By Benjamin Cost
Clément Pellerin, the former opening Chef de cuisine at Grand Brasserie, revamps Pelham’s dining experience by offering customized tasting menus that allow customers to tailor their own meals. Patrons can choose from the four-course (488 RMB), five-course (558 RMB), six-course (628 RMB), or even the 12-course (1,888 RMB) menu options. And if those meal choices aren’t diverse enough, you can tack on an extra dish to any of the above menu options for 130 RMB (none of the dishes are individually priced).
The real innovation stems from the customer’s ability to decide which particular dishes will constitute their meal, a concept far removed from the traditional fixed tasting menu.
This fluidity means you can select appetizers for all four dishes of your four-course tasting menu, while your hopelessly hedonistic friend shovels home a 12-course all-entree feast.
And for those who want their blood to resemble Rocky Road ice cream, you have the option of ordering a spread composed entirely of desserts. You can even eat the same dish 4, 5, 6, 12, or even more times in a row depending on your meal option!
Nonetheless, Pellerin claims that the menu’s veritable cornucopia of options doesn’t detract from the top-tier quality of the ingredients.
We headed down to the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund to see if that’s the case.
First up on our chosen four-course meal package was the potato-scaled codfish appetizer lathered with smoked tea sauce, which easily ranks among the most succulent morsels of fish in the city. Even for Shanghai’s die-hard piscivores who cringe at the sight of a boneless, skinless fish filet, Pellerin’s masterwork hunk of cod warrants a thorough sampling.
With an impossible textural blend of firm, white flesh and a mouth-feel comparable to that of a pat of butter, the fish brings to mind Japanese miso black cod, the Kobe beef of the sea. Additionally, the smoked tea sauce was so delectably salty and creamy we ordered two extra mini-bread loaves to sop it all up.
The second appetizer was the oyster pearl, one of Pelham’s much-hyped signature creations consisting of a champagne foam-doused oyster encased by the “pearl” or ball constructed from crystalized sugar, all atop a hill of sea salt. Unfortunately, the dish goes against the grain of a menu that otherwise immaculately blends a plethora of complex, but accessible flavors.
The bizarre cocoon-like composition plus the palate-jarring combination of the sickeningly sweet pearl and the saline oyster invoke a concoction dreamt up by the Tim Burton Willy Wonka rather than a 2-star Michelin chef’s serious creation.
Suckers for savory will find themselves frustratedly hacking away at the pearl’s sugary forcefield with their spoon to get at the runty oyster inside, before discarding the crystalline shards.
Of the two entrées in our custom meal, the braised rabbit leg with an accompanying tarragon and vodka-roasted rabbit rack of ribs and a rabbit meatball proved the stronger option.
In a restaurant world which too often serves rabbit in the form of a bland and chewy “other white meat,” it was refreshing to bite into a gamey, bone-in morsel of real bunny. Both the rack and leg harbored an intense livery taste and a supple, but malleable texture. In fact, the dish could have stood on its own without the rabbit meatball, which was a touch mushy and had muddled flavor.
Entrée number two, the seared Waygu beef sirloin with celeriac and a splash of truffle sauce, was also delicious, just not as unpredictably so as the rabbit. Expectedly juicy and tender, and thankfully pink in the middle (as any half-decent steak should be) the sirloin is worth a nibble by all prime rib papas; the only disclaimer being the bitty serving size of a dish whose beefy nature deserves at least a little robustness.
Even with its flaws, menu proves a winner
Despite some holes, Pellerin’s culinary flair and expertise honed by a decade of working in French kitchens ultimately shines through in the customized tasting menus, giving you a reason to head to Pelham’s besides the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund’s lavish decor.
See a complete list of our reviews here.