By Benjamin Cost
While “French” and “affordable” are not often found in the same sentence, they are aptly paired at the recently opened Brasserie La Fourchette. The first solo venture from restaurateur Franck Krynen (who brought the award-winning Wagas cafes to Shanghai), La Fourchette is located in the French concession, and is designed to be “a place for the people”, that would be relaxed, accessible, and kind enough to refrain from eating a hole through your wallet.
Intrigued by the seemingly paradoxic prospect of gorging on top-shelf french cuisine that wouldn’t devour your yuan, we headed to La Fourchette to see if it lived up to its rep.
The atmosphere seamlessly melds the plain with the ostentatious. A 15m long bar and a wine cellar which bisects the general seating area prevents the decor from being labeled “underdone.” However, the simple white floors and ceiling, the uniformly square furniture, along with the blackboard containing messily-scribbled specials keep it modestly classy. And keeping with the “accessible but not cheap” theme, it’s fully-glazed front allows the diner to people-watch without being immersed in the sounds and smells of the street.
All three carte du jours, lunch, brunch and dinner, feature imaginative line-ups of dishes, some combining traditional French fare with chef Gong’s culinary brainchild. Topping the list of the bizarre, but tasteful inventions is the pancetta roast monkfish with globe artichoke barigoule (150RMB) while French fan-favorites include the beef tartare (140RMB) and a seafood bouillabaisse (200RMB). The only downside is the overlap of dishes between menus.
Serving up brunch the good ‘ol French way, the Brasserie offers a choice of two set meals-the two-course brunch consisting of a starter and main dish for 125RMB and the three-course (starter, main, and dessert) for 150RMB (280RMB if you include free-flowing prosecco). Add eggs for 75RMB, and a side for 30RMB.
Among chef Peter Gong’s brunch starters, the caramelized pumpkin tarte tatin scores highest in terms of pure flavor. This fall rendition of the classic French pastry combines the crispy fluffiness of the tart’s crust with a clean, full-bodied pumpkin flavor enviable of even Grandma’s most titillating Thanksgiving pies. A refreshing radicchio salad and a dollop of goat cheese counters the sweetness of the pumpkin, and lends the dish a savory edge (doesn’t goat cheese always?). And for only 50RMB a la carte, or the equivalent of an average entree at a Chinese restaurant, the tart keeps both gut and wallet full.
Coming in a close second, the house-cured salmon (65RMB a la carte) provides a more adventurous interpretation of a potentially mundane dish. While salmon often means “menu filler” at many upscale restaurants, Gong’s version keeps it novel with the addition of caper berries, shallots, an egg-dressing, and most interestingly, an adornment of luminescent orange salmon roe. Not to mention that the quality of salmon is par none, and not just for China (imagine the best gravlox you’ve ever tasted).
Options include either a 2 course (95RMB) or 3 course lunch (115RMB). Add sides for 30 RMB.
Although to our dismay, the lunch items consist of mostly recycled brunch fare, the menu does offer a lunch-specific grilled seabass served with crushed potatoes, parsley and mussel butter (add 20RMB to set lunch total). Suffice to say, the dish was a tad underwhelming compared to the gastronomic all-stars with which it shared the menu. The filet was appropriately delicate and flaky, but the more British than French style meat-and-potatoes layout failed to impress while the mussel butter lacked “muss-cularity.”
A la carte dinner
No set dinners, just a la carte dishes.
What can you say about the beef tartare? Ruby red, saturated with egg-yolk, and garnished with two quail eggs, potato wafers and a dash of black truffle bits, the dish serves as a model of emulation for beef-tartarers everywhere. Plus, the tartare itself actually gazes up at the diner with two eggs for eyes and an indentation mouth, its innocent expression belying its fiendishly succulent meaty flavor. To top it all off, the whole kit-and-“cow”boodle costs only 140RMB, which seems borderline expensive at first, but when considering the healthy dose of black truffles, the veritable gold of the culinary world, it starts to sound quite reasonable.
To wash the circulation-numbing French fare down, sample one of the many affordable wines from around the globe or a beer or cocktail (single-malt scotch runs you from 50 to 80RMB while draft beer goes for 45-60RMB).
A good French is hard to find
For every Shanghai diner struggling to find either affordable or competent French food, discovering both at one venue provides a welcome reprieve. Mosey on down to Brasserie La Fourchette for an economical bite that won’t insult your gourmet sensibility.
Brasserie La Fourchette // Telephone: 6418 6389 // 1 Xiangyang Bei Lu, near Julu Lu (襄阳北路1号, 近巨鹿路) // Closest Metro Stop: Shanxi Road (陕西南路) Line 1
See a complete list of our reviews here.