Heritage by Madison
Add: 1/F Bund Financial Center, 600 Zhongshan Dong Er Road, Shanghai 中山东二路600号 BFC外滩金融中心北区1楼
Phone: +86 (21) 6312 9089
Price: [lunch set] ~100; [dinner] 250-450
Visited: November 2019
One of my greatest joys as a food writer is to trace the gradual ascent of a particular chef or restaurant. In pursuit of this joy, I try to remain optimistic when a new restaurant initially fails to impress, holding out hope that whatever went wrong was just teething issues, nothing a good team can’t remedy. Often, this would turn out to be wishful thinking; in the case of Heritage by Madison, however, I was handsomely rewarded.
Much of the buzz surrounding Heritage by Madison, opened by Mr. Austin Hu at BFC in early April, was fueled by a sense of nostalgia for the original Madison, the chef’s first restaurant in Shanghai and one of the city’s earliest brunch hotspots. Yet my first encounter with Heritage, about two months into its soft opening, wasn’t quite what I expected. While it was immediately obvious that Heritage had plenty of nice ideas, many of them still felt coarse around the edges — which made it all the more gratifying when the kitchen got it right the second time around, and then every time since.
On that first visit, I discovered an electrifying combination of snow pear, sesame, ginger, and pickled garlic shoot, yet their jauntiness inadvertently drowned out a beef tartare — you know what they say about too much of a good thing. Over time, their energy dimmed from a clamor to a steady thrum, allowing the subtle iron tang of raw beef to peek through.
Beef tartare, snow pear, sesame, ginger, mustard (98)
A duck ragu spaghetti was said to be inspired by Beijing’s zhajiangmian, but the connection, and the expected robustness, were initially lost on me, when both black garlic and fermented bean paste seemed to be late to the flavor party. The next time I had this, about a month later, they got their point across much more readily.
Duck spaghetti alla chitara, doubanjiang, black garlic, stracciatella (98)
So yes, it might have taken Heritage a few months to settle. When it did, though, it settled beautifully, into a loose patchwork of curious-minded ideas, united by a gentle Asian bent and an unbridled spirit. Mr. Hu matches warm florets of dark rye mantous with a cool streak of smooth, edamame-based hummus that puts chickpeas in imminent risk of unemployment. He whips up a white miso chimichurri to go with his koji-aged bavette, building a subtle duet of fermentation that echos and multiplies.
Golden rye mantou with edamame hummus (32)
Aged USDA prime bavette, white miso chimichurri, beef jus (198)
He lays pinkish slow-cooked salmon — a fragile thing that splinters into glistening petals at the barest hint of pressure — on a bed of shiitake and julienned snow peas, which he stir-fries in soy sauce and brown butter. He sets sweet mussels in a resoundingly excellent risotto, tinged green with bok choy and gently punched up with slivers of Iberico ham; any Shanghainese would immediately identify this as that reassuring childhood staple caifan. Thank goodness I didn’t give up on Heritage after my first visit.
Slow cooked salmon, snow peas, shiitake, brown butter soy dressing (98)
Mussels, caifan risotto, 5J jamon (188)
Granted, regular diners may have few incentives to glance back after an initial disappointment, especially in a dining scene that moves so quickly. Yet Mr. Hu’s track record over the past decade invites a second look. From the original Madison on Dongping Road, to his fantastic sandwich shop Madison Kitchen and the all-American diner called Diner, to the various menus he concocted for other F&B concepts around town, Mr. Hu’s work has always been reliably outstanding.
And if my half dozen visits in as many months are anything to go by, Heritage is coming into its own, too. The latest menu change is as sure a sign as any, where every addition seems to be right on key: soft veal crusted in warm, scintillating spices; chilled eggplant galvanized by black vinegar, then rounded out with deep, smoky romesco and a generous scattering of sesame; halved Brussel sprouts fiercely charred, perked up with green apple, pickled chili, shaved Gruyère, and a handful of hickory nuts for a hint of sweetness.
Spiced veal, carrot, pepita, mimolette (168)
Chilled eggplant, romesco, almonds, sesame, black vinegar (58)
Charred Brussel sprouts, green apple, pickled red chili, Gruyère, hickory nuts (68)
If you were at all familiar with Mr. Hu’s earlier restaurants, you would, most likely, be surprised at this apparently new affinity for vegetables at Heritage. Once you’ve tasted those vegetables, you might find yourself wondering instead why those previous restaurants didn’t put vegetables in the spotlight.
Because Mr. Hu is indisputably good at vegetables. He makes an unusually engaging salad with crunchy dragon beans and soft butter beans, slicked with an onsen egg, as well as a house-made laoganma that hums with an undercurrent of fermentation. Thin slices of cauliflower, lightly battered and fried, are treated to a rather inspired riff on familiar sweet-sour flavors, perked up with a trio of mint, chili, and chocolate gastrique that bursts like miniature fireworks.
Dragon beans, butter beans, onsen egg, house laoganma, crispy bacon (72)
General Hu’s cauliflower, chocolate gastrique, mint, chili (78)
Heritage’s menu isn’t long, strictly confined to a single page, yet its contents are constantly shifting. Even dishes that work aren’t exempt from the kitchen’s restless tinkering. On my most recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the dark rye mantous had lost their tightness — something I noticed in previous encounters, but didn’t mind too much; yet I certainly appreciate the way they now open up more easily to the fragrant edamame hummus.
I skipped over a seared cod dish on a summer visit, intending to try it at a later date. When I finally got around to it about a month later, the original cast of kimchi and daikon was gone, replaced by the deeper flavors of chorizo and black bean that built heavily like pearls on a string. The fruit compote alongside a silky foie gras parfait is just as delightfully in tune with the season: mulberry in early summer, followed by cherry, and then a spiced hawthorn as fall arrives. Those bright fruits and a paving of almond streusel work together to interrupt the foie gras richness with polite insistence.
Seared cod, chorizo, baby corn, Arctic shrimp, black bean (128)
Foie gras mousse, mulberry, kaffir lime, almond streusel, brioche (128)
Some of Mr. Hu’s dishes hit their stride right off the bat, and just kept on striding. His pork belly is a triumph of cookery: the meat dissolves with ease, and the fat melts into nothing; the skin is outrageously puffed and crunchy, like chicharron. Pointed bolts of mustard cut through the heaviness, as does some crunchy kimchi laced with enough sesame to light up the whole plate.
Crispy pork belly, day kimchi, housemade mustard (118)
The Chongqing hot chicken at Heritage is the best hot chicken I’ve had since leaving Nashville; its rush of chili heat is felt more than tasted, reverberating deep and strong like the toll of a bell. Chicken breast gets turned into a wonder of golden skin and achingly succulent flesh, spun through with a steady whiff of smoke. I have yet to tire of these, and I don’t imagine I ever will.
Chongqing hot chicken, chili oil, avocado (88)
Tea smoked Sanhuang chicken, XO aioli, sesame salt (98)
For about two months after Heritage opened — or, technically, soft-opened — there wasn’t a dessert menu, so the servers would bring out plates of chocolate chip cookies (crunchy, airy, and dangerously good) as a delicious form of apology.
When desserts finally started showing up, they could be so marvelous that I easily forgave the kitchen for taking their time. An intensely chocolaty baked chocolate mousse contrasts intriguingly with its light texture. A rice pudding is lightened with a mound of soft cream on top, and punched up with raisins that have been vigorously soaked in rum. The Taiwanese pineapple pastry fenglisu is deconstructed, consisting of buttery, crumbly pastry, pineapple jam, candied pineapple crisps, and, best of all, sugar cubes made with winter gourd.
Baked chocolate mousse, banana, osmanthus, vanilla (58)
Chilled saffron rice pudding, barley, candied citrus, sea salt crème (48)
Pineapple cake, salted duck yolk crème, candied pineapple (58)
A few things on the menu taste like the beginnings of some great desserts, but perhaps not the end, like a tasty yet slightly gummy chocolate terrine, or a wonderfully smooth panna cotta that feels somewhat out of step with the accompanying citrus sharpness. Still, I’m sure that like a lot of things at Heritage, they would get better with time.
Hazelnut chocolate terrine, Pu’er Anglaise, hazelnut tuile, matcha (48)
Panna cotta, passion fruit, mint oil, fresh fruit (48)