For modern Shanghai cuisine
Updated: 2006-07-28 10:26
The entrance to the Whampoa Club is in the side street off the Bund. You walk past the upmarket Armani store then take the lift to the fifth floor where you emerge from the lift to a vision of complete opulence. The reception room is understated, but once you establish that you have a booking you are swept along a massive entrance hall marvelling at the massive crystal chandelier-like feature that dominates the end of the room.
Once seated you will enjoy the view over the river and the Pudong district while you peruse the extensive a la carte menu. You can opt for the set degustation menu but we wanted to restrict ourselves mainly to old Shanghai dishes that have been reinterpreted.
While we were analysing the menu a small glass of lime jelly with pieces of dragon fruit, fresh mango and shrimp and topped with a garlic foam appeared, to proclaim the fact that the chef is in tune with European trends although this dish was hard to connect philosophically with any of the other dishes we tried.
The first dish we tried was a triumph even though its sweetness was a bit of a shock for our palates. Lotus roots had been candied with a liquid infused with osamanthus and then stuffed with slow cooked grains. Accompanying were some 'chips' of deep fried lotus root. This was a sumptuous, almost voluptuous, dish where the complexity meant that the sweetness was just one brush stroke on a much larger canvas.
This was followed by a reinterpretation of drunken chicken. Here, perfectly poached chicken came to the table in a white bowl covered in shaved ice that had been made from Shao Xing wine.
The major disappointment for the night was 'old fashioned Shanghai smoked fish'. This is a dish we love and have eaten at many establishments throughout the word. We love the slightly dry, heavily smoked flavour and the dark, almost black, colour of this dish. However, here it was a light colour with almost no smoky flavour.
However the next dish more than made up. This was the crispy beef strips with sun-dried pickled orange peel. The peel was particularly vibrant and the beef was cooked to the required degree of crispiness.
Double-boiled clear chicken consomme came with some Chinese vegetables and two beautiful wontons. The cooking method had ensured a rich, unctuous texture for the consommé and it was very restorative at this point of the meal.
We couldn't go through a Shanghainese meal without sampling the xiao long bao. These had thin dough (although not as thin as some others we had tried), a little broth and a very good filling-in fact the pork filling was wonderful.
We were then delighted to find kou shan si on the menu. This traditional Shanghainese dish is assembled in a special mould and then steamed before being turned out. Thin strips of Jinhua ham, chicken and bamboo are arranged carefully in the mould and the centre is filled with pea sprouts. The unmoulded finished product is served with a sauce made from shaoxing wine thickened with potato flour. It was a visual and taste sensation that was also much appreciated by our Shanghainese friends who accompanied us.
And that left us to finish with a red cooked braised pork knuckle served on a large square plate and swimming in a thick, sticky soy-based sauce. We accompanied it with a highly constructed version of the tofu-based Kou Shan Si which provided contrast and relief from the rich meat.
We drank Long Jing tea throughout and accompanied the pork knuckle with a perfect example of the magic of the Rhone-namely a Guigal Cote Rotie.
Whampoa Club is a very serious restaurant serving some perfectly cooked food and despite some service glitches we enjoyed our meal very much.
Location: No. 3 Zhongshandong Yilu(Fifth Floor, Three on the Bund)