Add: 1455 Wu Ding Xi Road 武定西路1455号
Tel: +86 (21) 6225 7088
Hours: closed Sun; Mon-Sat 6:30pm-10:30pm
Visited: September 2017
Will return: Yes
An institution of French cooking in Shanghai if ever there was one, Le Bouchon is the oldest French restaurant in the city, and has been serving up French classics for longer than many of us have lived here. After a brief hiatus this summer, Le Bouchon has reopened its doors just in time for its 20th anniversary, with a new management team and a revamped menu.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Le Bouchon’s brand of old-school, no-frills, homestyle French cooking. The menu reads like the table of contents in a French cookbook that has been lost in the mail for a couple of decades: pork pâté, escargots, foie gras au torchon, onion soup, Cordon Bleu, filet Rossini, crème brûlée… These straightforward staples of French cooking are a rarity in Shanghai, and Le Bouchon does them justice.
A dozen escargots is as good a place to start as any. The tender snails take on an intoxicating fragrance from a butter flavored with parsley and lots of garlic, finished with a slug of cream. A few button mushrooms scattered among the snails are unexpected standouts, their juicy, meaty flesh bursting with flavor.
Snails with mushrooms and garlic parsley butter (108)
The humble-looking lentils soup grows on you with each spoonful, galvanized by bits of lardon that pop up like hidden treasures. True to its French name “petit salé,” which means “a little salty,” the soup has just enough flavor to keep you going back for more without weighing you down.
Lentils soup, lardons and onions (68)
A unanimous favorite is the chicken in a Riesling cream sauce. The dish isn’t so much about the tender chicken legs as it is an excuse to take a spoon and sip the perfectly composed cream sauce with its undercurrents of herbs and a wonderfully delicate depth from the wine. Rich and light at the same time, the sauce is a lot more energetic than the homey-looking cocotte would lead you to believe. We didn’t even come close to finishing the generously portioned dish – a theme across the evening – but if we did, we would have been scraping the bottom of the pot with their excellent baguette.
Casserole of chicken in Riesling wine and cream sauce (180)
The salmon en papillote is also good, but pales slightly next to the chicken. Unlike the rich cream sauce in the chicken casserole, this sauce is light and barely coats the spoon, but still manages to surprise us with its complexity, and a depth of flavor drawn from the salmon’s juices. The salmon itself could use a touch more seasoning to bring out its sweetness, but the seared scallops on top are flavorful.
Salmon en papillote, scallops (200)
To finish, the warm apple cinnamon roll is an excellent choice. Rolled in the buttery pastry is a sweet, tart apple filling laced with an insistent dose of cinnamon.
Warm apple cinnamon roll (68)
The melting heart chocolate fondant is also expertly done, with a crunchy crust encasing a rich chocolate lava. The ice cream on top provides the obligatory contrast in temperature, while an orange caramel adds an unexpected dimension in texture.
Melting heart chocolate fondant, orange caramel (68)
Le Bouchon offers the kind of simple, hearty food that you’d crave on a cold winter evening, but it is just as welcome any other time of the year. The kitchen clearly knows what it is doing, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The dining room feels like the inside of a cozy cabin. Like the cooking that takes place inside, the space exudes a rustic charm that seems to transport us through space and time. Early in the evening, the atmosphere can be quiet and a little sleepy. But that is not its usual state.