Wasting food is one of my shameful vices. As for the others, some I do not care to make public and the rest I perhaps do not even admit to myself. Having bought a pack of crisp, mange tout, air freighted from Kenya, I use only half, and the rest wilt in the back of my fridge. Eventually, I throw them out, all the while chastising myself, and, out of guilt, promise never to waste food again.
In Britain, the combination of abundant supermarket special offers and the vagaries of the international food trade make it common that air freighted food is cheaper than locally produced food. As a result, people are in the habit of expecting to be able to eat any kind of food at any time of year, and they do, regardless of the taste – rock hard mangos in February, anyone? One of the nice things about China is that locally produced food is readily available, and is cheaper than imported food. Furthermore, people eat food that is in season much more consistently.
At the end of my meal at Cantine Nouveau Bistro, Barthélémy, the manager, asked me how I had enjoyed the food. I replied that I had particularly liked the scallop carpaccio with avocado mousse as it tasted of summer. Barthélémy respectfully corrected me by saying that this was in fact a late-spring dish, popular in South France. Delicious food and in season, chapeau! Barthélémy, trained in a Michelin three star restaurant in Montpellier, has an unassuming yet experienced manner, which made dining at Cantine a pleasant experience.
I asked why they call Cantine a nouveau bistro rather than just a bistro. Bistros are traditionally fast food in France and while Cantine has some bistro mainstays like duck confit, they also have some modern, fancier dishes. Cantine is decorated well, but is quite informal. The restaurant’s ambience is conducive to diners dropping in for a good, quick meal.
Cantine’s menu has been chosen insightfully. It has modern, experimental dishes as well as traditional dishes. From the taste and the menu the place seemed genuine, not the willy-nilly mixture of sensational ideas that you find at many mid-priced European restaurants in Shanghai.
Cantine has a normal menu and a newly revamped ‘tapas’ menu. I had the ‘tapas’ menu, which isn’t strictly speaking tapas. Cantine’s tapas menu is more of a tasting menu, with dishes large and small, hot and cold. For RMB 188, you can eat as many of the tapas as you like and also receive a glass of wine. We had a great selection of dishes – black olive tapenade and aubergine ‘caviar’ to warm up, tuna tartare, scallop carpaccio with avocado mousse, foie gras, pan-seared snapper with clam jus, mushroom with raclette gratin, ox tongue with wine sauce, duck breast and finally, ice cream with walnut snap.
In addition to serving delicious fare, Cantine is working with Jacque & Laurent Pourcel (star Michelin) on the operation and catering for the French Pavilion at Expo 2010. Cantine also has two sister stores next door, a delicatessen called Delish and a sushi restaurant called Shoka.
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Building C, 98 Yanping Road, Shanghai // 上海市延平路98号C幢 Tel:021 5175 9818
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