I was taken aback by the casual elegance of the dining room at Jean Georges in Shanghai; it was a very welcome respite from the freezing cold of Shanghai in the middle of winter.
Making my away across the river the Shanghai’s very cosmopolitan district, The Bund, had been a taxing affair; trying to communicate with my taxi driver had been a huge challenge and my Taxi App had failed to give me the address of Jean Georges in Mandarin. It made me realise how easy I had it in English friendly Hong Kong!
Anyway, I was pretty excited to be visiting Jean Georges. The well known French chef, a master in his own right, had studied under one of history’s greatest chefs, Paul Bocouse. I’d even met the great chef briefly during the opening of his casual diner in Hong Kong, interestingly a departure from French fine dining to Italian casual. But mostly, I’d regretted not visiting his 3 Michelin Starred restaurant in New York when I was there in 2013.
With a couple of dozen restaurants around the world, Jean Georges in Shanghai was the restaurant that most closely related to his NYC outlet.
My dining companion for the night was already at the restaurant when I arrived, enjoying a drink at the bar. As a foreign national living in Shanghai, IE had a pretty good grasp on how things worked locally and we had a good laugh about my taxi escapades.
We moved from the bar area to our table in a very large, very modern looking dining area; screaming casual elegance, the well heeled of Shanghai were in abundance and I felt a little under dressed in my maroon corduroy jacket, jeans and cross fit sneakers! Well dressed wait staff buzzed around the restaurant looking casual and professional; one making his way to our table with menus to peruse.
It was only a very short discussion, both of us quickly realising that the winter tasting menu was the standout option. Making the decision, it wasn’t long before our Jean Georges culinary journey got underway with a trio of small bites arriving at our table.
An apple salad was placed in a serving spoon, little spheres of apple and an apple sauce were quickly dispatched in one quick bite; the mix of sweet and tart apple teasing the palate before the sweet sauce completed the interesting contrast of sweet and sour. A shot glass of sweet broccoli veloute with a thin layer of creme fraiche quickly followed, again hints of sweet and sour, although much more subtle. Lastly was a shrimp croquette sitting on a bed of horse radish; the strongest contrast of sweet and sour, the horseradish quite sharp against the sweet prawn.
Our meal kicked off with an absolutely stunning dish, both in presentation and flavour. Simply called toasted egg yolk, caviar and herbs, two spheres of egg yolk sat between wafer thin layers of toast with a quenelle of caviar delicately placed on top. Each tiny ball of caviar was visible, it was amazing; but not as incredible as the flavour, the creamy egg yolk was firm yet yielding and the salty caviar was enhanced with flakes of sea salt. It should have made the dish too salty, but it didn’t, I found the balance just right and loved the mix of the creamy yolk and salty fish roe.
Fish was the main component of the second course, and while the fine balance of flavours worked with our first dish, we both found that the Hamachi sashimi with sherry vinaigrette and toasted pecans was not quite right. The fresh Hamachi was sliced thin and on its own was lovely, but there was way too much acidity from the vinaigrette on the plate, which assaulted the palate and contributed to losing the natural sweetness of the fish.
Dish number three was a winner! The roasted foie gras with green apple purée and yuzu foam was simply delicious. A huge piece of foie gras had been roasted to perfection, the texture both firm and yielding at the same time, and the deep richness that was incredibly satisfying was balanced with the slight tartness from the apple puree and slight citrus hit of the yuzu. Toasted apple gave some extra texture to the dish that had a wonderful balance of flavours and was simply yummy.
In what was becoming a see-saw of a meal, our next dish was quite disappointing. The seared Icelandic halibut with jade emulsion and artichoke had wonderful colour, but that was about all we could say about the dish. I’m not a huge fan of halibut anyway, I find the fish dull and lifeless in flavour, a description that continued with this version. The jade emulsion was actually a Thai green curry, which totally dominated the already lacklustre flavour of the halibut, which I also found to be a little overcooked. I really didn’t get the artichoke, apart from having a similar colour to the emulsion, it didn’t really bring anything to the dish at all.
I wouldn’t say our next course of roasted main lobster with romesco smoked chilli-almond emulsion was was amazing, but was an improvement on the halibut. The lobster was expertly cooked and quite full flavoured, the sweetness of the flesh was quite prevalent on the plate; as long as you didn’t include too much of the powerfully flavoured romesco sauce at the same time. In moderation it was fine, but boy it was overpowering in large doses… Also, I didn’t really like the texture of the sauce, which was grainy from the almonds and I didn’t get why there was slightly overcooked broccoli pieces sitting in the sauce.
Our last savoury course sounded amazing and in theory should have been wonderful, but the quality of the produce let the dish down. The beef tenderloin with seared foie gras, red wine truffle sauce and potato gratin looked lovely on the plate, the truffle sauce added theatrically at the table. Firstly, the good stuff, the foie gras was superb and that red wine truffle sauce was literally mind blowingly good. However, the Australian wagyu beef tenderloin was rubbery and tough. It wasn’t even overcooked, my beef arriving medium rare as requested, it was just that the quality of the beef was poor, and it impacted what could have been a stunner of a dish, quite badly.
So much so, we had to inform our waiter that the beef was really quite poor, and really quite unacceptable in a reputable fine dining restaurant.
Pre dessert was a simple little cinnamon sponge cake with cranberry sorbet; not bad, but I’d have preferred something a little sharper, the cinnamon sponge a little too sweet for a palate cleanser.
We were treated with two desserts, one was the standard dessert that came with the tasting menu, the other a gift from the kitchen (we assumed because of our complaint about the beef).
Of the two desserts, the tropical coconut semifredo was the standout; it also happened to be the restaurant’s signature dessert and was the ‘bonus’ dessert. A white sphere sat on a plate and when we cracked it open with a spoon, diced seasonal fruit exploded out of the sphere. There was a lovely creamy semifredo that mingled wonderfully with the fruit and meringue husk of the sphere. We both agreed that it was the dish of the night and would have been disappointed not to have tried it.
Especially since the dessert that came with the tasting menu was also a little disappointing. Called orchard dessert tasting, the dish actually looked lovely, a poached pear sitting amongst cinnamon sponge cake and quenelles of fruit sorbet. I didn’t mind the poached pair that had been hollowed out and filled with raspberry sorbet, but I found the dish a little too banal and lacking in overall flavour; especially after tasting the sweet and delicious tropical coconut semifredo! We ended up leaving most of the dish behind.
Once the dishes were cleared, some petite four arrived at the table, but we didn’t try any of the small sugary treats. I was actually really full from the multi course tasting menu, so the little bites were left perched on their stand.
I’d chosen Jean Georges as our dining spot with high hopes and expectations and left a little disappointed. I’d been wondering why Jean Georges had not picked up any Michelin Stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide. After dining at the restaurant, I now no longer wondered why, I didn’t think the restaurant deserved a star, not yet at least.
I could see where the kitchen was going with their menu, aspirationally it was what you’d expect to see in any Michelin Starred restaurant; however, the execution was just not there consistently enough. Classic flavours and amazing presentation of the toasted egg yolk, caviar and herbs was offset by dishes that were out of balance and in some cases had inferior produce. Both really unacceptable but easily fixed.
I’d probably not visit Jean Georges in Shanghai again on future visits; I just would prioritise other restaurants above the French fine diner. However, the experience hasn’t dampened my desire to hit the 3 Star New York outlet.