I have had to give up all aspirations of being a gastronome during my time in Shanghai. Unfortunately I have had few meals here that leave any form of lasting impression. There are few restaurants that I crave to return to, and so far, I have yet been able to find any that are worthy of those coveted stars from the infamous tyre company .... until recently that is. In my mind, were I a food critic, not only would the food have to be exceptional, but the visit must be a total experience, an event even.
Very often the most important ingredient in a successful restaurant is passion. A good chef will be one that takes reward from seeing satisfied customers. Unfortunately chefs in China do not yet enjoy the same status as those in other countries. Very often chefs here are merely employees of businesses designed to feed the masses. There is a very low proportion of owner chefs, who would be more inclined as owners, to source for the best ingredients, and cook with care and passion. Often, menus in China are huge volumes offering numerous dishes and numerous styles. And yet, what I have found through
the years is that the best restaurants around the world have very small menus. Japan is typical in this respect, where the best sushi will be found in a restaurant that only serves sushi, and the best tempura (Hayashi in Nihonbashi) will only serve Tempura. I am reminded of a little restaurant hidden away in the streets of San Remo. The Italian mama would slave heartily over her copper pans making the single item on the non existent menu, pappardelle, each day with differing sauces or ragout. Because these restaurants specialise in a single dish, you can pretty well guarantee the dish will be exceptional. The larger the menu, the worse the food. It is no different in China. A beef noodle shop will serve better beef noodles than those huge florescent lit restaurants with encyclopedic menus. Unfortunately the banquet culture in China requires numerous dishes to be shared, giving guests a choice. Personally, I would much rather have one fabulous dish as opposed to 10 mediocre dishes. If anyone opened a restaurant in Shanghai making a daily Cassoulet, I guarantee I'd be there every single week.
Shanghai is changing, and changing fast. El Willy almost blew me away
with their Tapas reminding me of the amazing and uber cool Paco Meralgo in Barcelona. Stefan Stiller had me back at his restaurant at the Shanghai Cool Docks two nights in a row I was so impressed with his artistry. And in 2011 we saw the opening of 12 Chairs by renowned chef, David Laris. Eagerly awaiting a good opportunity to try out the new addition to the Shanghai culinary scene, i finally made the reservation for a long overdue catch up with a special friend. Meeting at the cosy Yucca for a pre dinner drink, we were led to the single long table that filled the elegant dining room. The menu for the night, a 10 course dinner of seasonal delights created by the Master Chef and his dedicated team. To be honest, I am not a big fan of dinners that require "plating". I'd much rather be served a hearty dish of tuscan bean soup landled carelessly into a thick bowl with a dollop of homemade pesto. That said, I am a foodie, and will often go to extremes to try a newly raved venue. I am fortunate to have dined at El Bulli in Catalonia, Spain, and
appreciate the sheer genius of Ferran Adria in creating a dining experience of 26 courses each tasting nothing like I had ever experienced. From virtual jamon Iberico, to the plate of fresh seaweeds from the four corners of the world, El Bulli succeeds in transporting diners to a Pandoran like universe of new foods. Laris, on the other hand, does not veer too far from the classics whilst managing to remain fresh and contemporary. It is not often I take pictures of food, and I'll not go into details of each dish. However my idea of these blogs is also to share the traveller experience to passers by without the spoilers. 12 Chairs hits the spot, and is worth a detour to try. The food, although exceptional, did not leave me craving to return anytime soon. 12 Chairs is about more than just good food and incredible presentation. 12 Chairs is, in itself, a special occasion, and it is these occasions that imprint in memories year after year.
Warning to would be patrons, book atleast one week in advance.
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