Friday, 8 March 2013

Whampoa Club

Restaurant Week, round II. (ding ding!)

To really take advantage of RW's offerings, I knew my next dining destination should be somewhere I wouldn't necessarily take myself otherwise. Although all of Three on the Bund's options fit the bill, haut Shanghainese haunt Whampoa Club seemed to have the best deal on theirs.

And what a deal it was. The entire experience was heavy in langorous luxury, from the moment the elevator doors opened onto an army of smiling hostesses standing before a hand-painted screen. The whole pace of life seems to slow, mired in the formality of service and ceremony. Even trips to the bathroom leave you trailing floral perfume.

At this point, you might be wondering why I seem struck almost with surprise at the level of luxury. My theory is that though many of us have had our fair share of experiences at high-end establishments, but it is because they are almost expected in other countries or at least according to other cuisines. (How frequently do French restaurants revel in their own pomp?). I think that because most of our everyday Chinese food experiences are spent at modest family-run spots, at which you have to BYOTP for the squat toilets, or on the street, face down in noodles after a long night, being able to truly enjoy Chinese food without worrying where to find a napkin is the most luxurious experience of all.

Anyway - back to the ballgame.

The space is a deco gem. After parading down an endless red carpet, plush enough to swallow the unsuspecting diner, past its hammered bronze walls that opened onto private banquet dining rooms and towards a disproportionately giant glittery chandelier, we were led towards our table, set in an elegant style. The dining room was a nice mix of traditional and modern, all overlooking the lights of the Pudong skyline.

The only jarring moment came with the wine list - after gawping at the number of decimal places allotted to each bottle, with only one under 400rmb and the next two 'affordable' options just shy of 500rmb (!), at least we came up for air assured in our decision that this venue had the best value for our money.

But after the brief lapse back to reality, we sat back and allowed the pre-decided procession of dishes to commence: true luxury means not having to make decisions.

First, a trio of sea cucumber in chili sauce (similar to a ceviche), chilled "crystal" pork jelly (seemingly served without the aged vinegar), and a "ma lan" vegetable and tofu ball (and yes, that's a Bugle).

Next, a delicious "double boiled" chicken soup with whelks that was pure essence of chicken.

Love that crock.

Then the first of two main sets - a cloud of steamed black cod with soy sauce, incredibly-beefy tenderloin with vegetables and (randomly) pistachios, and truffle-scented stir-fried prawns with buttery and tender lily bulbs (my new love) and celery. These were all phenomenal.

And next, less successfully, a super-sweet honey-glazed pork puff, too-oily bok choy, and somewhat tough "traditional Shanghainese" "ba bao" noodles.

Finally, in an authentic flourish, a red bean-filled "rice cake" (really a doughnut) and red bean ice cream. If you like red bean, you might have liked this - as I am indifferent to red bean, I found myself indifferent to this. All I can say is that the ice cream was creamy, and it was a very Chinese way to end a meal - sweet and fried.

Although I have no intention to return to the Whampoa Club (probably based on the wine list alone), it was lovely to be swaddled in such a luxurious Chinese dining experience.

(And a good deal).

Whampoa Club
Three on the Bund
5/F, 17 Guangdong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu
The Bund

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