You can hear the fog horns and watch the festooned boats on the Huangpu from the window at Maison de l’Hui. There are dark mirrored walls. A silver-grey ceiling and soft spotlights shine down on a tiled mosaic floor. Everything from the cushy chairs to the wooden tables is deep purple, dark grey or black. It’s hard to imagine, in this deliberately opulent setting, what Shiliupu (Dock 16), once was – a derelict area known as the offloading spot for migrants coming to Shanghai, like poor country women bringing eggs to sell to the Shanghainese during the era of rationing.
Now, an entirely redeveloped Shiliupu is the location for one of four new projects from Wang Huimin, the powerhouse boss behind local restaurant chain Xiao Nan Guo, and one of the city’s most successful female restauranteurs. The three other restaurants, all named Maison de l’Hui, but with different menus, are opening up in other prime locations around town, from notorious gangster Du Yuesheng’s previous villa on Julu Lu to a four-room affair at Sinan Mansions.
Maison de l’Hui represents a growing trend among restaurants in Shanghai for finely-executed Chinese cuisine served with impeccable manners in grandiose environs. And there is a whole generation ready to pay the price. At this branch, eating in the main dining room costs a minimum of 200RMB/head. It would be hard to spend less. However, you can sense the superiority of all the props and ingredients that are on show. Everything is presented exquisitely like a duck pancake (20RMB each), tied with a steamed chive for string and set in a mini bamboo steamer, or the organic rice (5RMB), served in a bowl plated with golden paint.
The smoked fish (48RMB) is unlike any other you’ve had before. It’s unexpectedly moist and light, lacking the traditional heavy sweetness or fishy flavour. Drunken chicken (58RMB) is superb – the meat is potent and soft in its cold alcoholic broth. All the soups, like wild vegetable and cod soup (48RMB), are made with concentrated stock with intense umami flavours, like the type usually served with shark’s fin. Red braised pork (88RMB) is properly sweet and glossy. Thin-skinned, beautifully clean xiaolongbao (25RMB/three) are delicate in every way. For dessert, the date cake (25RMB) offers delicious sticky bits of sweet date in the spongy cake.
Come to Maison de l’Hui to see the future, at least as many local restauranteurs envision it - a swish, service-first new era of dining, Shanghai style.