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China's first pop-up

By Mike Peters | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-23 07:39

China's first pop-up

Good food and drink have been the first order of business for Garnaut since she opened M on the Fringe in Hong Kong in 1989. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Award-winning restaurateur Michelle Garnaut looks back on how a 10-day kitchen takeover in Shanghai led to a fine-dining revolution. Mike Peters reports.

There was a big plastic bin of live scorpions in the kitchen.

Ditto a bin of live snakes.

"The first time I went into the walk-in freezer, I fell over a dead dog," says Michelle Garnaut with an exaggerated eye-roll.

Twenty years later, the Australian entrepreneur can laugh about the experience as she looks back on her first foray in a Chinese mainland restaurant. Since then, Garnaut has launched a restaurant group that includes Shanghai's M on the Bund and Beijing's Capital M. Back in 1996, her base was M on the Fringe in Hong Kong, though she had an exploratory eye on the emerging mainland market.

Pop-up restaurants might seem like a hot new trend, but Garnaut did it two decades ago this month at Shanghai's Peace Hotel.

Today, like when it first opened in the 1930s, the Peace Hotel is a revered art deco gem, perhaps the most famous luxury hotel in China. In 1996, however, it was early days of China's opening up; there was no Western management of the hotel, and the architectural jewel had gotten a little rough under its historic veneer.

Besides the above-mentioned creatures in the kitchen, her challenges included getting the dining room clean to her fine-dining standard. At that time, she says, the response was just to paint over any dirt.

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