Monday, 4 March 2013


Brunch is an indisputable institution here in Shanghai.

I would hate the word for it's instantly-conjured imagery of groups of SATC girls squealing and sloshing through mimosas (almost always sporting 'wristlet' bags - what could possibly be in there?? A single Chapstick?), but any mealtime occasion late enough to accomodate a lie-in while combining sweet, savory, and, crucially, booze is automatically my favorite occasion of all. Sorry I'm not sorry.

And no one does brunch like Shanghai. It's like the city's hoteliers got together and decided to take any established notions and blow them out of proportion in a way only the Chinese (and Middle East) can do. Replicate to an almost-abstract degree. Dubai does architecture; we do brunch.

It's getting increasingly aggressive however - classics like Cantina Agave's margarita madness or Pudong's boundless buffets are being challenged by almost absurd new offerings (free-flow martinis at The Ritz?! Are you trying to kill us?!). But one restaurant seems to own aspirational brunching in the city without venturing into terrifying territory. It riffs on staples in only appropriate and decidedly delicious ways, and sticks to appropriate serving sizes in both food and beverage. Madison somehow sidesteps the craziness with pure class.

First, the space - the restaurant was recently relocated from a second-story spot on a second-thought street, and although it is still tucked away, behind the HoJo on Huaihai, you can tell that it is luxuriating in the ability to slightly spread out. The dining room has even been separated into Madison proper and bar area "Madi's". Both are clean and classic, but casual - an Upper East Side grande dame in jeans. The Madi's side is the logical location for brunch - light and airy and as inviting as a space could be, even with the requisite crew of screaming children who run rogue on Sundays across the city. (Kids should be caged until they're 20). (Kidding). (Kind of).

And the food - although the main menu at Madison pays homage to Chef Austin Hu's his mixed roots as a Chinese American, the brunch menu is what I could call 'amplified American' - classic American comfort food escalated to its *appropriate* level of indulgence.

The menu made it almost impossible to choose, even beyond the usual brunch sweet-vs-savory stumper, as my brunch partner and I were both looking to really treat ourselves. Words like "pig trotter croquettes", "XO hollandaise", "stuffed French toast", and "Tabasco butter" lept off the page (probably helped by my hangover), and if everything looked good on paper, it looked even better as it swept towards other tables. Life is hard.

We decided to sample around, starting with savory and moving on to sweet, as is mercifully appropriate at brunch. With our peach sorbet bellinis we ordered ("and also...and also...") chicken and waffles, hash, and potato pancake "french fries" for our first course.

The chicken and waffles was a great starter - the waffles were scented with vanilla and softly sweet, creating a nice counterpart to the perfectly fried chicken. It was slightly dry, even with the random addition of tomato slices, which luckily could be quickly remedied with a swipe of the homemade ketchup served with the "fries".

The hash, which we asked to be topped with a poached instead of a fried egg for more yolky goodness, was also delicious, although it proved to be quite rich. Both the Eggos and hash could have used the moisture and acid of a nice chutney or something similar... or more ketchup...

The "fries" were fantastic - substantial strips of latke fried to a deep crisp and served with that tangy ketchup. Less starchy than thick-cut chips and so much more satisfying than your shoestrings, with an extra-crunchy texture to boot. And the ketchup proved the MVP of the morning.

For sweet, we were intrigued and excited by the sound of the "pancake souffle" - we envisioned some ethereal pancake-like cloud, like an even more heavenly Dutch baby...

What we got was cornbread.

There was initial confusion, which probably resulted from a combination of us projecting our pancake fantasies, neglecting it's connection to the previously mentioned "Tabasco butter", oh, and the blatant misnomer, but you can't argue with cornbread. It was sweet-savory and moreish, especially when slathered in said butter. The mini skillet sealed the deal.

Misnomer or no (misnomer), all of our elevated comfort food was delicious and even surprisingly affordable, considering the caliber of the kitchen. The one thing I could possibly criticize (besides the corn in my pancakes) would be the all-too-reasonable portion sizes...

...Although perhaps it's good that someone is keeping this town in check.

3 Fenyang Lu, nr Huaihai Lu (behind the Howard Johnson)
French Concession

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