The music industry veterans who launched Shanghai chain Lapis Thai in 2008 have entered into a new partnership with a hospitality and real estate group and taken on an ambitious expansion. They’ve moved their Shanghai Centre branch down Nanjing Xi Lu to the 1788 Plaza and splashed the cash on the new 1,800-square-metre space which is now home to Lapis Thai, Vietnamese outlet Le Viet, and a DJ-driven club, the Salmos ‘sky lounge’.
The high-ceilinged, slickly-designed space has a thumping sound system and an ogle-and-be-ogled vibe. Tables are stylishly and annoyingly low, so you have to lean forward to eat over your plate. While it’s easy to visualise the nouveau riche clubbing crowd cramming in to catch international DJ acts organised by the co-owners – Taiwanese producer Tino Bao and Gary Pan, chairman of High Note Records – whether it works as a restaurant destination is another matter.
On one visit, we get off to an unharmonious start with Vietnamese chef Mingtian Pan’s mangosteen shrimp salad (108RMB), apparently the winner of a ‘Most Healthy Salad in Asia’ award.
The salad is undone by copious amounts of dried squid – if it weren’t for the tough, fishy-flavoured strips, perhaps the chilled sweet mangosteen, sesame-seed flecked shrimp and kumquat dressing would make for a lovely pairing.
Fortunately, other dishes on our table entirely make up for the salad’s odd melange. The Vietnamese crispy pancake (68RMB) is the closest to the Hanoi version we’ve ever tasted outside Vietnam. The rice flour pancake, enriched with coconut milk, turmeric powder and scallions, enfolds crispness, sweetness and chewiness. The giant crepe is filled with a layer of crunchy bean sprouts, shrimp halves and fatty pork slices. On the side are fresh lettuce leaves, Thai basil and a fish sauce dip.
But it’s the grilled lemongrass beef salad (78RMB) that is the menu’s ticket to return diners. A mound of elastic fresh vermicelli is tangled with peanuts, chillies and sesame seeds in a lightly-sweet fish sauce. It’s topped with a generous portion of intensely fragrant beef hunks that are infused thoroughly with lemongrass. The whole bite is pungent yet not overwhelmingly fishy.
Also expertly handled, though far simpler, is the stir-fried water spinach (48RMB), a pile of perfectly seasoned dark greens topped with fried shallots.
We also encounter some dishes which, while not universally appealing, find their own adherents. The Hue spicy beef noodle soup (88RMB) reads wonderfully, with a list of ingredients including lemongrass, chilli, shrimp paste, ham and sliced beef shank, but the broth is unexpectedly tame, and not nearly as spicy as it looks. Meanwhile, Vietnamese laksa (68RMB) is surprisingly sweet. The soft vermicelli is soaked in a coconut cream curry, and is accompanied with peanuts, lettuce, as well as fresh and dried shrimps.
The three-in-one concept of two restaurants plus the Salmos club sounds like a strange combination, but they seem to play together as a slick trio. You can order from either the Vietnamese or Thai menu and stay on until late if you want to dance to the DJs or sip cocktails on the massive 600sqm rooftop. On the opening night, the space hosted over 1,000 guests and five international DJs, and while we’re not sure they’ll reach that capacity again, we can see this mix gaining a solid following.
By Crystyl Mo