Chinese-run Western establishments have spread throughout Shanghai like wildfire this past year; the most recent being The 1st Seasons, an upmarket Western restaurant offering a truckload of meat, some fusion touches dreamt up by Chef Leo Wang, and film-inspired design. It’s an exciting concept, but one of the weaker Chinese takes on Western. Since we’re talking film, it feels like an average foreign remake of a classic movie: a passable re-imagining with interesting twists, but some elements translate better than others.
Decor and service
The decor is inspired by film. Not in the manner of Paul Pairet’s Ultraviolet, where you feel like you’re eating during an IMAX, but rather with subtle nods, like a facade that resembles old-fashioned rolls of film stock, and artful shadows juxtaposed with bright glow. There’s also a very Chinese-looking Audrey Hepburn painted on the wall. You only know it’s Hepburn because of the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” title painted next to her. Half the kitchen is hidden, the other is open like a sushi bar, and a blue glow underlines the countertop.
Staffmembers are a tad bumbling and unfamiliar with the offerings but their bright-eyed exuberance makes up for it.
Beef carpaccio with a cheese gratin and grilled focaccia
No small starters, just some mondo entrées, mains, sides, a char-grill station, and desserts. Of the entrées, most touted is the Roasted Beetroot Served with Warm Honey Goat Cheese Pear Salad (68RMB), but we found it a mosh pit of discordant elements. The goat cheese was fluffy and creamy enough, but it was marooned on a small island of cold, practically unseasoned watercress and lettuce, and surrounded by a hostile shoal of oversweet beet slices – far from the subtle interplay of sweet and savory with crisp, vibrant veg characteristic of the traditional dish.
The elements tasted more integrated in the Beef Carpaccio with a Cheese Gratin, Grilled Focaccia (78RMB), basically a large mat of carpaccio and gratin with a healthy slab of bread. You take a slice of beef and cheese, slap it on the foccacia, and crunch. We found their rendition a fatty and savory enough topping to the bread, but it lacked that bold essence of beef we love.
Chef Leo Wang’s piece-de-resistance is the Soya Milk Soup with Miso Cod Fish (168RMB), one of the better fusion dishes we’ve had recently. Poached in hot soy milk with seaweed and chives until quivering, the piece of fish is buttery, nutty goodness. The bean sauce is equally creamy, although like many fusion dishes, the sauce and protein weren’t “fused” all that well, despite being delicious separately. It was like two great musicians playing different pieces at the same time. The hunks of fried cruller proved a nice spongy complement to the sauce, however.
Those in the mood for a more mainstream meatfest will enjoy the wagyu beef flank with sous-vide bone marrow (188RMB) in the char-grill section
You can save mao by hitting up the lunch (60-70RMB) and dinner sets (around 240RMB) which rotate periodically.
The majority of the 1st Seasons’ takes on Western classics range from pale to passable imitations, and overall the venue feels more cinematic than the fare. However, a strong char-grill section and “giveaway” lunch and dinner sets make it worth a go if you’re on Dingxi Lu and crave something besides crab congee.
The 1st Seasons – 739 Dingxi Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu, Changning district (长宁区定西路739号, 近延安西路). Tel: (0)21-5230-8890. Hours: 11:30am-midnight.
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].