务生更容易自轻自贱。举个例子,我的一位朋友,海归,人漂亮有气质,因为喜欢f&b而投身服务业,却常常被人说,你这么好的学历做什么service啊?

无言以对……

撇开人的因素,新开的西餐厅,对市场的了解尚需要一段时日(当然你也可以批判他们功课没做好),巨大的营运压力更会让问题接踵而至,随便一挑一堆刺。不要说服务了呀,什么灯光太暗、音乐太吵、位子排太挤,都是问题。

不过呢,换个角度,上海一点毛病都挑不出的西餐厅,到底有几家?

3. Let's give them a little more time

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As the Chinese saying goes, every begining is a tough one. In this world, no one was born perfect. 

The best food critics (the New York Times or The Guardian folks), usually wait a little longer until the fad died down a bit. 

I can't agree more. 

中国人说万事开头难,这个世界,就没有什么一蹴而就的完美。

最好的职业食评人,通常不会选择第一时间撰写食评。

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Someone might say, if you are not ready, don't open the door, don't go for any promotion. But in the real world it works a little different. No one is ready until the clients actually come in and eat at the restaurant, not even the most experienced team of service and kithcen. 

On the other hand, as the diners of Shanghai, shall we be a little more tolerant and patient as the market just started to open up. If you can't tolerate anything that goes wrong, waiting for another 3 or 6 months would be a better and smarter option. 

After all, all that matters is good food (and experience. )

I had a coversation with Chef Louis at AKMÉ a few days ago. They checked DianPing reviews and took it very seriously, the restaurant is set to fix the lighting issue (too dark); if someone orders a prix fixe and would love to have everything on the table at the same time (to share), the kitchen will try to meet the requirements...

也许有些人会说,没有准备好,就不该开张、不该宣传。但这个世界上,根本就没有准备好这件事,只要没有真正的顾客盈门,再长的准备期、再老练的团队,也没法做到十全十美。

另一方面,作为食客的我们,是不是应该宽容一些,毕竟这个市场才刚刚起步。实在受不了出纰漏,那不如就等个3个月半年,调整完了再去也不迟。

反正呢,我们在乎的,不就是多吃几口好的。

插个题外话,前两天去Akme采访,距离他们开业已经过去了3个多月。因为食客的反应,餐厅已经打算调整灯光亮度,和厨房小哥一聊,更是听说为了迎合部分本地食客分享的习惯,prix fixe如果你想全部菜一起上,也是可以的……

(心里默默想,这service不要做死掉的啊,而且,菜会冷掉的好伐!)

好了我说完了,你们有什么想说的吗?

Text & Photo :喜北 aka Xiaoyi

2018 Michelin Shanghai - All You Need To Know

2018 Michelin Shanghai - All You Need To Know

I Found a Michelin Starred Chef and Threw Him 5kg Xiao Long Xia

I Found a Michelin Starred Chef and Threw Him 5kg Xiao Long Xia