When I found out I was going to Shanghai, I was so excited. Not only had the Chinese city recently been bestowed with stars from the Michelin Guide, one of the Top 50 Restaurants in the world just happened to be located there too.
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet is described as one of the most amazing sensory experiences on the planet; the prospect of a visit excited me beyond words.
The booking system for Ultraviolet is pretty easy, the restaurant very hard to get into; I almost pulled if off though! Being on the waitlist and called to participate in the Friday evening experience was a case of ‘so-close-yet-s0-far’; you see, I was scheduled to fly home on the Friday.
So I had to pass 😦
But all was not lost. Paul Pairet had another restaurant in Shanghai, the well known Mr & Mrs Bund & I managed to secure a table at late notice on the day of my arrival; a Sunday evening. Sweet!
If you’re not familiar with Paul Pairet, the well known French chef had toured the world working in practically every major city in the world, before settling in Shanghai and eventually opening Ultraviolet, a restaurant coveted as a major destination, bestowed with two Michelin Stars and ranked (at the time of writing) #42 in the world.
While I wasn’t visiting the renowned restaurant, I hoped that his avant-garde style of pushing the envelop on contemporary French cuisine would be on show. Itself a world renowned restaurant, Mr & Mrs Bund actually sat at #43 in the World’s Top 50 restaurants in 2013 and has appeared in practically every Asia’s Top 50 restaurants since opening.
Strangely though, the restaurant didn’t receive any Michelin Stars in the inaugural list when announced, continuing the often puzzling discrepancy between the well known San Pellegrino list and the Michelin Guides.
Getting to Mr & Mrs Bund proved to be a bit of an exercise; having lived in English friendly Hong Kong for so long, it was an adjustment to try to make my way across the Huangpu River that separated my hotel from the restaurant. Located on the famous Bund (hence the name), I had to find a taxi, get across the river and not get ripped off in short order.
My first mission was accomplished, although I did discover that Google Maps didn’t work so well, that Shanghai is totally freezing in winter, and that I was well under dressed. When I eventually made my way into the restaurant, I was well and truly frazzled and in need of a great meal!
Thankfully, from the moment I walked into the restaurant, a calm assurance came over me as I took in the extremely elegant setting, beautifully appointed dining room and view of the Pudong side of Shanghai, a view that seriously rivalled the Hong Kong skyline. I was seated at a table that afforded me a spectacular view throughout my meal, and my eyes constantly drifted from my food to that view.
After only a few minutes with the menu, I’d learned two things…firstly, the incredibly diverse menu held a spectacular array of options that would have taken me a month of dining to get through; secondly, it looked as if Paul Pairet’s contemporary take on French cuisine was mine for the taking!
I literally agonised over my options for a long time. I was initially going to take it easy with only two courses, but ended up going with a five course self selected tasting menu!
But before I could crack on with my selections, I was presented with a couple of little treats; a tin of tuna mousse on a slate board with a pot of super thin toasties. I’d worried that such thin toasted strips wouldn’t stand up to the tuna, but it was so light and airy that they made light work. My memory of that mousse will remain with me forever, it was at once familiar but so strikingly different to what I’d expected. The salty and strong fishy flavour was almost sweet, but dissolved in the mouth in seconds, so you only had the memory to drive you towards the next bite.
The second treat was a huge basked of bread that included mini baguettes and bread loaf; I say mini, but in reality they were massive and I barely got through one of the baguettes, helped with lashings of the hand churned French butter!
I was excited to crack into my first dish, and when it arrived, I was a little mystified. The mustard tuna tartare came served with a serve of hot chips; quite an unusual pairing! The element of the dish that I loved the most, was also the dish’s achilles heel. Fresh Ahi tuna was diced then topped with a mustard sorbet; the sweet and almost buttery fish pairing perfectly with the twang of the mustard. However, as I consumed the dish, the balance of mustard to tuna fell away, and all I was left with was the slight heat of the mustard. The tuna just disappeared. On a super positive note, the hot chips were crunchy and golden and very delicious.
My second dish had been ordered from the salad section of the menu, so I’d been expecting something quite light; instead I was presented with quite a large dish that turned out to be very special indeed! A soft poached egg sat atop a fresh pea ‘soup’ and surrounded by thick cut bacon and finished with some toasted croutons. With instructions to break the egg and mix onto the pea soup to enhance the creaminess, I did just that and was rewarded with a beautiful hit of freshness on the palate. Saltiness came from the slightly caramelised bacon, which also paired beautifully with the egg and pea mix. There were none of the balance issues that had effected the previous dish, this was just pure unadulterated joy.
Next up was one of the Paul Pairet signature dishes: Meunière Truffle Bread. Holy crap, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything so decadent. I could tell that the dish was rich once it was placed in front of me, thick toast that had been covered in a generous helping of black Western Australian truffle, then topped with a buttery meunière foam. Little did I know that the toast had also been soaked in a meunière sauce. My first bite was surprising, the balance of the earthy truffle and rich sauce soaked toast was sensational. Hard to describe, it was a sweet savoury mix that smacked you in the chops and said ‘here I am!’. I probably loved the first half of the dish, found the next quarter hard going and then couldn’t finish. I was just too rich and my palate had been overwhelmed!
I’d opted for another Paul Pairet signature dish as my main. Simply called Boston lobster in a citrus jar, I had a pretty good idea of what I’d be presented with. Even so, my breath still caught in my throat when the dish was presented, the jar containing a whole lobster, which was ceremoniously extracted and placed on a plate for me at the table. The lobster had been cooked in the jar with citrus, lemongrass and vanilla, all of which had seeped into the flesh. The result was enchanting, each of the flavours combining with the expertly cooked lobster to provide a very unique take on the classic dish. I really liked it, although I did find the fish sauce that accompanied the dish a little overpowering.
I was completely stuffed by the time I’d devoured the lobster; but I wasn’t done just yet! I definitely wanted something sweet to finish the meal, although I didn’t want anything overly heavy either. The problem was solved by ordering the strawberry Chantilly, actually as simple as the title sounded! A glass was presented with fresh cut strawberries, a quenelle of strawberry sorbet and a heap of lightly whipped Chantilly cream. Strawberries and cream done the Paul Pairet way, simple, refreshing and an absolutely perfect way to finish the meal.
Once I’d finished, I was given the opportunity to brave the cold again and head out to the terrace area and take photos of that spectacular Shanghai skyline. I was joined by a heap of other diners, who’d had the same idea and were happily snapping away.
It was time for me to grab my bill and leave, and while my payment was being processed, I was able to look around me and reflect on what had been a wonderful meal. Service had been spot on, friendly and knowledgeable staff passed by my table throughout the night and, seeing that I was a solo diner, engaged in conversation, and even left me with some magazines to read.
I’d seen only a fraction of the food on offer at Mr & Mrs Bund, but what I’d seen was enough to have me craving more. Sure, there had been a minor balance issue with the tuna tartare and the truffle toast had been a little too rich for my palate, but the food had been exceedingly well cooked, well thought out and well executed. Most importantly, the food was yummy.
As I exited the plush and very comfortable dining room, I became super excited about the prospect of returning to Shanghai and visiting Ultraviolet. If Mr & Mrs Bund had been this good, then I could only imagine the audio, visual and taste sensation that would await me.
Thankfully, I’m already planning a trip back to Shanghai in May with the Girl, you see theres an ALF match on in Shanghai that we’re going to; of course with a couple of side trips to Mr & Mrs Bund and Ultraviolet!