Taian Table and Bo Shanghai, two of the most formidable players on Shanghai’s dining scene, joined forces last week to present a four hands dinner for two nights, the first one hosted by Bo Shanghai, and the second, which I attended, hosted by Taian Table. With five dishes from each team, as well as amuse-bouches and desserts prepared by the host, the two restaurants managed to unite two distinct visions and styles of cooking into an engaging and surprisingly coherent dinner.
The Taian Table team kicked off the evening with three delightful bites to wake up our palettes. The venison tartare sandwiched in a macaron was a scrumptious progression of sweet, salty, spicy, and a lingering gamey aftertaste. A lightly torched slice of tuna was galvanized by a sharp, pungent black garlic mayo. And what appeared to be a cherry tomato was in fact a sweet, tart tomato jelly wrapped around creamy, tangy goat cheese.
TT Amuse-bouche: venison tartare macaron; tuna with black garlic mayo; goat cheese tomato
Next, Bo Shanghai made a bold entrance with a strong dose of Chinese inspiration. Sweet Hokkaido scallops met the intense, salty influence of zao lu, a fermented liquor often used in Chinese cooking, accentuating its brininess and umami. The crumble of crispy puffed rice offered a striking contrast in texture against the tender scallops, but the flickers of greenness from the peas and avocado cream could be more pronounced.
BO Scallop, peas, jolo, woba
Chawanmushi is a recurring dish at Taian Table. In this rendition, it was made salty with caviar and smooth and fragrant with flecks of arugula oil. The verdant layer of asparagus coulis tasted sweet and clean, an eloquent herald of spring and sunlight.
TT Chawanmushi, Kaluga Queen caviar, green asparagus coulis
One of the strongest dishes of the evening, Bo Shanghai’s Sichuan-inspired take on surf and turf was an elegant concerto of flavors and textures. The marriage of cool, smooth oyster, tender slices of slow-cooked beef tongue and a crunchy, wildly acidic pickle was already thrilling, but it was the green sauce made with Sichuan peppers that made the plate take off. A bright tanginess hit the palette first. The heat followed, starting softly, timidly, building slowly but surely until it dropped its question mark. The contours of flavors were so clean and precise that each bite tasted as new and exciting as the first.
BO Oyster, Sichuan green sauce, beef tongue
A veteran from menu 5, Taian Table’s sea bass fillet was fried to a wonderful crisp. The delicate flesh tasted sweet and succulent on my tongue, before the white bean mash washed over me in a rich, creamy wave, its heaviness trimmed by the fragrant herb salad and a whisper of ginger. Although the dish looked almost exactly the same as it did three months ago, the flavors had come a long way – bolder and more assertive, this was everything I wished it was last time.
TT Loup de mer, white bean mash, ginger beurre blanc
Equally vigorous and robust, a baton of seared foie gras was laid over a green tomato chutney, sweet and tart in equal measure. Little dollops of ginger and carrot coulis added depth to the plate, while some powdered carrots lent a touch of saltiness, creating intricate layers of richness and brightness.
TT Foie gras, carrot & ginger, green tomato
Har gow, a quintessential Cantonese dim sum, received a surprisingly whimsical twist from Bo Shanghai, layered with chunks of blue lobster and a spicy hollandaise. A lobster consommé was poured table-side, lavishly concentrated and practically crackling with energy. Kernels of roasted corn enveloped the dish in a shroud of smoke, the darkness just on the verge of becoming too much. It was truly astonishing to see this simple treat transformed into such a powerful symphony of flavors.
Chef DeAille of Bo Shanghai
BO Lobster, consommé, har gow, corn
A creation taken from Taian Table’s current menu, the morel and onion tart was a modern take on a tarte flambée. When I had this dish just two weeks ago, the sautéed onions and morels, sandwiched between a crisp, papery sheet of pastry and a clear dashi jelly, tasted lush and robust, evoking the kind of homey comfort associated with mulled wine and roaring fires. This time, that laid-back coziness was replaced by a sharp, relentless bite of black pepper that made the filling sing.
TT Morel & onion tart, mushroom jus
Palette cleansers at Taian Table have always followed the same formula – a quenelle of sorbet sprinkled with frozen herbs. There’s no doubt that the formula works, but it was still refreshing to see Bo Shanghai put their own spin on that template. Sorbet was still the centerpiece, this one made with yogurt and lime, but paved with a salty crumble infused with horseradish and wasabi, and crowned with a delicate sugar crisp laced with horseradish juice. Horseradish and wasabi can be fire-breathing beasts that kick you in the throat. These were nothing more than a gentle if unexpected tickle at the back of my tongue.
BO Yoghurt, horseradish, plum
The main course from Taian Table was yet another familiar face, but managed to be the most surprising dish of the evening. The last time I saw this plate on menu 6, the pigeon was farmed. This time around, the breast came from a wild pigeon – its supplier discovered, I was told, just a scant week after my visit. The difference was stunning – plump, tender, and so flavorsome that it carried a memory of the forest. The mulberries were less prominent than before, giving the plate more focus, while the unannounced liver sauce, a new addition, was a welcome surprise, its intense, slightly mineral taste binding the pigeon with the black quinoa and artichoke cream on the other side of the plate.
TT Pigeon breast, black quinoa, artichoke cream
Bo Shanghai’s main course was as free-spirited as it was delicious. Thin slices of wagyu beef were lightly torched and laid upon tightly rolled wheels of rice noodles filled with black truffle. This creation was passed down from Bo Shanghai’s sibling, Bo Innovation in Hong Kong. The soft, supple rice noodles made an intriguing contrast in texture against the tender beef, while the fragrant, slightly peppery sauce Périgueux added to the sumptuousness and indulgence.
BO Wagyu, cheung fun, sauce Périgueux
Ending the dinner on a high note were two playful desserts from Taian Table. The basil sorbet and strawberry soup were refreshingly cold and fragrant, with texture supplied by a crisp of blueberry meringue studded with dried strawberries and pistachios.
TT Strawberry soup, basil sorbet
The “magic mushrooms” – made with a mix of chocolate and real mushrooms – looked as though they were taken out of the pages of a fairy tale, covered in a glossy cherry jam dotted with white chocolate chips. These were planted on a bed of hazelnut jelly and cocoa and almond soil, accompanied by a cherry sorbet. This all looked and sounded incredibly complicated, but tasted surprisingly harmonious.
TT “Magic mushrooms”, chocolate & hazelnut “praline”
TT Farewell sweets
Taian Table and Bo Shanghai both serve modern fine dining with a distinctive personality. Taian Table’s cooking is deeply seasonal and predominantly western, but tinged with a light Asian touch, while Bo Shanghai relies heavily on Chinese ingredients and culinary cultures for inspiration. These two identities are by no means polar opposites, but they are different enough that I was pleasantly surprised to see them woven together so seamlessly, and it was a joy to watch the two amazing teams work together in Taian Table’s grand open kitchen to create a compelling and memorable evening.
Left to right: chef DeAille of Bo Shanghai, chefs Jeno and Stefan of Taian Table