Shanghai – the cosmopolitan city of China, the yardstick for chic – has been the only city I would go to a Western restaurant with less apprehension. This evening we went to Jean-Georges, Michelin 1 Star French fine dining.
Located on the Bund alongside its illustrious neighbours, Jean Georges was one of the pioneers of French fine dining in Shanghai, and opened on The Bund from as early as 2004. It was denied the star when Michelin came into town in 2017. But this mistake was promptly rectified the following year in 2018.
The Dining Room
As one entered the restaurant past the reception, you will first be faced with a secluded bar-lounge area, before walking past a giant open bakery, where the restaurants’ baked goods are freshly produced.
The bar is an under-utilised feature in most Western restaurants in China as many are still not accustomed to a quick drink while you wait for your table. In ruthless Chinese efficiency, you are expected to be shown your table the moment you arrive at the time of your reservation. I often wondered how long those lonely bottles had been on the shelf.
You walk through a corridor with the open kitchen on one side, the wine cellar on the other, and the glass display showing off all the wine glasses and decanters. New York architect Michael Graves designed the restaurant, and its high, coffered ceilings lined with copper and the dark wood pillars and banquettes reflect the warm light that glows from tableside lamps and pours through the large windows.
The feeling you get as you walk into the dining room was clean and elegance, something you would get in Paris. There’s ample space between tables so that your conversation can be private. The lighting was much brighter than most French restaurants that I have been to in Shanghai.
In an effort to use the freshest ingredients, the menu at Jean-Georges changes seasonally. But you can always count on fish being available. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten first became famous for his way with fish, and executive chef Paul Eschbach continues his legacy with luscious fish dishes.
We ordered the two degustation dinners on offer. As we were not heavy drinkers, they graciously allowed for us to share the seven wine pairing with the 8-course dinners.
Since the pandemic started, they started serving the bread per table instead of selecting from a trolley or from a large basket in fear of cross-table contamination. Three types of bread were offered that evening: a sourdough mini baguette, sea salt rye bread, and olive walnut wholewheat loaf.
Room temperature butter was served in the shape of a ziggurat (a flat top pyramid). The butter tasted mild and delicate, its flavours accented with the salt flakes.
Jean Georges Tasting Menu
This is the signature degustation menu that featured some of the dishes that made JG famous in NYC, including the now-legendary egg caviar.
The three bite size starters included a sweet pea cold soup, crispy salmon sushi (which is housed-smoked salmon with deep fried sushi), and an arancini (Italian rice ball stuffed with squid, breaded and deep fried)
It looked like just a half-boiled egg served with crème fraiche and caviar. But as you scooped into it, it was scrambled egg made perfectly and then painstakingly filled back into the shell. It is the breakfast egg that I would eat.
Here’s JG himself showing how the egg caviar is done.
Diver Scallops, Caramelised Cauliflower, Caper-Raisin Emulsion
True “Diver” Scallops are scallops that are hand harvested from the ocean floor by professional fishermen who are licensed scuba divers. Less than 1% of all scallops served these days are harvested that way. One cannot taste the difference anyway. And the caramelised cauliflower stole the limelight from the scallops.
Young Garlic Soup, Thyme and Sautéed Frog Legs
Chinese and French swear by their frog legs. And the introduction of frog legs in French fine cuisine was gladly accepted by the Chinese palate. But they did give in to the Chinese tastes – the garlic soup was a clear soup instead of the heavy creamy version in the NY version.
Known in France as Cuisses de Grenouille, frog legs were consumed in response to a 12th Century Catholic Church ban on meat. Apparently, monks enjoyed a king’s diet. Noticing an increase in XXL robe requests, the church authorities decided to prohibit meat consumption for a period of days each year. This imposed dieting fuelled the monk’s resourcefulness and in response, they cleverly had frog legs designated as fish. Consequently, religiously devout locals hopped on the bandwagon, and the rest is history.
In France, they’re most commonly cooked using butter, garlic and parsley sauce. Here, chef deconstructed the classic French frog legs into two parts – the deep fried frog legs and the garlic soup.
We were told to dip the frog legs into the soup before eating. The garlicky, buttery soup enhanced the frog legs, which were just salted and fried. When you are done with the frog, there’s still some nice garlic soup left. Not great for a romantic evening, so I gave it a miss.
Turbot with Château Chalon Sauce
Another classic dish taken from the recipe book of JG’s sister establishment in New York. Château Chalon is a Vin Jaune (“yellow wine”) made from Savagnin (“wild”, different from Sauvignon) grapes harvested solely in the Jura region of France. Vin Jaunes are aged for a minimum of six years and three months and taste like dry fino sherry and they are a pretty obscure varietal – not easy to come by and gave the sauce the distinct flavour. Turbot has lean, white, mild tasting, firm flesh and I couldn’t believe JG used only a piece of broiled turbot topped with chopped zucchini and tomato, nothing fancy. It tasted like farmed turbot, but luckily the sauce gave all the depth and flavours for the fish.
Lobster Tartine, Lemongrass Broth, Pea Shoots
The use of lemongrass was supposed to give it an exotic touch to otherwise boring dish. However, this is Asia and many have been accustomed to this aromatic used in cooking. So the excitement factor was greatly discounted. What was left was a big question mark – what’s this perfectly poached Boston lobster doing swimming in Tom Yum? It didn’t help with the raw pea shoots. Chinese are really used to eating raw vegetables.
Broiled Squab, Onion Compote, Corn Pancake with Foie Gras
Everything on the plate looked brown and earthy. A squab is a young, immature pigeon about 4 weeks old. Because it is too young to fly, the meat is very tender. Squab usually weigh about 12 to 16 ounces, including giblets, and have dark, delicately flavoured meat. I have always enjoyed gamey meat like pigeons and pheasants, much better than a piece of chicken, but this squab was a tad under seasoned. Foie gras on a corn pancake was nice, but again unnecessary with such a complex tasting piece of meat.
After a simple palate cleanser of yuzu bobas and compressed watermelon, we were off to the desserts.
Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Jean-Georges’ signature molten chocolate lava cake, served with a pristine scoop of vanilla ice cream and a shot of hot chocolate. While this dessert is a staple on fine-dining menus, Vongerichten was the one to invent this chocolate lover’s dream.
And finally petite fours with a head of espresso. What stood out was the little gummy bear and earl grey flavoured macaron.
The service at Jean-Georges was warm, friendly and efficient. Dishes got swept to your table with great fanfare, each plate hidden beneath a silver dome. Once all the waiters were in place behind your chair, the glittering covers were whisked off, revealing the sophisticated cuisine underneath.
This is the place for that romantic dinner for two, just ask for the windowsill table and you can see the old Shanghai Bund in its glorious splendour. I never get tired of the view of The Bund, and JG offered a view and a fantastic dinner to match. Wine pairing was reasonably priced, but I found the pairing leaned too much to local palate of sweeter, fruiter wine with bolder bouquet.
About Jean-Georges Vorgerichten
This professional life on the go is one Chef Jean-Georges Vorgerichten’s been living for almost 40 years. But his epicurean dedication started much earlier: enjoying perfectly prepared fare was a focus in his childhood home on the outskirts of Strasbourg. In fact, his 16th birthday gift was a meal at the three-star Michelin-rated Auberge de I’lll in Alsace, where he actually began his training, in a work-study program as an apprentice to chef Paul Haeberlin. He then went to work with Paul Bocuse at L’Oasis in southern France before helping chef Louis Outhier open ten restaurants in Asia, including at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong, the Meridien Hotel in Singapore and the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. He arrived in the United States in 1985 to work at Le Marquis de Lafayette in Boston before taking a position at Lafayette in New York’s Drake Swissôtel, which is where he met the financiers who would change his life even further. With the assistance of Bob Giraldi and Phil Suarez, he opened his first restaurant, JoJo, in 1991 (JoJo was his childhood nickname).
“All of the restaurants reflect my personal style; they have my DNA in them,” he says. “[But] Jean-Georges is the only one where we offer a tasting menu, and I believe that food is to be shared. Plus, the way I enjoy eating is by having a little bit of everything.”
4F, Three On The Bund,
No. 3 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road
Shanghai, 200002 China
+ 86 21 6321 7733
Date Visited : Jul 2021
Michelin Shanghai Guide 1 Star 2018-2021