The revitalised Rockbund complex is rapidly giving people reasons to visit the pretty cobbled stretch of Yuanmingyuan Lu beyond gawping at big white wedding photo-shoots. Hot on the heels of restaurant/speakeasy/bookshop concept venture Light & Salt comes a more straightforward dining proposition: upmarket French bistro Paris Rouge.
In the kitchen is Gansu-born chef Liu Gaochen, an alumnus of Paul Bocuse’s French institute, who claims to have undertaken stints with culinary luminaries Alain Ducasse and Michel Bras before moving to Shanghai to head up Bocuse’s Expo operation and open a short-lived private dining venture, L’Artre. After we featured chef Liu in Time Out Shanghai’s inaugural issue, some doubts were raised about his claimed work experience in France, so this review of the new venture is based solely on our experience of the food.
Decor-wise, the space certainly looks the part of an upmarket French brasserie, with opulent leather banquettes, crisp white tablecloths and cream paneled walls hung with black and white photos of the crème de la crème of French society.
On our soft opening visit, the only option is a three-course set menu (398RMB). It reads like a roll-call of French classics, from moules marinières to escargots in parsley and garlic butter, boeuf bourguignon and rhum baba, as well as regional specialties such as Lyonnaise quenelles (poached fish dumplings).
Bread is currently the only thing that isn’t made in-house: everything else, including the complimentary amuse-bouche of rillette, is. The rillette is so good we wonder whether our pâté en croute starter will be surplus to requirements. However the generous slab of herb-laden pork, studded with jelly and swathed in buttery pastry, more than holds its own. Equally winning is the wild rabbit, whose tender pink meat is rolled around a stuffing of crushed pistachios, wilted spinach, pork and chestnut paste, sliced and served with wholegrain mustard and tiny cornichons to cut through its lardy richness.
Of the mains, Beef Wellington might be more of a British classic, but we mentally rebrand it boeuf en croute and order it anyway. The glossy puff pastry shell breaks open to slightly over-cooked meat: only the very centre is ruby-red. It’s elevated by a ‘grandma’s side dish’ of roasted new potatoes, wilted spinach, pork belly lardons, mousseron (‘fairy ring’) mushrooms and a tiny jug of gravy for drizzling over.
For a lighter offering, the quenelles come with sweet lobster-claw meat, bathed in a creamy bisque made from the crustacean’s shell. Made with imported minced pike as tradition dictates, the plump pillows have a light spongy texture that contrasts well with firm-to-the-bite asparagus and baby carrots – though the soup could have benefitted from more sherry.
We have high hopes for the desserts on learning that the pastry chef is formerly of another Ducasse enterprise, Le Meurice, and the self-billed ‘famous’ lemon meringue tart is indeed a masterpiece. Equally stellar is the molten chocolate and basil lava cake.
We’d come back to Paris Rouge for the desserts alone, so their daily afternoon tea should be a big draw. They also plan to open a salon de thé/pâtisserie in the nearby Yifeng Galleria next month. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?
By Selena Schleh