Elegance that never recedes

By Maya (smartshanghai.com)
Updated: 2007-04-30 09:38

Elegance that never recedesI first went to Saleya on 570 Changle Lu with a friend to quietly celebrate his birthday. That night, I had a lovely time. The small French bistro/restaurant was understated and the type of place that lets you forget that you are in Shanghai for a couple hours. When given the opportunity to review it, I jumped at the chance. Sadly, as I had so adored this little bistro that recalled fond memories of my 5 years in Montreal, the second time around was disheartening. I am assuming based on my 2 times' experience that Saleya is the type of place that is a shot in the dark: you can't be sure of whether the same dishes you order from one week to the next will be different... in the negative sense.

Starving in anticipation of the evening, upon entry into Saleya we were served with what my date dubbed "poor man's relish," although I would rather call it a richly flavoured olive tepanade, with finely sliced baguette; definitely a propitious start to the dinner. The red house wine was poured so generously that after one glass (the equivalent of 2.5 in any other restaurant) we felt the effects. It was also robust in flavour, as a good house wine should be. However, following this initial affirmation of the excellent first experience I'd had, things took a turn for the worse.

Firstly we started with the salmon quiche, which I had sampled off my date's plate previously and had been looking forward to devouring by myself ever since. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed as instead of a delicate salmon flavour, for the first two thirds of the dish it was an asparagus quiche. In fact, although the charming bistro-style blackboard menu gave no evidence to the contrary, we thought perhaps that they had sent us the wrong of two options of quiche. After gesturing to the waiter, I finally sampled a hint of salmon and realized that instead of a mistake the quiche was in fact its namesake - but all the meat was concentrated in a tiny square millimeter near the crust. However, saying all of the above, the asparagus-transitioning-to-salmon quiche was delectable regardless. I would order it again; I have not had a better quiche in China yet. But it was much better the first time, and I do hope I was just unlucky the second.

The major down-point of the evening was what we received next: the beef tartar, which sadly resembled an uncooked sloppy joe from a middle-American high school cafeteria. The ground beef was slopped onto the plate, instead of served in a compact disc, and the first flavour was strongly vinegary, followed by the distinct salty flavour of uncooked meat. It was so bad that I was motivated to leave it barely touched and order a different dish - perhaps this was the strategy of the restaurant - but I ended up springing for twice the entrees in its place.

To replace it, and in hopes of redeeming the restaurant that I had enjoyed so much before, I ordered the fish. A white fish fillet in a light sauce, served with very French-style moist glutinous rice, was tasty (although not fantastic enough to absorb the memory of the beef tartar, which frankly I believe should be removed from the menu forever). The salade nicoise that I had alongside it was also shocking: it was made with canned tuna! You would expect a French place to serve an authentic salade nicoise. I am very disappointed to say that the only place I've found to have it is the extremely un-French Element Fresh. The rest of the salad was also bland, and was rejected alongside the tartar.

To cap off our dinner, we sampled the creme brulee (crispy and creamy, reflecting the perfect combination of its simple ingredients), and the unremarkable crepes Suzette (which I frankly can prepare better myself. They were rather plain - too much crepe, not enough "Suzette.")

In terms of location, 570 Chengle Lu is near Xiang Yang Lu and in the heart of that sweet boho district that encompasses French cafes and wine bars, as well as hip boutiques. The blackboard menu, exposed racks of wine, and small framed art deco posters transported you to France, or (for me) Montreal. Furthermore, warm lighting and an outdoor patio perfect for sweltering summer dates to come heightened the design. Overall, a subtly intimate atmosphere exudes from Saleya, as it only has around nine two-person capacity tables inside. If you do not reserve ahead, you simply will not get in on a weekend.

Basically, unless you want to be disappointed, please do not touch these two horrible dishes (the beef tartar and the salade nicoise, ironically two of the most "French" offerings on the black board), which drag down a place that I really wish I could honestly write a more favourable review for. I suggest playing it safe with the duck leg (tender and encased in a sweetly crispy skin) and the filet du bouef, which was paired with wonderful authentic French-style scalloped potatoes. Very simple food, nothing too chi chi or exciting, but in the manner of the bistro style that the whole place radiates. Go for the atmosphere and the moderate pricing (68-88 for lunch; 98-158 for dinner), but not to experience fine French cuisine.

Address: 570 Changlelu, near Xiangyang
Tel: 021-54036957


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