Phénix at The PuLi Hotel
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-Fri 12pm-2:30pm; [brunch] Sat-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm; [dinner] Mon-Sun 6pm-10pm
Price: [dinner tasting] 888; [lunch set] 198/248; [à-la-carte] 400-500 (+16.6% tax and service charge)
Visited: November 2018
Will return: Yes
More often than I would like, I find myself nearing the end of a tasting menu and wishing that the restaurant would stick to à-la-carte. The reverse happens too, of course, but far less frequently. One of those rare restaurants where I have been anticipating a foray into tasting menus is Phénix at the PuLi Hotel.
Ever since it opened in 2016, Phénix has been a steady force in Shanghai’s mercurial dining scene. There is something endearing about chef Michael Wilson’s unassuming yet sophisticated approach to French fine dining. Across months, then years, my visits bore witness to the burgeoning consistency and confidence, insight and intuition in Mr. Wilson’s dishes, displayed with an understated flair not often found at hotel restaurants. So his new tasting menu, introduced earlier this fall, feels very much like a logical and natural next step for Phénix, more so than almost any other restaurant I can think of.
A collection of 5 snacks serves to both stimulate the palate and set the tone for the meal. Dollops of clean, briny caviar jolt the taste buds wide awake, with just enough ballast from a golden cracker taking the shape of a billowy seaweed. Delicate cubes of confit smoked salmon in a brittle cone are slightly overwhelmed by the cream on top, but a scattering of gently smoky bottarga unfolds with lyrical elegance over slivers of sweet brown crab and a rich sweet corn custard.
Caviar “seaweed”Smoked salmon coneSweet corn custard tart, brown crab, bottarga, mustard leaf
A perennial favorite transposed from the à-la-carte menu, lollipops of fried frog legs have their soft, succulent flesh punched up with parsley and black garlic; their unapologetic flavors could be a lesson in conviction for a preceding tray of snail puffs.
Fried frog legs, parsley, garlicSnail and garlic puffHouse-baked bread with freshly churned butter
Joining the game of wordless menus — a vogue famously instigated by Gaggan’s emoji menu — Phénix’s tasting menu is a strip of 12 drawings, each representing one dish. Curated by Mr. Wilson himself, these drawings are, for the most part, quite forthcoming.
The most cryptic among the dozen drawings is a fishing net, which turns out to be a rather fitting symbolization for an escabèche of salmon, mackerel, mussel, squid, and octopus that comes in a bundle of vivacity. Their yuzu marinade is reprised by a dollop of yuzu curd, their thrilling acidity held in reluctantly check by a gently smoky bonito aioli. A webbed dome of squid ink cracker forms a more literal interpretation of the fishing net; squid ink doesn’t always translate to flavor and depth, but this one does.
Seafood escabèche, yuzu citrus, bonito aioli, squid ink cracker
The rest of the tasting menu is an amalgam of technique, energy, and perceptiveness. There is a mushroom consommé, made from 15 kinds of mushrooms and infused with Pu’er tea, that delivers clarity and darkness in equal measure. The exquisite broth arrives with proper ceremony, first strained from teapots into little jugs, then poured over raw mushrooms, soft cubes of celeriac, and matchsticks of kohlrabi that fight back just enough to feel alive. Everything in this bowl, from the mushroom to the truffle, is sourced from Yunnan.
Pu’er tea infused consommé, celeriac remoulade, kohlrabi, raw mushrooms
A crescent of seared foie gras holds its form beautifully under the knife, parting neatly to reveal an inviting touch of pink in the center. Its custardy richness feels perfectly at ease beneath layers of parsnip purée, fig jam, and some parsnip chips crowded on top like a lush patch of fungi. The sweetness and earthiness unfurl slowly but surely, livened up with surreptitious tickles of spice.
Seared foie gras, fig jam, parsnip, five-spice
Less restrained is the lamb duet given a distinct North African lilt: spice-rubbed confit lamb loin punchy with cumin, shredded lamb shoulder wrapped in crispy filo, a baton of chickpea panisse for ballast, an intense eggplant purée for darkness, and a vibrant dollop of harissa for an electrifying edge.
Roast and confit lamb, burnt aubergine, harissa, chickpea panisse
I will admit that I have never found the sweets at Phénix quite as compelling as the savories. But the new mozzarella ice cream is as inspired and deliciously restrained a palate cleanser as any I’ve tasted. Made with buffalo mozzarella curd, the rich, smooth ice cream is brought to life with icy orange granita and a whisper of thyme.
Mozzarella ice cream, orange granita, thyme
Then comes the “shattered dream of the perfect vacherin” — a poetic name for a fierce-looking creation of yogurt and strawberry jam studded with shards of meringue and dried strawberries and laced with soft wisps of verbena. It is named for Mr. Wilson’s string of failed attempts at making a meringue globe filled with yogurt and fruit. Looking at what he has crafted in its stead, I can’t say I’m too sorry.
Shattered dream of the perfect vacherin, strawberry, yogurt, verbenaMignardises