By Benjamin Cost
Le Sheng, the latest venture by Shanghai’s darling of fine-dining, David Laris, promises a marriage of traditional Shanghai food with more modern elements. Eager to see how the Greek-Aussie chef, who’s tackled a plethora of concepts from Mediterranean to Continental to “Barbie,” would fare when faced with the native cuisine, we motored down to the French Concession.
Though we’re not much for noticing surroundings as we tend to bum-rush the menu with the blinders on, we felt Le Sheng’s lighting scheme was a little too Batcave-like – especially after entering the place from a picturesque Spring outdoors (yeah we know, 1930s Shanghai club style and all). But the joint was elegant, quiet, and refreshingly non-palatial in size, and the upstairs private rooms were a cozy and traditional touch.
The Hong Shao Ro
Like a veritable Kama Sutra of menus, Le Sheng’s spread is both comprehensive and stimulating, featuring a host of Shanghai delicacies from sea cucumber to Shanghai smoked fish, plus contemporary interpretations.
With a saliva tsunami rearing in our mouths, we mixed and matched chef creations with Shanghai specialties to get a grasp of the traditional-meeting-contemporary concept. Of the classic Shanghai items, we chose the “Old Fashioned Shanghainese Smoked Fish” (28RMB), “‘Laoning’ Sea Cucumber with Goose Palm” (98RMB), and the legendary Hong Shao Ro, labeled “Braised Pork in Soy Sauce with Quail Eggs” (68 RMB) on the menu.
Our more modern selections included “Turbot Fish Fillet with Chili and Black Bean Sauce (108RMB) and two soups; the “Fish Balls made with Catfish” soup (68RMB) and “Mustard Greens in Hashima Soup” (58RMB).
A “Mixed” Marriage
First down the tube were the glistening brown hunks of “Old Fashioned Shanghainese Smoked Fish” which combined sugary tang with the dry flakiness of Grade A smoked fish, encapsulating the dish’s essence.
Our second eat in the Shanghai series was the Hong Shao Ro, a mingling of red-cooked pork blocks and some very yoke-y quail eggs the size of their chocolate cousins. We snatched up a pork cube, noting that its whole second story consisted of amber fat, nipped off the jiggling top and squished it, sending rivulets of unctuousness trickling down our throats. Le Sheng was two for two.
The sea cucumber also stayed true to its ancestral dish with its physics-defying consistency. We clamped down on a flap, upon which the sea cucumber initially resisted our assault, but then fragmented into quivering morsels like the remnants of exploded gelatin, except more rubbery. Again, right on point. Not to mention that stripping bare the knobby, webbed goose foot that complemented the dish gave us a sort of primal satisfaction.
The turbot fillet
Things took a slight plunge with the more contemporary takes on Shanghai dishes, namely the turbot, which seemed stuck half-way between a fillet and a whole fish. With its flesh chunks removed and mounded messily on its back, the flounder appeared as if it had been nailed with a firecracker on the way to the table. We would’ve enjoyed it more if they had played it old-school Shanghainese and kept the meat on the fish’s inside so the skin could hold in the juices. At least the morsels were fairly moist and delicate, and the addition of the head allowed us to pick at the cheeks and tease out the eyeball.
Both the fish ball and mustard green/hashima soups were light and palate-cleansing, albeit forgettable, and the fish ball soup was a tad pricey for such a shallow portion. The globular hashima (the dried fallopian tubes of a frog…mmmmm) in the mustard green soup was a welcome exotic addition, however.
The fish ball soup
Le Sheng – 308 Anfu Lu, near Wukang Lu (安福路308号, 近武康路). Tel: (0)21-5406- 6011. Hours: Daily, Lunch: 11am-2:30pm/Afternoon Tea: 2:30pm-5pm/Dinner: 5pm-11pm (last order 10:30pm).
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].