The Chop Chop Club
Add: 2/F Three on the Bund, 3 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road, Shanghai 中山东一路3号，外滩3号2楼
Tel: +86 (21) 5308 5399
Hours: Mon-Sat 6:00pm-11:00pm
Price: RMB350-500 (without drinks, +10% service charge)
Visited: April 2017
Will return: Definitely
When word came out just after New Year’s that Unïco’s kitchen would soon be taken over by chef Paul Pairet of Ultraviolet fame, Shanghai’s food scene went abuzz with anticipation. Now, just over two months since it opened, the Chop Chop Club promises to be one of the most wonderful and exciting openings of the year.
The place is nothing like what you would expect from the mastermind behind Ultraviolet. Where UV is an ultramodern temple of creativity and experimentation, the Chop Chop Club is an ode to no-fuss home cooking, returning to the roots of good food with quality ingredients and honest preparations. That mindset is reflected in the casualness of the dining room and tableware. In fact, an evening at the Chop Chop Club feels something like a dinner party, thrown by a friend with great tastes and some serious culinary prowess.
The Chop Chop Club bills itself as a carvery, so it would surprise no one that hulking joints of meats are an integral part of the package. But Chef Pairet manages to impress with even the plainest of vegetables. Curls of grilled piquillo pepper sprawled lazily across juicy bricks of watermelon, their heat lurking patiently behind the sweetness of the melon and the depth of balsamic vinegar. A plain-looking bowl of guacamole was invigorated by the freshness of coriander and dill and a squeeze of lemon.
Grilled piquillos & watermelon, balsamico (70)
Avocado crushed guacamole, herbs, toast (70)
Halved cucumbers wore intense scorch marks across their body, but the dish was made cool and refreshing with sweet hoisin sauce, light, tangy yogurt, and some fragrant mint and dill. A thick slab of cauliflower steak also took plenty of heat on the grill, until the outside was blackened and the inside became soft and yielding. That almost creamy texture in the center was underscored by a generous slather of cheese, while a few parmesan crisps added some crunch. I would have gladly made a meal of this alone.
Scorched cucumber hoisin-peanut, yogurt, mint (60)
Charred creamy cauliflower, parmesan (80)
More substantial starters include parentheses of vigorously charred octopus legs, tender but still retaining a pleasant bite. The soy aioli was salty and fierce, riding just on the verge of becoming too much. Equally daring were trunks of scorched bone marrow, receiving a sharp bolt of acidity from a dressing of capers and parsley that cut through the richness like a knife through butter.
Charred octopus, ginger, soy aioli (90)
Scorched bone marrow, parsley (90)
For the main event, carvery options are many and varied, but to get your hands on one, you need to act fast. These meaty mains leave the kitchen in limited amounts at 15-minute intervals throughout the evening, from 6:45pm all the way to 10pm. You will see the order and time at which each main is available on a sheet of carvery menu stapled to the longer menu of small plates, as well as on two giant digital screens on one side of the dining room.
The reasoning behind this routine, as Chef Pairet explains, is to serve each cut at the time of its absolute best. The format also serves to further evoke the vibe of a dinner party – you don’t tell your host when to serve the dishes. You simply take them as they come and share them with your fellow guests.
Among the numerous items on the carvery menu, a crowd-pleaser was the char-roasted chicken. Dramatically crisp skin wrapped over succulent, flavorsome flesh, this was everything you can ask for from a roast chicken. Chef Pairet infused this French bistro classic with an Asian tinge from a tangy dressing of lemon, garlic, and chives. Chunks of oxtail pulled off the bone willingly, glistening seductively with a teriyaki glaze, and disintegrated in my mouth in a luscious, gelatinous mess. The seasoning was slightly too heavy-handed for my taste, but the texture was glorious.
Char-roasted chicken, lemon garlic asiate (180)
Bertha charred oxtail teriyaki, sesame, coriander (170)
The skin of a turbot was crisscrossed with a lattice of dark, blistered char, a stunning contrast against its soft flesh. The simple condiments – salt, lemon, and “good olive oil” – were perfect complements to the sweet, rich fish.
Roasted-grilled XL turbot (260)
“Good olive oil”
It is startling how very well-versed Chef Pairet is in the language of mayonnaise, how much nuance he can put into the simple sauce. Over two visits, I saw it on half a dozen plates, and no two mayos tasted exactly the same. There was a lightly peppery one puddling around thick cuts of lamb’s leg fragrant with spices. The lamb could have been more tender, but I liked how the pinpricks of pepper intensified its dark, smokey flavors. A thick slab of grilled sea bass was accompanied by a tangy aioli spiked with pastis, as well as a vibrant vierge of tomatoes and olives. The flavors were bold and robust, but somehow felt light and effortless at the same time.
Roasted leg of lamb, lemon & spices (180)
Grilled sea bass, pastis aioli, vierge (150)
Side dishes also saw their fair share of Chef Pairet’s mayonnaise magic. A light, lemony one was served warm next to tender stalks of asparagus, making this unremarkable vegetable take off.
Asparagus essential, lemon cream (80)
Fans of Mr & Mrs Bund will know how strong Chef Pairet’s dessert game can be. That strength was carried over to the Chop Chop Club, but given some curious-minded twists. Fresh raspberries were macerated in a sweet sherry, next to a scoop of fresh cream and melted butter, the balance of sweet, tangy, and creamy uncannily precise. A glossy slice of olive oil cake was lavishly moist and smooth, its sweetness tempered by the olive oil’s light, clean fragrance. Not to be overlooked, the maple yogurt sorbet beside it had an uncommonly lingering aftertaste.
Raspberries essential, Jerez, fresh cream, burnt butter (100)
Le gatô olive oil cake, maple-yogurt sorbet (60)
The rum baba, soaked in Grand Marnier, is sure to turn the heads of all neighboring tables as the server flambées it before your eyes. It is then topped with an extravagant mound of airy vanilla cream flecked with orange zest. The dose of alcohol is strong enough to make you slightly giddy, but with no danger of feeling as if fire is being poured down your throat.
Savarin chantilly, flambé Grand Marnier (200)
From a certain angle, the Chop Chop Club can feel somewhat old-fashioned. And yet, nothing here tastes old. Everything that comes out of the kitchen dances across the taste buds with vigor and liveliness, the flavors uncomplicated and remarkably easy to love – a thorough departure from the conceptual creations at Ultraviolet. There is nothing fancy or terribly intricate about the cooking here, only a heady, engaging combination of energy, heartiness, and unabashed indulgence, livened up with a touch of Paul Pairet’s whimsical imagination.