As I left Shanghai on Friday morning, I was reminded of the moody and dark scenes that pervade the film Blade Runner. Set in a future world, the Ridley Scott directed epic is set in a noisy, vertical world, with neon signs everywhere and rain, lots of rain. Street stalls with steaming pots of dim sum, hurrying crowds of commuting workers and a sense that the world was not going to get any better, in fact probably far, far worse.
Now Shanghai is, without doubt, one of the most interesting cities that I have ever been to. Whatever preconceptions you might have about it, they will not be anything close to the reality. The way in which the new economy rubs shoulders with old Shanghai and old China for that matter, is astonishing. The huge, glass skyscrapers, the glitzy malls, the numerous restaurants and bars and stylish hotels are more New York than New China. The history of the City is fascinating and the architectural heritage worth exploring, as it has been clearly set out by the authorities for visitors to understand. Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari share the streets with unspecified and unidentifiable taxis and cars from the Chinese automotive industry, as well as some strange shapes bearing less familiar names. I have to say that much of it is recognisable, almost comforting, until you try to do anything, then the language problems kick in!
One of the things that struck me so much, day in and day out, is that I was the outsider, the abnormal one, the visitor, the exception. People regularly looked and stared at me, especially when I was out in the less frequented parts of town for Westerners. I was on a mission, and I wanted to see and discover Chinese life in this City but all too often it was a “cut and paste” from so many other Western cities. What a waste, and probably a waste for ever. I got pointed at, I was the odd one and it felt it.
Shanghai is building at a phenomenal rate. New buildings, world class venues, regional centres for businesses in China, an Uber cool social scene and a fascinating cultural backdrop all make Shanghai an amazing, must see, destination. The Shanghai Tower, due to open next year, will house masses of foodservice, the highest hotel in the world and gardens! Anyone who visits Shanghai inevitably ends up on the Bund, the quayside that runs along the Huangpu river, which cuts through the centre of Shanghai. The view across the river is spectacular, especially at night, when the buildings in the IFC are lit by lots of eon and adverts. Very modern China and as spectacular as any skyline in the world.
So a visit to Shanghai would not be complete without a visit to M on the Bund. Housed in an historic building on the Quay or “Bund”, it has been around since 1999 and appears in every guide book as a “must see” destination, so it was with interest that we turned up, without a booking for a table of 4. I was with colleagues from PCP, the company that has been charged with delivering the new Foodservice Consultant Magazine around the world and the online site, at http://www.foodserviceconsultant.org. A great team and pleasant company for dinner anywhere in the world.
You enter the historic Nissin Shipping building, built in 1921, from the side street, up some steps past a lit wall display and straight into a lift. We have a real problem with restaurants “up high” in the UK, or at least operators do, I really can’t understand it, as almost everywhere else in the world and in many capital city locations, the high ground helps, not hinders. As expected, there were some spectacular views over the Bund and the City from the balcony.
It had been a long day. We been at the Hotelex show in Shanghai, taking allied members through the new magazine, the three different regional versions of the magazine and generally pushing the “FCSI” message. We were all in need of a drink and something to eat.
When M on the Bund opened in January 1999, the idea, apparently was to create a dining experience “as exciting, as sophisticated, as delectable as Shanghai itself”. That was 14 years ago and it has certainly achieved this goal. Located at the pinnacle of the historic Nissin Building, M overlooks Shanghai’s most famous sight: the Bund.
Here, diners sample a creative menu in a warm, sophisticated space, where references to Shanghai’s glamorous past are updated and given a more contemporary spin. The roof terrace and stylish Crystal Room are also favourite spots to savour M’s “simply good food,” whose flavours range from the comforting to the novel, from Europe to the Middle East, but remain grounded in classical European techniques. This was going to be fun and enjoyable.
We can thank Melbourne-born Michelle Garnaut, a trained chef and restaurateur with a culinary career that spans over 25 years, several continents and positions that have ranged from waitress to chef to caterer and proprietor. After traveling the world, Michelle arrived in Hong Kong, for a brief visit. where she worked in the restaurant business and opened her own catering firm. She opened M at the Fringe in Hong Kong in 1989, which became a pioneer of independent fine dining and quickly made its name in that amazing city.
Following a guest chef stint at The Peace Hotel (Now Fairmont operated) in Shanghai in 1996, Michelle felt that Shanghai was ready for something similar, and in 1999 – when the rest of the Bund was a culinary desert – she opened M on the Bund on the historic waterfront. The first Glamour Room and Bar opened in 2001 to compliment M on the Bund.
So we were in, seating and enjoying Shanghai Mules. Very decent indeed and mixed well, fresh and chilled. Perfection. A bit of water was ordered as well, for all the right reasons!
Two of us had starters, with me opting for the Clam Chowder and one of my party having the Fish Bits with Tamarind Sauce. The Chowder was dense, filled with good things and the occasional shell containing clams. Nice and not too big a bowl, so plenty of room for the “main event” shortly. Inevitably the fish bits were tried by all and were lightly fried, tasty and perfectly complimented with the Tamarind Sauce. I was asked by my dinner colleagues what Tamarind was, so took the opportunity to explain that The Tamarind tree produces edible, pod-like fruit, which is used often as a paste in cooking.
So onto the main course. I had one of my favourite dishes, the Pig platter, consisting of pork three ways. Crisply suckling pig, braised pork belly and pork neck confit. Absolutely stunning.
One of my dining colleagues had the Homemade potato Gnocchi, with spinach and pickled walnuts and the other Chicken, Chicken, which consists of crispy confit leg and plump poached breast with a pumpkin croquette. Both dishes were beautifully prepared and seasoned. The Chicken, Chicken, is a bit of signature dish I have subsequently found out and it certainly looked stunning and was a “great eat” according to my colleagues.
We finished up with dessert, having been starved of sweet things for most of the time we had been in Shanghai. One Trifle, was ordered, one magnificent slice of Pavlova, a beautiful and rich chocolate Parfait and I had the Turkish Delight and Turkish Coffee. A really nice touch and all the desserts were enjoyed, as we shared!
It is hard to comment on the service as, like many things in Shanghai, it just happened around you to an amazingly high standard. It wasn’t fussy, wasn’t intrusive, but everything seemed to come when it was needed, not before, not after.
Overall, the meal was a real experience and I would strongly suggest that if you find yourself in Shanghai, get to M on the Bund, for a cocktail, meal or if the weather is nice, an evening on the Terrace. It is a spectacular view over the river and a very cool place to be.
The most amazing thing to me, is that 14 years ago Michelle Garnaut had the foresight to open in Shanghai – she and her colleagues have seen, and played their part, in the changes in Shanghai. As the only non-oriental meal I had in Shanghai, it certainly met a very high international standard and the Shanghai Mules were superb!