Add: 6/F, Bund 5, 20 Guang Dong Road, Shanghai 广东路20号，外滩5号6楼
Tel: +86 (21) 5383 2031
Visited: October 2017
Will return: Yes
A penchant for neon signs and a distaste for restraint characterize the newly redesigned interior of Daimon Gastrolounge (formerly known as Daimon Bistro). Everything glows, blue, green, or purple under the technicolored neon lights that take up what little overhead space is unoccupied by bare beams and naked pipelines. The den-like space is a scene taken straight out of a sci-fi movie, eerie and unearthly.
As your eyes slowly adjust to the assault of colors, you start to notice other details: the eroding AC vents partly obscured by hanging vines, the ghostly outlines of undershirts swaying lazily from the ceiling, the peeling ad posters glued to the wall, the rebellious splashes of graffiti adding their voice to the already giddy color scheme.
All this is meant to be an impression of Kowloon City, and is clearly designed by someone who strongly believes that “more is more.” It is not exactly the real Kowloon City, but rather the place as you’d remember it six months after you visit, all those little details that caught your eye crammed into one room, all its clamorous anarchy magnified until its borders on overwhelming.
The cooking, on the other hand, steers well clear of anarchy. Although Daimon Gastrolounge bills its style of cooking as “fusion” — one of those buzzwords that warrant a certain degree of alarm these days — the food doesn’t taste busy or unfocused. Its roots are firmly grounded in Cantonese and Shanghainese classics, inflected with just enough twists and turns to hold our attention.
In a take on one of Shanghai’s longtime breakfast staples, the xiao long baos burst in your mouth in a familiar explosion of rich, sumptuous broth. But I doubt your morning treat from the street-side vendor would be crimson in color, or that the filling would remind you of Singaporean black pepper crab. The blend of crab and pork is laced with just enough heat to register.
Chili crab xiao long bao (48 for 3 pcs)
Skewers of roasted pork neck are subtly curried, with just a whiff of spices to underscore the fat that melts sensually on the tongue. Juicy cubes of Wagyu beef draw their energy from a quietly expressive peanut sauce, although the same can’t be said about the skewers of chicken, whose tender flesh is dragged down by squiggles of citrus honey that are almost cloyingly sweet when they should be more tangy and savory.
HK style lemon chicken (58), Wagyu beef satay (58), Spicy Macau pork neck (58)
Char siu buns with a wonderfully flavorsome filling are raised from anonymity by a Mexican milk bun, on which a coat of fine powder does the work of the cookie top on Cantonese pineapple buns. All of this tastes almost familiar, but not quite, and it is the little differences that get under your skin.
Char Siu Buns (32)
But the food can be just as vigorous when it sticks closer to home. One of the signatures at Daimon that has been on the menu since day one is the cherry duck, marinated in à-la-Cantonese and then roasted Peking duck-style. The amalgam of techniques combines the best of both worlds, producing richly flavorsome meat beneath marvelously crunchy skin.
Daimon cherry duck (178)
At the other end of the spectrum, the turbot ceviche sails out of the realm of Chinese classics and into unchartered territories. But the flavors are restrained enough that the deviation doesn’t jar your palette. The delicate citrus, the tickles of heat, and a barest whisper of coconut accentuate the sweet fish, and stop there.
Turbot ceviche (96)
Daimon Gastrolounge’s cooking is not trying to make a statement. Chef-owner Alvin Leung has already made a statement at his flagship restaurant Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, and at its mainland cousin Bo Shanghai, both of which specialize in building grand, loquacious narratives.
But a good menu doesn’t require a narrative to hang together. And having proved at the two Bo restaurants that he can pull off wildly original things with Chinese cooking, Mr. Leung is free to serve something a little less ambitious and a lot less conceptual at Daimon Gastrolounge. The menu sweeps across China, Southeast Asia, Europe, and South America, but the outcome is effortless and free-spirited — something we may want to eat every day, rather than a ceremony reserved for special occasions.
It is hard to juggle so many strands of culinary influence without some of them falling apart, yet the ones at Daimon Gastrolounge hold together. But I find Daimon’s brand of globalism most eloquent when it is invisible, when it takes its cues not the flavors of other regions, but from their underlying tenets. A distinctive Southeast Asian tension of saltiness, acidity, and heat finds its way into some plain-looking siu mais. The fiery heat is like a balloon being inflated toward its breaking point, swallowing the mellow fragrance of kaffir lime leaf and expanding with a sense of inevitability until the crunchy sweetness of water chestnut comes to the rescue.
Cheng Du spicy beef siu mai (33 for 4 pcs)
Much of Daimon’s global inspiration is expressed in the language of textures. Cantonese clay pot rice is saved from ordinariness by a runny egg yolk, which becomes invisible once the waiter stirs it into the rice. But it manifests itself on your tongue as a layer of richness that coats every single grain of fluffy, fragrant rice, broken up by salty shards of Iberico ham.
Classic HK clay pot rice (88)
Tender pieces of squid are sheathed in the thinnest shroud of batter imaginable, while a sharper crunch comes in the form of crispy cornflakes scattered in between. A green sauce of Thai chili and kaffir lime leaf makes a slow, deliberate entrance. The heat unspools, grows bolder, until the tongue buzzes with its force.
Under bridge squid (88)
The kitchen folds scraps of molecular technique into their rendition of yang zhi gan lu, a classic Cantonese dessert whose original form has an almost liquid consistency. The familiar flavors are intriguingly reconstructed into a symphony of textures, little coconut milk bombs piled onto smooth mango mousse, accentuated by citrusy, bitter bursts of grapefruit.
Yang Zhi Gan Lu (mango, pomelo, coconut milk) (68)
Less exciting are the sticky rice balls, whose pine nut filling is a little stingy and one-dimensional. But the persistent undertone of cinnamon in the broth brings a delightful, mulled wine-like warmth that will be very welcome in the cold weather ahead.
Pine nut sticky rice ball (48 for 3 pcs)
It is a sign of well-conceived fusion when edges blur and boundaries dissolve. Daimon Gastrolounge does just that. The flavors are active without seeming frantic, flirting with chaos every now and then, but never toppling over. The restaurant has something any number of fusion restaurants don’t: the sensibility of chefs who truly understand the cuisines they are trying to merge.