Pelikan (CLOSED)

  • Restaurants
  • European
  • European
225 Xikang Lu

This venue has closed.

Think ‘New Nordic Cuisine’, and it’s a slim chance that hot pink wallpaper with purple palm fronds is the decor choice that first springs to mind. Were you expecting a stark, minimalist aesthetic of clean lines and spindly branches to fit your narrow – dare we say limited – conception of a New Nordic restaurant?

Well, Pelikan is having none of that. Decked out in loud, fluorescent hues of passion-fruit-purple and pineapple-yellow, the spunky new venture from the team behind Mr Willis feels as though it’d be more at home in Miami’s South Beach than on the quiet streets of northern Jingan. It’s bold, and we like it.

What’s not quite as bold as we hoped, on the other hand, is the food. A self-proclaimed ‘contemporary Nordic’ concept, it’s one that has yet to fully evolve here.

Fresh off an eight-month stint at Copenhagen’s superlative Geist, Danish Chef Kasper Elmholdt Pederson helms the kitchen – tasked with making a cuisine predicated first and foremost on ‘the local’ in a locale he is only just beginning to know.

Dishes are hit-and-miss. One night, the 300RMB Chef’s Menu proves to be an unfavourable gamble. Raw baby veggies arrive with a puzzlingly bland ‘herb cream’ that our server can’t explain, and neither can we. Raw is fine, if the produce is exceptional – but unfortunately here, it’s not. Smoked salmon tossed with mustard and specks of dill is very much Scandinavian (and quite nice) but also very much forgettable; the marinated scallop with cucumber suffers from the same affliction. Small plates demand big flavours – or at least some on the table should – but the kitchen takes too timid an approach.

You can taste whispers of Pedersen’s thoughtfulness and potential in the ‘juicy pork and mushroom’ – braised pork belly underneath a forest of mushroom all ways (pickled, raw and ‘dusted’) – but it doesn’t hit all notes perfectly, too muted where it should be punchy. Fork-tender chicken breast, served with a garlic confit, redeems the table.

But when the dishes do hit, they hit hard. There are standouts – and exceptionally so. Better to order a la carte as we do another night when we uncover some brilliant diamonds in the rough. The charred beets with butter sauce (56RMB) are fabulous: earthy and multi-dimensional, with a heady dose of smoke from the char and a welcomed acidic bite from beurre blanc. It’s a beguiling affair, and exactly what you want from all the other dishes on the table. Then the fish arrives.

‘Whole turbot filled with brown butter sauce’ (198RMB) sounds so innocent, but it’s a devil of a dish that will have you cheekily asking for (off-menu) bread to sop up the remains. Liberally doused in a lemony browned butter sauce with delightfully bitter sorrel and fragrant thyme, this soft, flaky fish will linger in your mind for days after. For a simple dinner for two, come and eat this with a few (quite good) house cocktails. You’ll be well satisfied.

Desserts echo the majority of the meal – pleasant but restrained. An exception? The imaginative ‘Danish beer bread and raspberry’ (52RMB), a slick of creamy beersoaked rye puree punctuated with tart, fresh raspberries and white chocolate crumble.

A meal at Pelikan tastes as though a young, emerging chef cooked it – which is exactly what it is. There are ups, there are downs but there are also great sparks of inspiration. You won’t get a played-out, heavy-handed routine a la Robuchon, but also don’t expect the pinnacle of finesse and polish.

Fresh, funky and Instagram-perfect, Pelikan’s a place you want to love – and in time, there should be more and more reason to.

By Cat Nelson

Venue name: Pelikan (CLOSED)
Opening hours: 11.30am-2pm Tue-Fri; 5:30-late Tue-Sat; brunch from 11am Sat-Sun
Metro: Nanjing Xi Lu
English address: 225 Xikang Lu, near Beijing Lu, Jingan district
Chinese address: 静安区西康路225号, 近北京西路