From the Flair bar atop the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pudong, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant colonial style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Shanghai is a city that has that magic romantic attraction blended in well with elegance, glamour, and sheer sense of global economic standing. The city used to be known as 'The Paris of the East'. While some old fashioned people may still refer the city with its nostalgic title, I however believe that this city has surpassed even the delights of New York and London (these two cities are not even close to where Shanghai is...in terms of everything...economically, culturally, and for beauty too). You realize this when you visit places such as the well renowned MINT club (you never know who you may bump into there). When you are in Shanghai, it feels like the center of the world (it really does).
The changes to the city in the last three years have been enormous. I used to live in Shanghai and nearby Suzhou for a number of years, and miss it so much. Make a point of coming here for a holiday, have lunch at the Yi Cafe at the Shangri-La Pudong (read this); afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel (read this), dinner at Le Sheng (read this!), have a drink at Hyatt on the Bund (read this); and then bop it off all night if you wish at the MINT nightclub or at Bar Rouge with some good company. Then bask in the history of the city which is spearheading China’s incredible growth.
_ I finally had a chance to go and try out the new restaurant by Chef David Laris, Le Sheng. Opened in November 2011, and located at the end of the fashionable Anfu Lu in Shanghai’s French Concession, Le Sheng is the latest eatery in a series of wonderful culinary creations presented by the celebrated Australian chef and restaurateur David Laris (from ‘fine dining restaurant Laris’ fame, which was located at Three on the Bund). The restaurant focuses on providing a truly modern Shanghainese cuisine within an intimate ambiance to present the finest of an upscale dining experience. The name ‘Le Sheng’ evokes a feeling of harmony, meaning literally, the exact moment when all musical instruments begin to play. The name was selected as it reflects the idea that all of the various elements of this concept (culture, art, and food) have come together in an unexpected, yet harmonious way. The boutique restaurant is able to accommodate 44 dinars on the ground floor (including 28 dinars in the main dining area), and 8 dinars in the VIP room on the 2nd floor. The latter most certainly looks like and feels like a nostalgic 1930s Shanghai club.
As one enters the restaurant, there is a feel of the traditional Shanghai that blends in nicely with the modern Shanghainese ambiance- both are projected well. Lovely red and black colours that portray the 1930s Shanghai are listed along with the slight nostalgic shades of mahogany. The napkins on the tables are wrapped in various Chinese ornaments, such as jade stone, and even Chinese mah-jong pieces! Fabulous decorations on the restaurant’s walls created by designer Andy Hall brings all the elements of a traditional Chinese culture (a variety of colourful Chinese tea leaves have been immersed in resin to create a unique lighted design effect; and the wall of the private dining room pasted with ancient Mah-jong pieces), neatly with the modernity of today’s Shanghai. Everyone that has a knowledge of China knows by now that the hey days of Shanghai were the 1920s, and the 1930s when the city was known as ‘the Paris of the east’. The decorative ambiance of Le Sheng does portray that in many aspects. Ancient Chinese poems, calligraphy, and wooden screens inspire the concept that Chef David Laris has bought along in a thoroughly modern and reinterpreted way. Quite essentially, David Laris brings along a fine eatery that provides a truly world class menu using the finest ingredients and finest cooking methods and conditions (neat and clean all around which is very important)- all of this accompanied with one of the most respected chef’s in this fast paced Chinese city.
The key to the magic of Le Sheng is, as one would expect, the food. Anhui native, Chef Fang Chao, has provided a special concept where he truly understands what is best for both his Chinese and Western dinars. Preparing 150 odd dishes is no easy fete for any chef in any restaurant around the world. This concept of understanding, planning and providing the finest of dishes using the finest ingredients in superb conditions (Le Sheng chefs use state-of-the-art cooking machines), is a key secret to his success. Not many Chinese chefs have this rare gift of having an eye for the dinars tongue when they are preparing and cooking dishes- and it’s all hats off to Chef Fang Chao. No wonder why he has amazed dinars all over Shanghai for over 11 years.
To try all the 150 odd dishes at Le Sheng may take you some while, but here are some of the signature dishes to tuck into: ‘Braised pork in soy sauce with quail eggs’, ‘Le Sheng pickled radishes’ (cold but delicious), ‘old-fashioned Shanghainese smoked fish’, ‘Le Sheng restaurant cod fish’ and, ‘traditional shredded chicken, ham, and bamboo served in broth’. Most of the dishes are a celebration of how Shanghai cuisine should be eaten. For example dishes such as the ‘traditional shredded chicken, ham, and bamboo served in broth’ are action packed with local culture, smell, and taste all immersed in one.
The Bamboo shoots are a special touch to the rather commonplace meat dishes that are presented in most eateries in Shanghai. Le Sheng is all about sophistication and being different. If you prefer to try the Chef’s recommendation for drinks, then wash it all down with an ‘apple oolong tea’, created by barman Ryan Noreiks. The presentation of each dish is a piece of art, don’t be fooled into thinking that every dish is a just a piece of food. The vibrant colours and flavours will dance on your tongue long after you have left the restaurant. This is very much true when it comes to a simple yet touching dish like the Le Sheng Okra (Lady Finger). It’s just perfect and goes well with any main dish as a side appetiser. Le Sheng is the perfect place to take your loved one for a romantic dinner or lunch. It provides plenty of glamour, intimacy, and elegance all attached in one.
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