The former French Concession has officially acquired one of the markers of a modern gentrified neighbourhood – a high-end organic supermarket á la Whole Foods. Owned by the same Taiwanese company behind Qi Min organic hot pot restaurant, Green & Safe on Dongping Lu is not just an organic supermarket, though; it’s also a cafe and restaurant. Our prediction is the produce, rather than the current restaurant offerings, will bring in the crowds.
Wooden crates filled with bright healthy-looking veg adorn the outside of the store, priced at 15RMB/500g (25RMB/500g for avocados). Inside, the first floor is divided into a supermarket area and a café, which resembles a beautifully designed school canteen – albeit one which offers some of the healthiest and most expensive cafeteria fare around.
In the supermarket area a chorus of ‘it’s organic’ greets you as you walk through each section – dry goods (muesli, rice, pasta), fruit and wine (all from France, 190-820RMB).
The fruit is arrayed in wicker baskets around the stairs and is 25RMB/500g for common seasonal fruits (apples, etc) and 50RMB/500g for exotic fruit from Taiwan (mangos, wax apples, Buddha’s head). This seemes pretty reasonable until we end up paying 49RMB for an (admittedly enormous and absolutely delicious) mango.
Close to the canteen-like area are two tables that we’ll be visiting whenever we are there. One is laden with cakes, the other with breads and there are plenty of free samples of both. The sweet treats include Safeblueberry muffins (15-18RMB), cookies, apple strudel, Valrhona chocolate cake and carrot cake (18RMB) that could be a contender for Baker & Spice’s best-in-town crown. The breads are equally yummy with a dozen kinds of hearty bread rolls with a variety of seeds (5-9RMB) as well as larger loaves (40RMB).
From here you drift into the canteen-café counter area, where you can purchase cheeses. The salad bar (78RMB/three salads) is eye-catching, and you can also order sandwiches or pasta here. Most of the salads have a meat or fish ingredient. If you choose one salad (25RMB/salad nicoise), you get a laughably small portion, although the few forkfuls we have present one of the best examples of the classic French dish we’ve had in the city. Portion size is also a problem with the sandwiches (38RMB), pastas (58RMB), and snacks, such as the devilled tea egg (20RMB), a tasty fusion of 1970s cocktail party recipe and traditional Chinese cooking.
Of its three identities, the restaurant is least successful. Asian and Western cuisines both feature on the menu, mostly served in tapas-style small plates, creating a confusing food concept (should we get starters, then a main? Should we share plates?) and the food itself is hit and miss.
The meat dishes, such as the roast beef sous vide, cooked for ten hours (98RMB) or the Hakka salty pork (58RMB), are very good, but gambas (48RMB) are over garlicky and oily and the bread basket (38RMB) lacks variety. The Japanese oden (8-12RMB/piece) consists of over-cooked vegetables and reconstituted fish in different shapes and is little more appetising than its convenience store cousin and a strange addition to the menu.
The design of the restaurant’s expansive loft-style space on the second floor is attractive though, with dramatic lighting displays, an open kitchen and a choice of couches, chairs or stools to sit on. With this lacklustre menu and room for over a hundred covers they may struggle to fill all these seats.
Staff are enthusiastic and very eager to please. We can see the organic supermarket and café becoming a magnet for the yummy mummies of the FFC, but we can only hope they revamp the upstairs menu so we can enjoy the cuisine as much as the space. Either way, this opening is a welcome landmark in the unbounding growth of healthy organic choices in the city.