Dining at the Paul Bocuse cooking school feels satisfyingly like getting a surreptitious peek behind the scenes. It’s not a formal restaurant, rather an elite training ground for hotel and restaurant students.
Paul Bocuse, the world-famous chef renowned for his nouvelle cuisine, launched his training institute in France over a decade ago. The Shanghai branch was founded during the 2010 Shanghai Expo in the Rhone-Alps Pavilion and trains a class of around 60 Chinese and French exchange students in the culinary and service arts. Recently, the school began quietly accepting limited reservations from the public for lunch and dinner.
When dinner guests arrive, the large team of student chefs in tall toques are crowded in the kitchen, papers in hand like they’re in class. The dining space is modest but welcoming with warm red-toned wooden chairs and flooring.
The set menu, which changes each week, is presented in English, French and Chinese. On our visit, we begin with a delicate amuse bouche of a tiny glass of creamy avocado topped with seafood in a thin jelly. The silky smooth avocado underbelly marries beautifully with the slightly sour notes in the topping.
We have four waitstaff – all Chinese – attending our table of seven, overseen by the excellent training maitre’d Owen Wang.The service is impressive throughout the meal – the waiters sync perfectly to place all our dishes down at the same time.
The first course elicits happy sighs. The small but perfectly sliced sliver of foie gras terrine is shot through with a layer of dark chocolate and topped with shining grape jelly. The flavours are sweet and buttery; angelic to all but the most fervid animal rights activist.
The courses come slowly and when we finish our last bite, there’s none of that hurried snatching away of plates, a method used elsewhere to turn tables fast to increase profits.
Our main dish is le carré d’agneau: a layer of lamb skin wrapped around a perfectly pink sous vide chunk of lamb meat, delicately seasoned with parsley powder and mustard. The meat is juicy, yielding and not the slightest bit gamey. It’s accompanied by a round of polenta layered with minced mushroom and spinach sauté – the spinach might be a tad overcooked to those used to the Chinese style of al dente greens but it all goes down beautifully with the rich brown sauce. There are some scuffles among diners at our table for the unfinished bites of lamb on one person’s plate.
After a long digestive lull, we call for dessert. It’s a rich chocolate mousse set on a cake base, and topped with a button of passionfruit jelly. The intense chocolate is paired cleverly with a mildly tart lemon sorbet. We are stuffed. But we somehow have room for the mignardises, a selection of delicate post-dessert sweets including a gorgeous banana macaron which has the ideal crispy outer coat and chewy interior.
Our 300RMB set dinner is a steal. It includes free-flow Evian water and a cappuccino or espresso. At most restaurants with this level of service, just the foie gras and the lamb dishes alone would add up to this price. We just hope that once word gets out we’ll still be able to book a table.