Restaurant worthy of own identity

By Aubrey Buckingham (shanghai daily)
Updated: 2007-01-05 09:14

Food with drink - the match is painfully obvious. Ale houses are not complete without serving chips and other bite-sized snacks, while any restaurant worth its salt knows how to mix a killer Manhattan. Contrary to popular belief locally, the whiskey and vermouth drink is not exclusively targeted at ladies. Some men drink them too.       

Bars attached to dining spots tend to get overlooked in this city. The Glamour Bar has truly blossomed after its split from its parent institution M on the Bund upstairs. Vault Bar seems a separate entity spawned in the bowels of Laris while Aqua Bar has that magnificent aquarium, but people still talk about the tempura at Sun restaurant more.

This is perhaps the result of these restaurants being not exactly filled to the brim at all hours, despite their apparent quality. The concept of the restaurant bar was originally intended to give patrons a chance to have an aperitif while waiting for a table; anyone who has tried walking into a popular eating place in London or New York will appreciate its worth.

Why stop at just a bar then? The nightclub restaurant is not an exclusively local phenomenon, but has been floating around in various guises for decades now. The latest introduction to this small party is Finestre, part of the much-talked about Attica nightclub.

The New Bund (a buzzword created by Attica - was there never a Bund there before?) establishment is aiming to bring waterfront fine dining to the masses without the associated cost.

"The Bund sells," said Sean Jorgensen, the restaurant's executive chef. "We're trying to corner a market that is in the middle, and really inexpensive."

Finestre delivers good food at relatively reasonable cost. The Mediterranean-inspired fare is refreshing and suits the exotic stylings of the club it is attached to.

The starters were not the run-of-the-mill offerings smaller bars do, but made for great finger food to go with the drinks. The watermelon salad (70 yuan/US$8.95) is extremely refreshing and should prove very welcome when the outside terrace is opened during warmer weather.

The garlic and lemon crusted beef carpaccio (115 yuan) was simple and did not need too much done to it to bring out its full flavor; the pick of the appetizer menu was the peppercorn-seared ahi (yellowfin) tuna (125 yuan). The use of peppercorn was judicious and worked a treat in stimulating the appetite without detracting from the fresh flesh of the fish. These portions were large enough to be shared, and are intended to be.

The main course dishes were charmingly organized on the menu as being from the "deep blue, air, pasture or garden," which should be rather self-explanatory. The eggplant spinach ravioli (95 yuan) was great, with the skins being just thick enough and the stuffing far from overwhelming.

The pasta was drizzled with the Latino cornerstone Sofrito sauce - a reflection of chef Jorgensen's Californian roots.

Mediterranean fare is traditionally centered on offerings from the sea, and the selection available here is well worth the price. The pan-seared diver scallops (190 yuan) in champagne sauce were huge, as large as eggs. They had a great bite to them and were pretty sweet. Local diners might expect a little bit more vinegar, however.

Someone down the row of dark, suspended booths ordered the sizzling prawn with angry (spicy) onions (165 yuan). The sizzle was alluring as the waiter carted the dish past our table, giving the classic feeling of having already ordered but wanting what was being served elsewhere.

Dessert, the chocolate brownie to be exact, was particularly memorable - warm, sticky chocolate topped with sliced banana and ice cream. "I call it the 'Velvet Elvis,"' said the 33-year-old chef. "Elvis (Presley) used to eat chocolate, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. They said he had three next to him when he died."

The restaurant is introducing a late-night menu that starts at 11pm, and should press all the right buttons well into the night.

Address: 11/F, 15 Zhongshan Road S.
Tel: 021-6373-3588


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