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The wild, wacky mind of Alvin Leung is a fascinating place you could get lost in – chicken tom yum soup dumplings, cuttlefish with kaffir lime leaf mayo siumai, five-spice ox tongue spiked with herbs de Provence but also rippling with Sichuan flavours. And that’s just the start.
Daimon Bistro is the newest from Leung, his second of two concepts which share a space on the sixth floor of Five on the Bund. His first, Bo Shanghai
– stolen away behind the back wall of the bistro – is a pricey and lengthy affair, which means budgeting three hours, ten courses of stomach space and a good portion of your wallet for one meal. Daimon is the casual cousin of Bo. ‘It’s like a supper club, a place where people can relax. Casual. You go for a few drinks,’ says Leung.
It’s casual, yes, but more than that it’s also wild, raucous and unchained – in atmosphere and in food. Inspired by Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City (‘a lot of exciting elements, like opium dens and gambling and prostitution, were behind the walls. Now I’m not saying these are my inspirations…’ he quips), the restaurant borders on nightclub, with neon accents, a bright, popping wall of graffiti and loud music on the speakers.
The dim sum is fantastic, full stop. There are three options of soup dumplings – chicken tom yum, chili crab and spicy Sichuan lamb – and it’s hard to pick. The spicy Sichuan lamb ones are as striking in colour (a deep, royal purple) as in flavour (ringing with hits of mala numbing paired with the gamey meat). Chengdu beef siumai echo the soup dumplings, packing a far heavier punch than the garden-variety pork kind you’ll find on Shanghai’s streets. Snap up the basket of all four before anyone at your table is the wiser. Oh, and those charsiu bao – Leung has pulled some Dr Frankenstein-style moves, mashing up a pineapple bun with a classic barbecued pork bun. The result? Some kind of ultra-buttery, insane indulgence. It’s called a CSB on the menu: grab with both hands, tear and devour.
After the success of the dim sum, it’s hard not to feel a little let down by what follows – delicious as most of it is. The tortilla chips in the Tiger Skin Chili Nachos are too delicate for what you hope will be a monster dish loaded with sour cream, cheese and Chinese ‘lobster sauce’, but in fact it’s a little light on all three. It’s tasty, but give us the excess of the CSB. Thankfully, the braised octopus has that in spades – rich umami of a spicy miso dressed roasted eggplant with chimichurri sauce paired against tender yet chewy octopus. One more please! Tuck into the fantastic Chinese Olive Leaf Fried Rice, which is just fried rice, sure, but you’ll think about it for days after.
Under Bridge Squid turns out to be an honourable attempt to riff off Hong Kong classic Under Bridge Spicy Crab – a shower of cornflakes over the squid laced with Vietnamese mint and drizzled with kaffir lime leaf mayo – but ends up tasting like a everlasting Gobstopper stuck on lime.
Much of the effort is on cocktails inspired by Hong Kong, which hopefully is a developing programme because at 120RMB a pop for signature drinks, you’d want to love them a little more. Milk tea and Horlicks make frequent appearances along with tapioca pearls, which are great for aesthetics, but it’s nice to get tipsy before getting full up on your daily dairy quota.
You can stuff yourself without even making it to the meat section of menu – fried chicken on Hong Kong egg waffles with sweet gongbao sauce or a signature whole roasted cherry duck, for example – which just gives reason to come back. But do make some space for a cornbread waffle with ‘drunken’ strawberries and brown butter ice cream because it’s wonderful.
Daimon Bistro is like journeying into somebody’s fantasy: it’s a wild ride with major ups and a few downs – but when you’re flying it’s fantastic.