It must be tough being the first to do something or to break the norm. Many may not understand or share your creativity or ideas, they may laugh or snicker when you present them, clucking from the sidelines hoping that you'll fail.
When French chef Paul Pairet, first opened Mr & Mrs Bund in 2009, others questioned the location - the Bund is one of Shanghai's most expensive streets and the enormous space also raised eyebrows as did the 230 item menu. Now it is a roaring success and one of the most popular restaurants in Shanghai.
A waiter wearing jeans, suspenders, white shirt and Converse sneakers races past me at full speed holding a cake covered in sparklers and the music switches to a loud tune while the restaurant darkens. It's how they celebrate someone's birthday at Mr & Mrs Bund.
It was named so because Pairet wanted to open up a brasserie style, relaxed restaurant serving comfort food to everyone. Pairet himself has worked all around the world including in Sydney. Despite intentions, celebrities and politicians like Quentin Tarantino and Bill Clinton have dined here. It is the only restaurant in Shanghai to sit on the World's Best restaurants list at # 43 (Pairet's other restaurant Ultraviolet sits at #60). Posters for Bingo Night adorn the walls and there is a small flyer on the table. Yes indeed, they do Bingo nights.
The views from the restaurant are stunning and you can watch them from the comfort and warmth of the restaurant or from one of the two outside terraces. There is a large share table in the centre of the restaurant dubbed the Alice in Wonderland table where people sit share-style in oversized red and black velvet chairs.
Pairet is known for his avant garde food so comfort food might be a surprise but as the menu is so long, it inevitably comprises some of the avant garde and his unique creations labelled with his initials "PP" on the side as well as classic items like chateaubriand, bouef bourguignon and grilled chicken bearnaise. Dishes with a red ampersand next to them are the "most popular" while a green ampersand means "most popular after the most popular."
There is also an extensive selection of wines available by the glass for diners. They can either help themselves or order through the staff. It is also one of the few restaurants that opens late - last orders are at 2am and diners reportedly stay until 4am. At the larger tables there are lazy Susans as the Western food is meant to be shared Chinese style.
I notice a flat silver stand on the fourth empty seat on our table. They explain that the stand is where some of the plating takes place. Epi breads and a lightly toasted thick slice and butter are brought to the table and they are excellent. But we need to save room for the rest of the food.
They tell us that this is the amuse bouche that has been served at the restaurant since the very first day. Here tinned tuna is removed and then whipped with mustard, lemongrass and other flavours to produce a truly light as air tuna mousse. Paper thin croutons are used to scoop up the mousse.
Foie gras light crumble 120RMB/$20AUD
The entrees comes out quickly and all at once. The foie gras dish is one of the "most popular" items - in fact all the dishes we will have tonight are from the most popular menu. It's a bowl with a bottom layer of foie gras mousse topped with apple jelly, dried fruit chips, coriander, balsamic crystals, vinegar, nuts and raisins which gives the foie gras a sweet and crunchy element to it. The large slice of bread which you are to take to by hand, is deliberately burnt to provide a smoky contrast to the sweet and light foie gras and it's a rich, wonderful start to the meal.
Smoked salmon essential 140RMB 100g/$24AUD
The house smoked Norwegian salmon smoked with jasmine tea is always carved to order at the table. We watch as they carefully carve paper thin slices for us. It's served with an extensive range of condiments including chive sour cream, frozen horseradish, red onion, diced egg, capers and pickles.
Meunière truffle bread 120RMB/$20AUD
The meunière truffle bread is a thick, lightly toasted square of bread topped with a display of thinly sliced Chinese truffles and a cloud of meunière truffle foam. One side of the bread is poached in meunière sauce which is made with browned butter, herbs and lemon, while the other side retains crunchiness. It's everyone's favourite dish of the evening the bread and indulgent truffle topping hitting all marks for taste and texture and would be classed under totally indulgent comfort food.
Chicken picnic aioli 125RMB/$22AUD
Our mains arrive and they explain that the chickens are generally quite skinny in China with little breast meat so they use chickens from Hainan which are plump and full of meat. The succulent chicken is first sous vided, then roasted and then grilled and it is served with a foamy and very moreish garlic aioli and a lightly dressed green salad.
Jumbo shrimp in citrus jar PP 180RMB/$31AUD
This is another "PP" dish (i.e. an original creation) and it is a single enormous shrimp on a lemongrass skewer steamed in the mason jar with vanilla, lemongrass, orange, lemon and citrus juice. The shrimp is removed from the skewer and cut into four portions and served with a Bangkok dipping sauce made up of fish and soy sauces, garlic and sugar. It's a small mouthful but an absolutely delicious one evoking memories of visiting South East Asia.
Black cod in the bag PP 260RMB/$45.37AUD
The fillet of black cod in the bag is cooked in the bag so that the buttery soft prized fish comes out perfectly cooked with orange, butter and a Cantonese sauce which is a flavoursome mix of soy, sesame oil, star anise, truffle oil, orange, butter, lotus leaf, ginger and shiitake mushrooms and served atop rice with shiitake mushrooms. The sauce was a divine and perfectly balanced and suited the fish well.
Long Short Rib Teriyaki 420RMB/$73.30AUD
The long short rib teriyaki was inspired by Pairet's dog's bone. The picture menu doesn't quite demonstrate how enormous this is. It's cooked for twelve hours at 80°C and basted with a teriyaki sauce which glazes it beautifully. They carefully cut the bone away and then cut it into three pieces. The meat is delectably tender and the teriyaki sauce almost seals it on the outside. It is served with a bowl of creamy Paris mash.
Lemon and lemon tart PP 100RMB/$17.45AUD
Even if you aren't a dessert person, I suspect that most people give the signature dessert a try. They explain that the lemon is a whole lemon that has been confited for 72 hours in a mixture of water and sugar syrup. At various stages during the cooking process they stop the cooking and remove the pulp and pith so that all that remains is the thinnest skin encasing a filling of lemon curd, small segments of pink grapefruit, vanilla chantilly cream and lemon sherbert. The base of the tart is the single baton of buttery biscuit. Cutting into the lemon the skin yields easily and you appreciate how truly thin and skillfully done it is. The filling is beautifully tart but creamy and I can see why it is such a popular dish.
Mango licorice sable 80RMB/$14AUD
The mango licorice sable is a thin sable rectangular biscuit layer topped with large chunks of lightly sweet mango, passionfruit and licorice jelly. To the side is a dark green dill syrup and all elements are said to emphasise the flavour of the mango.
This is a new dessert which is served in a martini glass. They use Valrhona 40% & 79% cacao chocolate and layer it in the glass as chocolate mousse, ice cream and ganache and rum zavala (a Guatemalan rum). There is also a thin layer of chocolate and you dig deep to get all of the layers of chocolate and crunch.
At 10:30pm the music changes and the lights dim. I almost expect rabbit to hop out from the terrace picnic garden.
So tell me Dear Reader, do stars and appearances on best lists influence you to try a restaurant? And where are you dining this evening on Valentines Day?
NQN traveled to China as a guest of The Langham Hotels and 88 Xintiandi. They dined as guests of Mr & Mrs Bund
380 Huangpi South Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China
Phone:+86 21 5383 8833
Mr & Mrs Bund
Bund 18, 6/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Nanjing Dong Lu, Shanghai, China
Tel: +86 6323 9898