Second Helping: Madison

Every month, we return to a Shanghai institution to see how they’re holding up; whether they’ve opened a new branch or just relocated, we sample the old classics and new dishes to see if they’ve stood the test of time.

On Dongping Lu, across the street from some particularly friendly bars, sits the building that at one time might have been called Shanghai's house of brunch. Azul and Madison, famed among the food set for their Sunday afternoon gut busts both once resided here. However, the building is now just a shell of what it once was,with eyes spray-painted on the windows, staring, rather shamelessly, into the oh-so friendly bars across the street. After the exodus, Azul picked up and moved to Wukang Lu's Ferguson Lane and last month Madison also settled into a new home on Fenyang Lu.

Madison's fresh digs are new indeed, housed on the first floor of one of a pair of office buildings currently springing up next to the prominent Howard Johnson Huaihai Hotel. In typical Shanghai fashion, when we visited, the area was open, but much of it was still a work in progress as construction crews put the finishing touches on everything, a patina of dust settling around the periphery. (Of course, in Shanghai fashion, this will most likely be a distant memory in a few weeks' time.)

Madison's newest incarnation is split into three sections: a main dining room, a casual bar area (both with seating for about 70) and a private dining room for parties up to 24 people. The main dining room features a glass panel providing views into a vast kitchen, the pride of Chef/Owner Austin Hu's new establishment. Taking a tour through the capacious interior, complete with space for Hu to do in-house smoking and bake fresh bread, our expectations ran high for what Hu will be able to turn out in the future. And while the fare in the main dining room will continue to focus on higher-priced American cuisine, incorporating quality, locally sourced Chinese ingredients, Madi's, the more casual bar area, will focus on more casual, economically priced pub food under the Madison seal of quality. During our visit before the grand opening, we were treated to a lunchtime feast in Madi’s.

Calorie counters be wary; the offerings at Madi's can be heavy to the extreme. Hu's culinary skill takes particular pleasure in pushing comfort foods to new levels of decadence. Take his Duck Fat Disco Fries (RMB 58), double-fried potato wedges that come with sides of duck fat gravy and cheese sauce. Smothering your fries in these sauces is like chowing down on a Canadian Poutine on steroids. The Bone Marrow Crostini (RMB 35) also bring new meaning to the word ‘wholesome’, mixing bone marrow with short rib hash, persillade (a minced parsley garnish) and bright red, pickled shallots. And on the side of decadence let’s not forget the Ricotta Meatballs (RMB 60), big hunks of ground meat suffused with heavy cheese.

Still, the offerings on the menu aren't all destined to stick to your ribs. Even Hu himself is ready to admit that some items have been taken down a notch. When discussing the Madison Burger (RMB 58), a homemade ground "Chinese Wagyu beef patty" complemented with arugula, cheddar and saffron aioli, Hu said he no longer uses brioche buns for his burgers, as customers found the enriched bread to be a bit too much (he still, however, toasts and butters the bun).

We, on the other hand, having experienced the whole milieu, sauntered off into the afternoon groggily thinking about whether or not we’d skip dinner.

Madison Restaurant. 3 Fenyang Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu. Tel: 6437 0136

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