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One of the few chefs in Shanghai widely known on a first name basis among diners, Willy Trullas Moreno throws around the word ‘sexy’ like David Chang uses expletives. Occasionally, though not often, the Spaniard’s particular brand of PR can fall flat – the over-priced hotdogs at Yongfu Lu late night snack den Bikini aren’t exactly a turn-on and Ohana, his attempt at a quirky Japanese restaurant in Gubei was rendered impotent by its location. With elEfante however, Moreno has put together a menu thoroughly deserving of his favourite adjective.
Having given his prime slice of Donghu Lu real estate a revamp, elEfante still contains plenty of predecessor el
Willy’s DNA with a sleek and stylish, but instantly warm and vibrant interior and the highly prized patio outside. A new addition to the space is a small deli selling a variety of imported cold cuts, cheeses and more; many of the tinned and bottled food items that line the walls of the restaurant are also for sale here. It’s a chic remake, which combines with on-point waitstaff to ensure that the food can shine. And shine it does.
At 165RMB, the Italian burratta
salad seems pricey for a starter, but any grumbles about pricing evaporate upon our first bite. The very young sphere of mozzarella is smothered in rocket leaves, truffles and dotted with green cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts for a simply incredible dish which releases an exceptional burst of chilled, creamy fresh flavour into your mouth with each bite.
After such a start, we worry that subsequent dishes will be unable to live up to the high standards, but our fears prove misplaced with the arrival of the crab salad (98RMB). Chunks of crab meat mix with deliciously soft diced avocado and celery leaves to create an incredibly fragrant and refreshing dish that’s perfect for summer, especially when combined with the frozen basil lime sorbet which accompanies it.
The plump wild prawns of the gambas fritas
(65RMB) provide a welcome change of pace following the two salads. Served in a light, unmistakably tempura-influenced batter and covered in a hint of aioli they make for another mouth-watering dish. Likewise, the herb-encrusted, roast US pork belly (78RMB) may just topple Kota’s Kitchen’s pork belly as the best in town – words that we don’t use lightly. A different proposition to Kota’s version, the pork here is served atop a small heap of incredibly soft baby potatoes in a light balsamic dressing – utterly delicious.
From the two huevos fritos choices, we opt for the 36-month elEfante Iberico ham version (125RMB) and are not disappointed by its mix of oozing fried egg, chewy pork bits and a bed of fried potato strips akin to Spicy Joint’s potato mountain laid flat. The ‘sexy croque monsieur’ (68RMB) meanwhile, more than lives up to its name with a row of five mini bites that mix fontina cheese, mortadella sausage
and truffle inside their piadina
We could go on. A meal here is not cheap, but after several visits to elEfante, we’re still yet to find a dish we don’t enjoy on what Moreno has termed ‘menu zero’. If this is merely a starting point for the chef’s latest venture, we’re excited by the prospect of future additions. If they maintain the high standards set by this opening range of dishes, elEfante will continue to be a very sexy restaurant indeed.