Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire
Add: 2/F Capella Hotel, 480 Jianguo Xi Road 建国西路480号，建业里 Capella 酒店2楼
Tel: +86 (21) 5466 9928
Hours: [breakfast] 7am-10:30am, [lunch] 11:30am-2pm, [afternoon tea] 2:30pm-4:30pm, [dinner] 5:30pm-10:30pm
Price: [dinner] 400-800
Visited: August 2017
Will return: Yes
Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire is not a fine dining restaurant, although the starched white tablecloth and polished Christofle silverware seem to suggest otherwise. But the tables are set a little closer than they would be in a fine dining restaurant. And as the night goes on and the restaurant fills up, the vibe becomes lively and buoyant, the room bubbling with voices and energy like a fresh glass of champagne.
The cooking, too, takes a deliberate step away from the elaborate creations at Mr. Gagnaire’s many fine dining restaurants around the world. The menu is a decidedly bistro-casual mix, filled with pâtés and cocottes and unassuming generosity.
There is an eggplant terrine, whose somewhat haphazard appearance belies its eloquence. The eggplant’s sharpness is softened, while its depth and earthiness are magnified, lingering long after the plate is cleared. The rich terrine is brightened with salty ribbons of San Daniele ham and zesty crescents of cherry tomatoes.
Eggplant terrine Gordes, San Daniele ham (118)
The roasted pluma pig reveals little sleights-of-hand with each bite. The sweet depth of the glaze is lightened with a gentle underpinning of sage, while a spark of brightness comes in the form of a tangy blackcurrant and red cabbage marmalade that pops with lightening bolts of coarsely cracked pepper.
Roasted and glazed pluma pig, blackcurrant-flavored red cabbage marmalade (198)
A sea salt grilled sea bream is served with red quinoa and a subtly citrusy Beurre Nantais. The quinoa is unremarkable, but the sauce is hearty and moreish, and, together with petals of pickled onion, helps hide the slight fishiness of the sea bream.
Sea salt grilled sea bream, red quinoa, onion petals, Beurre Nantais (188)
The kitchen is helmed by chef Romain Chapel, and appears to be untethered by tradition and unconcerned with definition. Every now and then, the cooking reaches far beyond the borders of France, yet nothing comes across as disjointed or out of place.
White miso is employed to sharpen the delicate umami of abalone and the decadent richness of foie gras. The abalone has a little too much bite, but the velvety smooth potato purée is fantastic.
Abalone filet, roasted duck foie gras, potato purée with white miso (195)
Manchego cheese gives depth and a hint of darkness to a lamb loin wrapped in herb crepinette, while a bed of Tchatchouka, a Middle Eastern vegetable stew, adds complexity and dimension. The lamb tastes mellow at first, carrying just a fraction of the meat’s usual potency, but the flavors build with each bite like a strand of steadily thickening pearls.
Fresh herbs lamb crepinette, grilled cabbage and Manchego, Tchatchouka (268)
A lobster fricassée is already wonderful on its own, the glistening flesh holding sweetness and umami in spades. When joined by the couscous underneath, which, though a tad greasy, sings with sweetness from bits of apples and raisins and whispers of cinnamon, the plate becomes magical.
Ginger-flavored lobster fricassée, cinnamon-spiced wheat semolina, apple dice (408)
Some of the dishes are markedly modern and gently adventurous, like the sweet crab stacked upon translucent slices of pineapple carpaccio. The pineapple’s zesty acidity is mellowed out with undercurrents of dill and mango purée, while cubes of carrot give bite and a flicker of earthiness.
Pressed crab, dill-flavored pineapple carpaccio, carrot foam (138)
At the other end of the spectrum, a rare glimpse of extravagance and flair appears in the form of a poached egg smothered with Oscietra caviar, both of which hold no surprises in themselves. But the accompanying Champagne sauce lingers for so long on the tongue that its echo seems to glimmer in the air for an interminable moment before dissipating, its delicate depth a perfect compliment to the caviar’s mineral brininess.
Poached egg at 63°C, Oscietra caviar, Champagne sauce (488)
Dessert menu takes some classic French staples, and gives them just enough twists and turns to be memorable. Profiteroles are filled with a rich praline ice cream and galvanized by a strong dose of alcohol from a Calvados infused fudge. Palet Guimet, an indulgent creation of almond sponge cake, almond meringue, and pastry cream, is livened up with gentle flourishes of Kirsch.
Profiteroles: Praline profiteroles and caramelized hazelnuts, Dulcey chocolate ganache, Calvados flavored fudge (70)
Palet Guimet: Biscuit Joconde, biscuit succès, kirsch flavored paresseuse cream, fresh raspberry marmelade (70)
Some of the more inventive desserts already taste like classics in the making. The Chocolate Comptoir #0001 is an expertly layered creation of chocolate and passion fruit, coming together seamlessly in a swirling symphony of bitterness, sweetness, and acidity.
Chocolate Comptoir #0001: Caraïbes chocolate ganache, smoked Weiss chocolate ice cream, passion fruit custard cream (80)
Nougat Montélimar, the classic Provençal sweet, takes on a new form with a frozen, semifreddo-like texture. The coolness of the frozen nougat is refreshing, as is the contrast in texture from the crunchy praline on top, but I wish the flickers of apricot, rosemary, and ginger were more of a statement than an allusion.
Montélimar: Frozen nougat Montélimar, apricot and rosemary syrup (80)
The kitchen and the front of house work together to bring things down to an unassuming pitch. The cooking shows finesse, but tastes effortless and approachable. The service is professional and attentive, but also warm and amicable enough to put us at ease in the slightly formal surroundings.
The level of antithesis found throughout Le Comptoir is fascinating: French vs. global, traditional vs. modern, bistro-style cooking against gleaming silverware, casual vibe among starched white tablecloths. But despite these contrasts – and sometimes because of them – Le Comptoir does laid-back refinement better than possibly anywhere else in town.