Phénix Eatery and Bar
Add: 2/F The PuLi Hotel and Spa, 1 Chang De Road, Shanghai 常德路1号，璞麗酒店2楼
Tel: +86 (21) 2216 6988
Hours: [lunch] Mon-Sat 12:00pm-2:30pm; [brunch] Sun 11:30am-2:30pm; [dinner] Mon-Sun 6:00pm-10:00pm
Price: [lunch set] RMB188/218; [à-la-carte] RMB350-550 (+16.6% tax and service charge)
Visited: May 2017
Will return: Yes
Phénix at the PuLi Hotel barely ruffled the waters of Shanghai’s dining scene before it received a Michelin star last September. Since my first visit a year ago, I have returned every now and then, but the food never touched me enough to inspire a second write-up. Yet a few dishes I tasted last week from its new spring menu invite another review.
Starters have always been one of Phénix’s stronger suits. One of the most stunning additions to the menu was the lettuce gazpacho, a veritable balm for the soul in the rising summer heat. The verdant gazpacho was poured around an island of Atlantic brown crab crowned with crystals of granita, perked up with dill, cucumber, and flecks of chili oil that transformed into a gentle murmur on the tongue. The balance of sweetness, acidity, and heat was nuanced and precise, coming together in a refreshing bowl humming with energy.
Lettuce gazpacho, Atlantic brown crab, cucumber, whey (110)
Just as robust, a vibrant plate of grilled zucchini sang under the accompaniment of tangy goat cheese, sweet black currants, and a salty shaving of cured egg yolk. The curls of dried zucchini flowers were a surprising delight, their chewy texture and quiet fragrance creating an unexpected dimension.
Grilled zucchini, fromage blanc, black currant, pine nut, cured egg yolk (90)
The sweet and gelatinous raw langoustines were another standout, served atop a bed of chawanmushi spiked with bone marrow. The langoustine broth, poured table-side, had a clean but profound depth, picking up a hint of smoke and darkness from kernels of toasted barley. Less noteworthy was the plate of white asparagus. The tender stalks stayed just on the right side of crunchy, and the crème fraîche infused with chamomile and lemon peel was an interesting touch, but ultimately easily forgotten.
Raw langoustine, bone marrow royale, barley, langoustine essence (140)
Photo credit: Alexan
White asparagus, chamomile, crème fraîche, lemon peel (90)
Quite possibly the best thing I’ve tasted at Phénix, the pristine fillet of black cod produced endless excitement, gleaming seductively beneath papery sheets of abalone. Balance is too inadequate a term to describe how the cod fell into startling alignment with the sweet depth of abalone, the smooth lining of fennel cream, and the bright, citrusy foam of bergamot, and how the abalone provided just enough bite to ground the delicate fish. This was a dish that tasted exactly as transporting as it looked, the kind of dish that brings a smile to your face.
Black cod, abalone, peas, bergamot, fennel (295)
The John Dory, on the other hand, gave us fewer reasons to smile, what with the soggy-skinned fish, the slightly overcooked tiger prawns, and a sauce that tasted nowhere near as vibrant as it looked. The menu advertised a “spring barigoule”, but the plate tasted as if everyone had settled down for a long winter’s nap – except for the buttery pommes Anna, whose crust broke beneath my knife with a satisfying crunch.
John Dory, spring vegetables barigoule, pommes Anna, tiger prawn (180)
From the meat section, the aged duck breast left me feeling somewhat ambivalent. The flavors were interesting enough, with shoestrings of fried shallot adding a sweet depth, and emeralds of halved grapes bringing out the mineral richness of the duck in unexpectedly delightful ways. But the duck breast itself left much to be desired, the fat under-rendered and blubbery, the meat overcooked and turning grey in parts.
Aged duck breast, duck heart, onion, grapes, Fino sherry jus (170)
The slow-cooked chicken also provoked mixed feelings. The glistening strips of white meat were perfectly moist and tender, but tasted rather bland and unmemorable. The stout cylinders of thigh meat, however, wowed with its rich and succulent flesh, gaining some crunch and smoke from a wrapping of pancetta.
Slow-cooked chicken, pancetta, peas, asparagus, morel mushroom (200)
Phénix doesn’t have a pastry chef, so I am willing to be a little more lenient when it comes to desserts. Even so, whatever line of reasoning led them to put the mille-feuille on the menu and charge RMB95 for it needs to be re-examined. The green dots of Chartreuse jelly were interesting, creating a mild burn at the end, but the pastry was dry and the cream a little grainy. The whole thing looked somewhat sad and forlorn on the plate, miles away from the mille-feuille at Bistro le Bec.
Monastic mille-feuille, crème diplomate, Chartreuse jelly (95)
The violet ice cream was more pleasant, served with a quenelle of chocolate pudding, delicious shards of blueberry meringue, and a fragrant violet consommé.
Violet ice cream, chocolate crémeux, blueberry, cocoa (95)
My recent experience at Phénix felt like a roller coaster ride, with exhilarating highs interspersed with depressing glitches. Still, the lettuce gazpacho and black cod were compelling enough that I would return just for those two dishes alone.