A celebration of Japan and Brazil

By Douglas Williams (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-17 08:51

The Eton Hotel in Pudong is one of the more recent additions to the city's ever expanding international deluxe hotel club. It opened for business at the beginning of March. The hotel's situation at the junction of Pudong Avenue and Dongfang Road exemplifies the brave new world of the Pudong New Area.

The staggering, geometric skyline seen all around the Eton is neatly countered by the futuristic elegance of those two broad and grand streets. The lush and fastidiously manicured foliage lining their paths is surely an indication of just how good the urban landscape can look.

If Shanghai is China's showpiece for the rest of the world then Pudong must be the showpiece of Shanghai. Lest it be forgotten the brains that transformed Shanghai into the global powerhouse it is today are the same brains that created this brand new district. Wrested from the swamp and fishing villages of 20 years ago there now stands a glittering new city, population about 1.5 million, as different from Puxi as day is from night.

Right in the heart of the Luijiazui finance and trade zone of the city the 462-room Eton is a suitably modern hotel for its dazzlingly modern setting. An appropriately bold approach is adopted in the food and beverage department. With top end hotels not usually known for their innovative approaches to dining, this bastion of five-star civilities rather breaks from the mold. Many of the Eton's competitors cling to their tried and tested formulas of Shanghainese, Cantonese and perhaps Italian/French. The Eton, however, embraces the 21st century with open arms offering the Jala restaurant and its Japanese/South American cuisine.

What may seem a curious concept works on just about every level: Taste, ambience, style and service.

Of course it's a winning formula with both Japanese and South American cuisine loved the world over. What's perhaps less obvious is that this combination is far from some haphazard marketing ploy and actually has its roots in 80 years of steady migration of Japanese to South America, notably Brazil. June 17, in fact, marks the date of the arrival of the first Japanese ship, "Kasato Maru," in Brazil 80 years ago. The vessel carried 165 Japanese families, some 786 people, following an historic agreement between the two nations a year earlier. To date around a quarter of a million Japanese people have immigrated to Brazil with many others across the continent.

So what is the food like at Jala? Well no prizes because it's exactly as would be expected - sushi/sashimi and assorted Japanese elements along with Brazilian barbecue churrascaria style. We began with California rolls which were deluxe in every respect alongside fresh crunchy tempura and crab cake. Accompanying was a cold potato soup, thick and creamy. There then followed the sort of mixed sashimi that rather vividly flagged up the shortcomings of other variants served in lesser hostelries. Skewered and barbecued beef, chicken and lamb was served with a white bean sauce with crispy bacon; salsa with roasted peanuts and steamed Thai rice with deep fried garlic. The open kitchen is bright, clean and colorful and this is reflected in the cuisine. The quality of the ingredients is evident.

The decor of the restaurant is hip and fun yet it carefully skirts around the tacky and frivolous. Fixtures and fittings are different, slightly quirky, but undoubtably of five-star quality, as is the service. Jeffrey Zhu, food and beverage director, exudes the sort of relaxed formality of a consummate hospitality pro as does his colleague Lawrence.

Complimenting the restaurant is the Jala Bar, also cool but again without taking itself too seriously. A good- looking professional Filipino band dish the tunes, vintage rum cocktails can be enjoyed in some comfort overlooking the junction and out over the aforementioned skyline. As a venue for a special party with close friends it has fun writ large all over it. As a refreshingly different venue for a romantic dinner date followed by amorous cocktails and perhaps a tango, Jala would provide very safe hands.

Eton Hotel Jala restaurant
Address: 535 Pudong Avenue
Tel: 021-38789888, ext 6640


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