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: closed Mon; Tue-Sun 5:30pm-10pm
Price: 500-800 (+10% service charge)
Visited: October 2020
My first impression as I stepped inside Mr & Mrs Bund, freshly reopened in September after a brief late-summer hiatus, was one of mild bemusement: What’s new? As far as I could tell, the room looked almost exactly the same as before, every bit as familiar as long short rib and meunière truffle bread.
As it turned out, the three-week refreshment yielded plenty new, starting with the first menu overhaul since Mr. Paul Pairet opened the restaurant in 2009. Over the past decade, Mr & Mrs Bund has set the bar very high for itself indeed, using a deft but discreet hand to update traditional French brasserie fare.
It may be hard to believe when one is staring down some 40 appetizers on the page, but the revamped menu is actually shorter than before, pared back from over 200 entries to a meager 140. Most of the classics remain (escargots, black cod “in the bag,” lemon & lemon tart); a few have been let go (eggs mimosa, tabbouleh—although both can still be found at Polux, Mr. Pairet’s more casual French eatery in Xintiandi). In any case, there are enough additions on the menu—about 70%, according to the team—that you could find something new every week for quite a while before you would have to repeat yourself.
Try those glistening slices of smoked salmon submerged in oil, paired with a summery minted potato salad. Or the house-made tin octopus, draped with translucent bits of lemon and onion; the thick coins come as close to dissolving as octopus ever has, permeated with an intoxicating fragrance of olive oil, garlic, and oregano.
Lobster fricassée is a source of endless, swirling intricacies; the sauce américaine (a classic French sauce that actually has nothing to do with America) is rewired with a delicate yet persistent waft of lemongrass. More obvious tellings of the story might have ended with bread to mop up the sauce, or perhaps French fries; here, it is completed with a bowl of rice stealthily perfumed with orange peel. It all makes a delicious kind of sense.
The Caesar salad isn’t new, but it has now turned into a stately affair befitting its name. Wheeled over on a trolley, the salad is assembled table-side in a gleaming, pedestaled tub, built up with a steady progression of olive oil, anchovies, Parmesan, lemon juice, croutons, house-cured pancetta, and grilled chicken breast.
The chicory and blue cheese salad is new, and it is marvelous; zesty chicory, crunchy walnuts, tangy blue cheese, and plump raisins all join forces in meticulous balance, reinforced by wafers of toasted, fruit-studded bread. Everything tastes so sure of itself that you could almost see the chef settling into an armchair and steepling his fingers.
For all the changes to the menu, the style of food isn’t all that different from before. Newcomers on the menu exude the same sort of timeless and impeccable indulgence that has always distinguished the cooking here. They might not be particularly original—especially considering that Mr. Pairet’s best-known project is his avant-garde, multisensory restaurant Ultraviolet—but the executions aren’t just thrillingly on point; they have an uncommon ability of being both evocative and precise in the same breath.
Cheese soufflé doesn’t try to break new ground, yet turns out exactly the way you would hope: warm, airy, and heady with gruyère. Crab cocktail nods distantly to those noncommittal martini glasses at American steakhouses, then leaves them behind; tucked in between lush leaves of lettuce and spinach are long strips of crab legs and soft chunks of avocado, accentuated with a crackle of pepper, a captivating dressing of mayonnaise, yogurt, and cognac, and the sunshine brightness of jelly-like tomato seeds.
A warm, weightless ravigote unfurls briskly across sweet parcels of leeks, which have been softened and mellowed over the grill. Fries are made distinctly French with a small bowl of fluffy béarnaise. Even jacket potato becomes unusually appealing with a cascade of sour cream and dill oil.
Not every dining room can make a prime rib feel at home; Mr & Mrs Bund does. One of several daily offerings from the carving trolley, the rosy meat is ringed with a glazed, peppery crust, and served alongside a zippy butter lettuce salad to provide some relief.
The grill is featured heavily on the new menu, responsible for about two dozen meats and seafoods. Much of the meat comes from a newly installed aging cabinet, which is one of the most obvious alterations to the space. Set at the far end of the banquet table, the fridge is stocked with vermilion blocks of meat that seem to beckon across the room.
A long seafood bar has replaced the former aperitif bar, which has been relocated into a spacious alcove. Behind the shellfish-laden counter sit not one, but four fish tanks, to accommodate different sea creatures with varying preferences of water temperature and salinity. The menu helpfully assembles these shellfish into increasingly extravagant seafood towers, starting with the “basic” Bund Tower (oysters, clams, poached whelks, and tiger shrimps, augmented with olive oil, aioli, two vinaigrettes, and chili sauce). From there, you can add on a variety of scallops, crabs, lobsters, and caviar, until you zoom past “Master of the World” and graduate “Jedi of the Galaxy.”
Mr & Mrs Bund’s precise source of allure isn’t always readily apparent. The dishes aren’t particularly refined—at least, not in the way that intricate-looking, elaborately garnished plates can be refined. But they can possess a kind of raw and electric appeal, which is often expressed in the language of fire.
Thin, yielding slices of beef tongue crisscrossed with grill marks taste of nothing so much as flames and smoke; most memorable among its trio of condiments is a bracing pot of grain mustard amplified with granules of beef and a rich jus. The shiitake mushrooms jutting out from a stump like little tacks have been resurrected from the Chop Chop Club, charred with a blowtorch and pulsing with lemon. Another Chop Chop Club alum is the octopus leg; simply equipped with lemon and soy aioli, the octopus is so ridiculously tender underneath the fiercely charred exterior that you might suspect sorcery. This is a classic Paul Pairet exercise in essentialism.
The reworked menu is said to be inspired by French brasseries, London grills, as well as New York steakhouses, and there are distinct echos of all three. Yet more than anything else, it is, still, uniquely Mr & Mrs Bund. Just as when I first encountered this Bund veteran all those years ago, the kitchen steadfastly delivers a familiar brand of compelling, restorative cooking with an abundance of style and self-assurance.
Both are evident in the soufflés, offered in dark chocolate or Grand Marnier. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we are obliged to wait another minute once they arrive at the table, and watch as they are tipped out of their ramekin onto a plate, flambéed, carved with two deep ravines, then piped full of chocolate or passion fruit foam. It probably took the kitchen quite a few broken trial soufflés to get here. But out in the dining room, each spoonful just dissolves into effortless bliss.