The concubine of 8th-century emperor
Xuanzong, the ‘Lychee Lady’ Yang Guifei,
was said to be a ravenous beauty, so
captivating that the Tang dynasty ruler
paid more attention to her than the nation.
As the story goes, imperial consort Yang
loved her lychees, so the emperor would
have them sent to up from the South by the
fastest imperial couriers so his ladylove
didn’t go without. Over a thousand years
later, Yang is the subject of many a painting
and now the inspiration behind achingly
stylish Asian fusion restaurant, bar and
Set in a chic three-storey lane house, Lychee is the latest venture of Shanghai restaurateur Cotton Ding (behind Former French Concession garden drinking spots Cotton’s), with drinks designed by Carson Xie (The Nest), Lychee is a blossom amongst the bramble patches of fusion cuisine.
The Lychee Lady would surely swoon over
a nest of spicy Thai-spiced
pork scotch eggs
kept company by a Bird
of Hermes cocktail, a bird-shaped
vessel filled with a
pink blend of chilli- and black
pepper-infused vodka, dry
vermouth, lemon, celery and
cherry tomato – it’s light and
sweet, nothing like the Bloody
Mary you may be imagining. Mussels
soak in a milky broth of coconut cream,
chilli jam and Thai basil that’s made to
be mopped up with grilled bread after
the shellfish have disappeared. Small
plates of smashed baby potatoes with
cumin, quail eggs and paprika aioli,
caramelised baby carrots with yogurt
and coriander, and spicy
creamed spinach are worth a
visit on their own.
The list of brilliant dishes goes on: green curry halibut head is fragrant and savoury hit and we’ve been back more than once for the melt-in-your-mouth peanut- and gochujiang-crusted tofu skewers with smooth chilli peanut dip and an icy Negroni Blanco, a bold and welcome take on the classic with watermelon-infused gin, Amontillado sherry, St. Germaine, dry vermouth, bitters and basil.
But there are less successful attempts, too – the boneless chicken wings with miso-butterscotch and pineapple lychee salsa, for example, are just as strange as they sound; and a black sesame panacotta doesn’t deliver a strong enough serving of the ashy flavour you’d expect.
When you visit, start or end your night
at the bar, where there sits a statue of a
plump, smiling woman. Ding says she likes
to think of the figurine as the real Lychee
Lady – who, despite being a slim belle in
all the paintings, was actually known for
her voluptuous full figure. Pay homage to
that by feeding your own curves with a
tangy slice of grilled pineapple topped in a
mound of sweet cream and charred coconut.
By Elysia Bagley