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Boutique & Unique

Hotel dining in Shanghai has something of a staid and sterile reputation, but part of the charm of boutique hotels is their focus on doing things a little differently. As more boutique hotels open in Shanghai, their dining options are also becoming more varied and enticing.

Table No. 1 by Jason Atherton

What: Contemporary European cuisine from a new celebrity chef

Why: Gordon Ramsey’s golden boy is here (kinda) – with half his 'maze' staff in tow

How Much: Snacks and small plates RMB 35 – 108, mains RMB 98 – 170

Where: 1-3 Maojiayuan Lu, near Zhongshan Nan Lu (The Cool Docks). Tel: 6080 2918. Web:

Jason Atherton is the latest on a growing list of high-profile chefs attempting a long-distance culinary relationship with Shanghai. After a nine year stint in Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant empire, Atherton selected Shanghai as the setting for his first post-maze venture and brought half his kitchen staff with him, before jetting off back to London where he plans to open another restaurant in September. 

Table No. 1 seems happy to share Atherton with his Mayfair eatery. After all, the whole theme of the restaurant is sharing, from the menu’s “small bites” to the communal tables. The restaurant even shares its address with The Waterhouse at South Bund, a new design-oriented boutique hotel located in the increasingly popular Cool Docks.

The menu is split up into plates of snacks, tapas, meat and fish, vegetables and desserts – making it deceptively large with almost as many dishes as there are covers in the dining room. The focus is on high-quality, fresh fare – which reaches its apex in the tuna tar tar (RMB 75) and an impressive avocado puree, a mouth-watering and creamy feat that had forks clashing for the last bite.

The produce flavour explosion continues throughout the meal. Vegetable chips (RMB 35) made from lotus, beets and sweet potatoes are sliced superhumanly thin and dipped in a briny vinegar foam. Red peppers (RMB 35) stuffed with brandade make a savoury bite and the texture of the wild mushrooms (RMB 58) is beyond meaty.

While the vegetables are outstanding, the seafood is hit or miss. Razor clams with chorizo chilli (RMB 75) practically fly off the plate, but caramelised scallops with cauliflower (RMB 75) are underwhelming. A beautifully-presented plate of sole and cuttlefish on a bed of squid ink risotto (RMB 118) is almost too rich and a bit on the salty side, but order it nonetheless, as the ink-stained lips and teeth are good for a laugh.

On the whole, the menu abounds with creativity while somehow restraining the urge to stray too far from classic flavours. The dessert plates are no different, ingeniously incorporating local ingredients and giving old favourites a new twist. Jasmine rice pudding (RMB 55) is shockingly delectable, and the mango and rose tea trifle with lychee granite (RMB 55) is spoon-licking good.

Table No. 1 and Shanghai’s dining scene benefit from Atherton’s name, despite the fact he only drops in every couple of months. Hopefully the on-the-ground operations and British-based chef can successfully manage their transcontinental communication so Table No. 1 can continue to live up to its name.

The Purple Onion

What: Quirky restaurant serving Southern European dishes

Why: Colour me impressed … David Laris nails it again

How Much: Snacks and appetizers RMB 28 – 88, mains RMB 58 – 228

Where: Lane 351, 16 Huashan Lu, near Changshu Lu.

After years of reliable Sunday brunch service, aFuturePerfect closed its doors and the restaurant space of Old Shanghai Inn, a 1930s lane house-cum-boutique hotel, received a Laris-style makeover of epic proportions. The Purple Onion is split into three distinct spaces: a sleek bar serving up specialty cocktails with secret ingredients, a cosy dining room that hosts just seven tables and a petit terrace covered by a canopy so diners can enjoy al fresco dining throughout Shanghai’s wet summer. 

The Purple Onion isn’t one for descriptions; the restaurant lets the food and drinks speak for themselves. Want to know what comes in your Red Bicycle cocktail (RMB 65)? The menu’s no help as the description simply states “it’s red” and the staff just shrugs off inquiries, but one sip will make anyone a believer. Waiters suggest the caprese salad “done our way” (RMB 58), but answers to questions about what precisely “their way” entails are met with sly smiles and evasive answers. Turns out, the deconstructed dish isn’t a revelation in flavour, but you certainly won’t be using a knife and fork to spear the salad. 

The grazing menu and pizza oven encourage diners to share dishes and order a handful of small plates to round out their meal. The fried salt cod brandade (RMB 48) is fluffy and light, but comes with an anchovy mayonnaise that steals the spotlight. The succulent sauce strikes again when the veal paillard (RMB 128), the definitive winner of the night, comes swimming in it. The wild mushroom pizza (RMB 58) has proven to be popular and rightfully so. Diners are even ordering pies to go after they’ve finished a full meal.

The list of mains is short but sweet, including the same whole red snapper (RMB 128) that seems to be gracing menus at practically every decent restaurant in Shanghai. The garfish wrapped in sorrel (RMB 128) is a full plate featuring two eggplant, zucchini and pine nut stuffed fish. Despite the fact the gars' bones are edible, they still distract from the dish, making it a bit of a disappointment. Order the aforementioned paillard and go home happy.

The Purple Onion’s desserts are a sweet ending to the meal. Bombillini (RMB 68) is a grown-up version of funnel cake and comes accompanied with a glass of sweet sherry, an adult beverage to complement the dish’s maturity. Poached peaches (RMB 68) are one of the best summer desserts we’ve had this season, with roasted raspberries to emphasise the freshness.

The gang at David Laris Creates seem like they got their tongue caught in their cheek when designing the Purple Onion (check out the quotes on the custom-made carpet and Renaissance portraits for a chuckle). It may seem like the whole restaurant's taking the Mickey, but diners will still leave feeling sated, rather than slighted.


Anonymous's picture

Purple Onion is all that!

I'm sitting here just now on a very nice Sunday afternoon in Shanghai. I came looking for my old favorite . . . A Future Perfect, but it's gone now. I was pleasantly surprised again and again. Awesome pizzas, yes . . .decide to try the mussels and was blown away at the quality and preparation. Also very attentive staff and great coffees . . Yes and free wifi for my iPad! This will be my old/new favorite.


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