Celebrated a very special occasion with a special someone in Shanghai. And thanks to recommendation of a friend who shares the same love for good food, we had a wonderful evening spent with a husband and wife culinary team.
Chefs DeAille Tam and Simon Wong opened and ran Bo Shanghai in Five on the Bund a few years back, winning a Michelin star for their efforts. Then the place closed due to rental disputes. After a year hiatus spent traveling around China, they came back to Shanghai in 2020 and opened Obscura.
Chefs DeAille Tam and Simon Wong
Chef DeAille Tam was born and brought up in Hong Kong before moving to Canada with her family when she was 10. After graduating from high school she pursued a degree in engineering. It was while at university that Tam’s career path took an unexpected turn. In having to make her own meals, she realised her passion for cooking and boldly left university to start her gastronomic journey. She was named as Asia’s Best Female Chef 2021, voted by industry experts from across the region, at the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants listings.
In George Brown College Toronto she met her future husband and partner, Chef Simon Wong, who similarly left his medical degree to study the culinary arts. After working together under the tutelage of chef Alvin Leung, the two were inspired to explore Chinese cuisines by traveling China in 2019. This later on motivated them to open Obscura.
Innovative Modern Chinese Cuisine
新中餐 • 心中餐
In 2019, DeAille and Simon embarked upon a research trip around China, where they encountered a myriad of flavours that left them with profound memories. Throughout their yearlong travels, they gained a richer understanding of China’s diverse regional cuisines and fostered a deeper connection with Chinese culture. The insights and inspirations garnered along the way ultimately crystallized into their vision for Obscura’s Innovative Modern Chinese Cuisine.
The chef’s table is distinguished by its elegant, flowing curves. Hidden lights tucked into the ceiling create a mysterious effect, conjuring up the alluring, enigmatic infinity of a black hole. The interplay of different textures, including bamboo, wood grains as well as metal, reflects the interaction of complementary sensibilities: masculinity meets femininity, East meets West.
Crafted by house sommelier Ares, the “Obscura Tea Infusions” pairing continues their vision of uniting Chinese culture and Western perspectives. Each drink has its roots in the rich tea culture and diverse methods of tea-making around China, while incorporating innovative pairings and techniques.
Here, the “Tribute” is based upon our house-made Pu’er kombucha, and infused with fresh apple juice, longan, grapes, as well as wisps of cedar smoke — an exquisite balance of fruit, smoke and fermentation.
Cantonese BBQ 烧味叁宝
Roasted Pork, Roasted Goose, “Char Siu”
The amuse bouche was inspired by the chefs common heritage of Hong Kong and growing up with Cantonese cuisine from Hong Kong and later in Canada. The chefs took inspiration from Cantonese “Siu Laap” 烧腊 to recreate the experience but with a modern twist.
Taking a nod from their Bo Shanghai roots, the description and the final product may not be the same either in terms of form or in terms of ingredients. Example, the “char siu” is not made of pork, and the roast goose and roast pork are totally deconstructed.
A cold roast pork? This totally blew our minds when it was presented. It looked like kueh pie tee but the rendered fat of the pork was used to make the ice cream giving it a smoky, eclectic taste. Topped off with shaved crackling.
The octopus was cooked with “cha siu” technique, while the tartlet was like the char siu pie in Cantonese dimsum but reminded one of roast goose when you put it in the mouth.
Small Plate of Chicken 小盘鸡
Cherry Tomato, Cockscomb, Potato, Pepper
The inspiration of this course is from Xinjiang’s Small Pan Chicken 小盆鸡. Only the ingredients are similar – tomato, chicken, potato and pepper. The taste of the original dish is like Nyonya curry chicken and is usually served hot. This one is a cold appetiser.
The cockscomb had been braised in a spicy chilli pepper sauce but remained crunchy. The cherry tomatoes were marinated with cumin, pepper and other Xinjiang spices and encrusted with a jelly shell.
All the taste was condensed into this jelly that was encrusting the tomatoes.
Taste of Sichuan 酸菜鱼
Kue, Chinese Sauerkraut, Ikura
Their reimagined take on 酸菜鱼 “Sauerkraut Fish” recreated a sensory experience that ass familiar yet unexpected. The essential elements of this Sichuan classic — spices, heat, acidity and umami — were expressed in new forms, with innovative variations in texture and temperature.
Sauerkraut serves two purposes here: the powder to wrap the fish, and vegetables stewed to a clear broth mixed with a set portion of homemade green pepper oil, tingling but not overly numbing. It is incredibly good — rich, sour, hot, eye-pleasingly elegant and mind-blowingly yummy.
Line-caught Japanese kue (longtooth grouper) from Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan was cut into strips and each wrapped with sauerkraut powder and left to mature for the fish to develop new flavours and fully absorbed the seasoning. They were then wrapped with cling wrap, deep freeze and sliced again to create a marbling effect.
Ikura (trout roes) were purchased as they were and not in the usual form where they were treated with the usual soy sauce. Instead they were pickled in-house with white soy sauce (produced using wheat rich in starch as main material with the addition of a little amount of soybean). Ribbons of lotus stems were marinated with pickled pepper vinegar to keep the taste of sauerkraut. But with redesigned taste and temperature, this dish was studded with flavour land mines to pick around — planks of pickled lotus stems, a fistful of sauerkraut powder, warm vinegar sauce prepared with sauerkraut juice, and some pickled trout roe.
Dragon Well Shrimp 龙井虾仁
Langoustine, Longjing Tea, Caviar
Shrimp stir-fried with Dragon Well tea 清炒龙井虾仁 is a speciality synonymous with Hangzhou. Traditional ways of doing Longjing shrimps are more or less monotonous in colour, texture and taste. Obscura, on the other hand, offers a comfort version with creamy textures, snow-white prawns, syrupy-centred egg and the velvety bisque.
Langoustine, Longjing tea powder and oil, Kaluga Queen caviar and a sous vide egg were all brought together by an intense prawn bisque. This was one of DeAille and Simon’s earliest creations when they arrived in Shanghai in 2016.
Here’s where audience participation came it. We were invited to crack our sous vide egg. Clumsy as we were, we gave it a miss.
The two chefs deployed several cooking methods in treating the Longjing green tea, one being the use of essential tea oil extracted at tea-making temperature. Interestingly, DeAille and Simon have found that tea tasting is all about smell, and tea oil is the best wheel to offer up the slightly sweet, mellow and grassy fragrance of Longjing leaves.
Langoustines were immersed in tea oil to allow full absorption of the tea fragrance, and Longjing tea leaves were finely grounded and sprinkled on the sous vide egg yolk. Finally, a splash of spongy hijiki (a brown sea vegetable growing wild around the coasts of Japan, Korea, and China) soaked in tea oil and tea water was added into a beautiful bisque made with langoustine shells.
At this point, the bread and butter were brought out. Interesting pacing, rather different from the usually bread right up front?
Where Is The Fish? 鱼香茄子
Fish Maw, Eggplant, Katsuobushi
“鱼香“ literally translated as “fish aroma” and is a standard sauce originally prepared for the cooking of meat and vegetable but now extended to many Sichuan and Hunan dishes. Some said that the old name of “鱼香” is actually “豫湘“, a homonym referring to Henan and Hunan Provinces from which the sauce originates. Anyway, there’s no fish in sauce. Proper preparation of the seasoning includes finely minced pickled chilli, white scallion, ginger and garlic in equal proportion.
The team took a creative rain check here. Usual “fish aroma” dishes do not use seafood. However, here the main ingredient was fish maw. Fish maw is the dried swim bladders that come from a large fish like a croaker or sturgeon and contains rich proteins and nutrients such as phosphor and calcium. Furthermore, fish maw does not contain cholesterol and therefore it is a very valuable health enhancing ingredient. It has no taste and absorbs the flavours of other ingredients. All the flavour bombs of this course came from the boba-like granules.
Another creative license they took was the use of katsubushi (bonito flakes) that was used to top off the dish. The fish maw was simmered in a seasoning dashi stock, the mashed eggplant was seasoned with the “fish aroma” and all the rest of the flavours came from the bobas. This was the first time I had boba served other than in a drink.
Dong Bei Like That 窝窝汉堡
Foie Gras, Japanese Angelica Sprout, Blueberry, Cornbread
Taranome タラの芽 (Japanese Angelica Sprout) is a wild foraged vegetable that is buds of the Aralia elata plant. They are priced for their aromatic leaves and slightly bitter stalks. The chefs used the leaves, dressed with blueberry vinaigrette to compliment the pan fried foie gras. This was served together with the tempura stalk of the taranome, sandwiched between two Chinese cornbread called 窝窝头 “wowotou” in the Northeastern part of China. This was eaten like a hamburger.
This was a well executed foie gras dish with just the right amount of sour, sweet and bitter from the condiments. The cornbread helped to bring down the greasiness of the foie gras.
Hunan Bacon & Pepper 青椒炒腊肉
Wagyu, Chilli Drops, Shishito Pepper
This is the team’s homage to the distinctive blend of spices, heat and smoke that characterises Hunan’s cuisine. Sautéed Hunan Bacon & Pepper 青椒炒腊肉 is a Hunanese classic, and is famous for its mouth-numbing peppercorns, eye-watering spices and the distinct smokiness from preserved pork belly. Obscura’s rendition is a mulled-over masterpiece with more simplicity and higher completeness.
M9+ Australian Wagyu tenderloin was pan fried with the fat rendered from Hunan bacon, and accentuated with corkscrew pepper sauce, pickled chilli drops and dried turnip. The tenderness of the tenderloin came through with the smokiness of the Hunan bacon drips. The spicy, tangy green sauce made from pepper went in the way of the beef in my opinion – the beef needed a sauce but not the pepper sauce because the consistency wasn’t right. The pickled chilli and dried salty turnip strips came to its rescue, rounding up the taste profile.
Harmony of Lu 久财
Sea Cucumber, Beijing Grey, Leek
Like the English name of this course, “Harmony of Lu” refers 鲁菜 Lu Cuisine. Lu Cuisine is one of the Four Major Cuisines of China, originating from Shandong. Being affiliated to Confucius, Lu Cuisine was always associated with Imperial and ceremonial cuisine. And the inspiration of this course is the Lu classic Sautéed Sea Cucumber with Leek 葱烧海参.
Beijing Grey is the first camembert made in China. Cheesemaker from Beijing, Liu Yang was a French exchange student who fell in love with cheese and decided to take a cheesemaking course, and the rest is history. He runs Le Fromager de Pekin using locally sourced organic milk, and his first attempt was the Beijing Grey.
久财 refers to the chives that are used as fillings to dumplings traditionally consumed during Chinese New Year. Chives 韭菜 is homonym of “long prosperity” in Mandarin. Here, the Chinese dumpling was given an Italian twist with filling of chives and Beijing Grey (a camembert-like cheese) like a ravioli. Combined with the rich sauce from the sea cucumber and leek, as well as leek-infused oil, you get a complex yet harmonious mix of East meets West.
A palate cleanser at this point – shaved watermelon ice served in a beautiful Cloisonné bowl.
Bye Bye Winter Blues 姜母鸭
Ginger, Black Sesame, Natural Jus
Duck, ginger and herbs. Rain, life and bliss once more. Known as jiāng mǔ yā (姜母鴨) in Mandarin or literally “Ginger Mother Duck”, the original dish is believed to have originated in southern Fujian. Today the slow braised herbal duck stew is a classic dish in Taiwan, where it is typically made with Muscovy ducks (also known as the red-faced duck due to red wattles around their bills).
In order to pick the right type of duck for this creation, the culinary team tried over 20 types of duck. Finally they picked this particular type for the right texture and flavour.
Midnight Snack 深夜烧烤
Sand Ginger, Bergamont Pear, Black Truffle
This course was meant to a prank, a practical joke. Many commented that fine dining was always not satisfying in terms of the amount, and they had to go for supper to fill up the stomach after dinner. And one popular supper choice in Shanghai was 串串 or skewers that are either BBQ called 串烧 or cooked in Sichuan peppercorn sauce called 麻辣串.
A small copper BBQ stove was placed in front of us with skewers of crocodile meat and couple of croc craw tied up to look like lamb rack.
These were accompanied with a dipping sauce made with galangal and soy, and bergamot pear puree. The skewers were topped with black truffle.
Bites of Spring 咬春
Wheatgrass, Sour Plum, Pinenut
立春 “Arrival of Spring” is the first of the 24 seasonal variations in the Chinese calendar, and traditionally one has to engage in a ritual called 咬春 “Bites of Spring”. The tradition asks for a wild vegetable to be served, and typically one would use the shepherd’s pulse 荠菜. The chefs used wheatgrass juice to make a pastry skin with glutinous flour to create something different.
The wheatgrass glutinous rice balls were wrapped in a layer of crispy fried glutinous rice, filled with mixed pine nuts and pecans, and served with a bowl of warm Eight Treasures Tea soup. Unexpectedly harmonious and full of Chinese flair.
Blossoming Nectar 黄金丸
Loquat, Tofu, Sweet Almond, Gond Katira
Gond Katira is a resin from the Tragacanth plant similar to the peach gum that is gaining popularity in Chinese dessert. Here, it was used as a jelly-like gum to incorporate loquat 琵琶, a native fruit that is used as a medicine for sore throat. These gum drops were served with almond tofu pudding and almond chips. You ceremoniously cracked the chocolate disc to get to the pudding.
Petit Fours 茶点
And finally Petit Fours 茶点 – a mini meringue, a white chocolate truffle, a gingerbread 姜饼 and a white steamed rice cake 白糖糕.
Two were Chinese inspired desserts, while the other two were French desserts, again the theme of East meets West.
And to finish off the wonderful dinner, a head of espresso from their Nespresso machine.
1/ Welcome Drink
The first wine pairing was a rose champagne Champagne Delamotte Brut Rose NV that’s a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The intense salmon red colour followed by a deep and vinous bouquet with delicate red fruit aromas, a subtle touch of brioche, great elegance and subtle freshness. Full-bodied and round yet dry and complex on the palate.
3/ Dong Bei Like That
Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016 is a bold and dry red blend of Shiraz and Grenache from the Rhone Valley, fruity, cherry, oak on the nose, velvety texture, plum and oak taste. Paired well with the beef, but could not hold on with the really rich foie gras.
5/ Blossoming Nectar
Domaine Pagnon Muscat de Rivesaltes is a dessert wine that’s a blend of 50 % Muscat d’Alexandrie and 50% Muscat Petit Grain. The wine hits you immediately with its scent of flowers and apricots.
2/ Taste of Sichuan
Battenfeld-Spanier Molsheim Riesling Trocken 2018 is a dry white Riesling from Rheinhessen, this is among one of the best for that vintage. Acidic, dry and yet well-balanced in the flavour profile, with citrusy, green apple and yet a hint of earthy tones. Great pairing with spicy food and poultry. A budget wine with Grand Cru standards.
4/ Bye Bye Winter Blues
I would rate this as my least preferred wine selected for the evening, but that’s just me. La Spinetta Ca’ di Pian Barbera d’Asti 2015. A dry and acidic red, with a strong berry profile – blueberry, black currant, cherry, raspberry, you name it. What threw me off was the liquorice taste towards the end.
The Wine Selection
Stepping through the arched gateway into Obscura, guests are greeted warmly in an intimate foyer. TAnd behind the flowing lines of the host stand lead into an elegant glass cellar, slightly obscured behind fogged glass.
Manifesting the intersection of heritage and innovation, Obscura is secluded within the intimate three-story villa of Tang Xiang Cultural Space, which houses an extensive private collection of ancient Chinese artifacts.
With only 11 seats and opening 5 days a week, my guess is that it would become one of the most difficult to book restaurants in Shanghai. Bookings through Wechat mini program are open on the first and fifteenth of every month. And it’s one of the few that demanded a deposit for the reservation. Go now, I am sure they will get one (or two) star very soon, and then the waitlist would be even longer.
No. 2, Lane 538, Xikang Lu, near Kangding Lu, Jing’an District
Tel : +86 191 2147 1147
Date Visited : Jul 2021