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In a competitive, ever-evolving food scene like Shanghai’s, a meal’s success relies on details beyond just good food. Today’s foodies want innovation, virtuosity, risk. A brilliantly brined, golden roast chicken? Boring. An expertly grilled cut of wagyu beef? Not enough. We want a concept, an experience. We want edible curios. We want the prodigal chef.
Paul Pairet delivers. The chef’s hold over Shanghai began in Lujiazui at the Pudong Shangri-La, then tripped over the Huangpu to Mr & Mrs Bund
and continued with avant-garde multi-sensory experience Ultraviolet
. Now, Pairet’s letting loose with his playful carvery concept The Chop Chop Club.
Each night there’s a ticker board of carvery offerings, available in 15-minute intervals. Eyes at the ready – some options like the Vineyard Chargrilled Cote de Boeuf flicker from ‘order now’ to ‘sold out’ in a matter of minutes, and may not be back on the menu for hours.
Bring a group to get into more of the menu. There’s sticky, sweet and salty Bertha-oven-charred oxtail teriyaki; incredibly moist and savoury char-roasted chicken spooned over with lemon garlic jus; and plump fillets of grilled sea bass that melt in your mouth when smeared in the paired dollop of pastis aioli.
Between the meats, try the sharing-sized 'Bocktails' (bottled cocktails), like the sweet and bitter cumin-scented Swing Spritz with spice-infused Aperol, prosecco, and grapefruit, or the New School Cosmo, a strong elixir of Absolut elyx, Malbec red wine and Grand Marnier that delivers a burst of fresh strawberry aftertaste.
And there’s magic beyond the carvings. What happens when pillowy cubes of beef tartare meet pools of fresh cream? Silken bliss, that’s what. How about a charred whole cabbage, its every nook and fold brushed with butter and sour citrus? Divinity. You’ve had wickedly cheesy cauliflower gratin, but CCC’s sous-vide-then-charred take with Parmesan lattice is better. Salmon and dill on toast sounds commonplace, but here soft folds of smoked fish rest on a thick bed of cream with glistening beads of salmon roe. And if you think you don't like octopus, you’ll change your mind when the leg’s charred flavour mixes with tangy ginger-lime aioli.
Now, behind all creativity lies a touch of madness, which presents itself in certain menu items. The scorched bone marrow is ruined by an overpoweringly salty parsley mixture that hides any trace of the marrow’s inherent richness; and you’ll get more flavour from the qiezi at a street side shaokao vendor than Chop Chop’s 70RMB burnt-grilled aubergine. Bertha’s Shiitake, a charcoal roasted block of earth with live mushrooms, will have the table reaching for cameras, but once aesthetic allure passes, you’re left with a bunch of insipid fungi on a stump.
As expected from a French chef, the desserts are nothing to scoff at or skip. Rich Le Gato olive oil cake has the dense, moist texture of Christmas pudding that’s lightened by an accompanying scoop of yogurt sorbet, and the Raspberries Essential with Jerez (sherry), burnt butter and cream is a minimalist plate that’s bound to bring a sigh of delight. The petit madeleines are little puffs of joy.
You won’t be dining on anything groundbreaking at The Chop Chop Club. But what you do win from the meat board will be exceptional, and there’s amusement and a touch of whimsy to be had in the noshing. In the end, isn’t that what we’re all really after?