Lujiazui’s shiny IFC Mall has drawn another international brand in the form of Morton’s The Steakhouse, an American institution which started in Chicago in 1978 and now has more than 75 restaurants worldwide that draw 3.3 million diners a year. The Shanghai branch is the largest of the lot, with 200 seats on the fourth floor of the mall, as well as a terrace with views over Lujiazui.
The brand has a certain old American appeal, and the steaks have become a byword for quality, spawning a number of steak cookbooks. But is it all enough to justify the fact that two steaks, two side dishes and three Chimay beers here will set you back 1,677.50RMB?
For a start, there’s the beloved standard Morton’s decor, which feels dated here – brown-green patterned carpets, mustard walls and splashy prints of sportsmen and Rat Pack stars; it’s more George W Bush than Don Draper. Worse, a lot of it feels cheap, from the standard tumblers and salt shakers to the plastic light fittings and utilitarian toilet signs.
The service, which costs you 10 per cent, isn’t where it should be – on our visit a week after opening, after confusion over our booking, we were left standing for almost a minute in the middle of the restaurant, then taken to a table with the wrong number of settings. The famed menu presentation can be brilliant, but here it was given by a sweet waiter whose English wasn’t good enough for us to understand her. These things will improve, but it’s clearly tricky replicating an American service concept in Shanghai.
When it comes to eating, the renowned onion bread (complimentary) is excellent and we love the classic Caesar salad (98RMB*). The appetisers are as huge as the prices, with giant broiled sea scallops wrapped in bacon (195RMB*) and a colossal shrimp Alexander that’s nearly the size of a small lobster (210RMB*).
The steaks average 691RMB with service, but import regulations mean that they’re Australian rather than the Morton’s standard USDA steaks. More importantly, they’re only very good rather than mindblowing – a medium 450g ribeye (595RMB*) is ever-so-slightly overcooked and stringy in parts; the lightly charred double cut 340g filet mignon with Bearnaise sauce (560RMB*) is beautifully textured and hard to fault but, well, you can’t help remembering that a sirloin steak at Table No. 1 costs 170RMB.
The sides (steaks are served alone) are big, but a tasteless and too-soft hash brown for two (90RMB*) and a grilled jumbo asparagus with a slightly sour balsamic glaze (85RMB*) don’t taste like value. As for desserts, while the humongous carrot cake (98RMB*) can easily serve two, the fresh seasonal berries (90RMB*) is basically 20-odd raspberries on a plate with a splodge of sabayon sauce.
The wine list is huge, starting at 115RMB for a glass of Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc, and separated by region, with 25 in the Bordeaux section alone (1,750RMB up to 36,370RMB for a Graves 2000 Chateau Haut-Brion).
Lunch, blessedly, is cheaper – 188RMB for a main (burger, salmon or shrimps and scallops) with salad or soup, or 278RMB for a very good ribeye topped with garlic butter and served with mash.
Overall, we can imagine finding Morton’s irresistible in Chicago – but though the Shanghai branch seems a faithful imitation, you can never quite shake the knowledge that you’re at a franchise in a shopping mall in Pudong, which is compounded by the exorbitant premium you pay for steak and wine here (the steaks are half the price in the US). But even if you’ve got an expense account and want a high-rolling night of meat, wine and cigars, Morton’s just doesn’t feel special enough.
*Plus ten per cent service charge