Table d’Hôte at Mr & Mrs Bund

Add: 6/F Bund 18, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, Shanghai 中山东一路18号 外滩十八号6楼
Phone: +86 (21) 6323 9898
Hours: every Fri & Sat, at 6:30pm
Price: 450 / dinner, welcome drink & 2 glasses of wine (+10% service charge)
Visited: October 2019
Recommend: Yes

“Sorry, but you can’t sit down yet.” That is obviously not something guests like to hear at any restaurant. Yet it was precisely what we were told one recent evening at Mr & Mrs Bund, the decade-old modern French restaurant by Chef Paul Pairet — all while our table was clearly unoccupied.

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Rather than feeling miffed, we were merely curious. We gamely milled around the bar over our Aperol spritz, chatted about this and that, and waited for the green light.

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As the clock ticked over to 7 p.m., we were summoned to the table. “No, no, don’t sit yet.” Instead, our hosts gathered us at one end of the long banquet table, and proceeded to reveal a hulking pillow of focaccia-baguette crossover flecked with rosemary and sea salt, whose crust crackled enticingly as it was sliced.

IMG_4424-EditIMG_4432-EditFocaccia-baguette

The little ritual of breaking bread was fittingly symbolic here, as we were about to share our dinner with around a dozen other guests, most of them strangers. This is Mr & Mrs Bund’s new “social table” concept, whereby every Friday and Saturday, at seven o’clock sharp, 16 guests are seated at a long banquet table in the middle of Mr & Mrs Bund’s sprawling dining room, and treated to an undisclosed menu of Gallic delights. The program is called Table d’Hôte, French for “host’s table,” which seems to make Mr. and Mrs. Bund our gracious, if mysterious hosts. They don’t appear at the table themselves, but their proxies, the restaurant’s hospitable service team, take very good care of their guests, stewarding the evening with both expertise and style.

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The table, when we finally sat down after some thirty minutes of getting-to-know-you, was already laden with a spread of appetizers that read like a hit parade of Mr & Mrs Bund classics. There was the “smoked salmon essential,” elegantly equipped with lemon, sea salt, and a small pot of crème fraîche laced with a fair amount of dill. There were those deceptively plain-looking eggs mimosa, in which the kitchen deploys the ubiquitous tuna-mayo blend to tantalizing effect, punched up even further with a bracing curl of anchovy, and a pool of vividly orange tomato dressing that seemed to sparkle with its brisk acidity.

IMG_4434-EditEgg “mimosa”

IMG_4428-EditIMG_4438-EditSmoked salmon essential

A hefty block of pâté de campagne didn’t need anything beyond the sharp zip of cornichons and slow burn of mustard, and that was all it got, no bells or whistles. Little cups of escargot were right on key, too, almost intoxicatingly fragrant in their puddles of garlic-parsley butter. Even butterhead lettuce was made unusually engaging with a vivacious sherry vinegar dressing.

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IMG_4444-EditEscargots garlic parsley

The wonderfully rugged French onion soup, something I order almost every time I visit Mr. Pairet’s all-day cafe Polux, was served at Table d’Hôte in a huge cocotte, beneath a blanket of cheese melting luxuriously into thick-cut croutons. Would sharing make it taste better? It just might.

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For all the alchemy at Ultraviolet that Mr. Pairet is best known for, he seems to reserve a fondness for the comforts of simple cooking, tucked into the folds of Mr & Mrs Bund, Polux, and the much-loved but unfortunately short-lived Chop Chop Club. Even Ultraviolet serves a BLT sandwich. That back-to-basics inclination was on display at Table d’Hôte, too: the dishes were under no illusions of grandness or self-importance, and the same goes for the two wines included in the menu — one white, one red, both unfussy and easy to drink.

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As with a dinner party, we only found out what we were eating after we sat down. To keep the surprise alive, the menu will be changed regularly, which is why I have no qualms about sharing ours here. Whether by choice or happenstance, our dinner was so unapologetically classic it could almost be a parody of the stereotypical French table. Yet in true Pairet fashion, the charm of those French classics was turned up to eleven.

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Case in point: the quietly spectacular sea bass, which arrived at the table packed in dough, looking like an oversized Pop-Tart. Once liberated from its crust, the pristine, succulent fish was plated with nothing more than a drizzle of lemon olive oil, and served with a glass bowl of Béarnaise and a pot of garlic mashed potato on the side. It was, in all likelihood, the best sea bass I have ever had, made all the more bewitching by its pared-back simplicity.

IMG_4451-EditIMG_4455-EditSea bassIMG_4478-EditSea salt sea bass

The roast beef was another pinnacle of its genre, sparingly coated in peppercorns, and blushing pink beneath its dark brown crust. This was accompanied by a plate of garlic and soy-tinged spinach that could convert even the most adamant spinach-hater, as well as a cocotte of potato gratin Savoyard. “It’s the same as gratin dauphinois, but with more cheese,” one of our hosts quipped. The actual recipes, according to Google, were a little more different than that, but it was quite a lot of cheese. And probably butter, too. No one was complaining.

IMG_4479-EditIMG_4485-EditIMG_4489-EditTenderloin roast beef

IMG_4473-EditIMG_4472-EditSpinach garlic Asiate; Garlic mash

Table d’Hôte is a new program for Mr & Mrs Bund, rolled out just this month. But the ideas behind it — communal table, shared dining experience, secret, no-choice menu — aren’t new for the Pairet team by any means. Mr. Pairet took all three principles as far as they could conceivably go at Ultraviolet, then dialed back and modified some of them at Chop Chop Club.

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On paper, Table d’Hôte sounds a little like those supper club concepts that have been picking up steam over the past few years. Yet our evening flowed on with less self-consciousness than supper clubs often carried. Everything felt so nonchalant and familiar that when our hosts, at one point, described it as “grandmother’s table,” it didn’t feel far off the mark — that is, if our grandmothers could manage the level of exquisite precision that Mr & Mrs Bund turns out on a daily basis. In many ways, the whole dinner seemed designed to evoke the easy joys and emotional comfort of those long, leisurely meals in the family dining room: from breaking into a freshly baked bread, to carving up the roast beef, to the bowl of fruit salad — vitamin C! — at meal’s end.

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Still, we would be at least a little disappointed if that fruit salad (bright and spirited with lime, mint, and lemon balm) was all we were having for dessert. We needn’t have worried, because Mr & Mrs Bund pulled out all the stops with a ridiculously magnificent baked Alaska. This masterpiece of soft cream, crunchy meringue, and heady rum raisin ice cream isn’t offered on Mr & Mrs Bund’s regular menu. That alone is reason enough for me to visit Table d’Hôte again as soon as possible.

IMG_4510-EditRhum raisin baked Alaska

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Posted by:journeys of a gourmand

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