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An oft-recommend restaurant on the Bund…can it live up to the hype?

I had been meaning to get to Whampoa Club for a while. It has been recommended several times but somehow in my many trips to Shanghai I often ended up elsewhere. Having had the occasion to try it this time I was excited to see what it is about. Will the pan-Asian flair really be so inventive? Will open up new worlds for me in Chinese cuisine? With locations in Shanghai and Beijing – would Whampoa Club be my new favourite haunt when in China?

Whampoa Club presents Hong Kong chef Jereme Leung’s take on Hunan, Shanghai and Sichuan cuisines in the well-known address of 3 on the Bund, rubbing elbows with the likes of Jean Georges and Laris. Seems I always end up in this famous fine dining neighborhood of Shanghai, being a regular at the Westin on the Bund during my frequent business trips to the city. And so it was that we found ourselves at Whampoa Club looking forward to some inspired Chinese cuisine.

As is often the case on Asian menus, it seems the more descriptive text is in the local language and so the dishes themselves are described quite simply.  I really do miss the evocative descriptions on menus - for me it is a kind of culinary foreplay to the main event. In fact, I have often fancied being a menu copywriter – when done well, the way the words are strung together in menu descriptions can be a culinary poetry that sings to the diner.  Since this was not the case on this particular menu and given its seemingly endless number of pages (15+), we asked our server what they were famous for and what she would recommend.

And so we found ourselves with an assortment of dishes including Crispy Beef Strips with sun-dried pickles and orange peel (68 RMB / $ 9.96 USD / $S 14.54); the chef’s signature Deep Fried King Prawn coated with a Wasabi Dressing and Crispy Prawn Flakes (188 RMB / $ 27.55 USD / $S 40.21); Sauteed Chicken with Fresh Mango and assorted peppers (88 RMB / $ 12.90 USD / $S 18.82); and finally an order of Pork Buns (68 RMB / $ 9.96 USD / $S 14.54).

The King Prawn was the standout dish of the evening– cooked perfectly in a lightly crispy coating and drizzled with a judicious amount of sauce lightly seasoned with wasabi. Being not a huge fan of wasabi, I was pleased that it was not a overwhelming aspect of the dish and allowed the other tastes to hold their own. The shrimp actually reminded me of a favorite dish from a Cantonese restaurant called Chiam in New York City – I haven’t eaten at Chiam in probably 5-7 years, but when I lived in that area of Manhattan, there was a dish called Grand Marnier Prawns that I used to crave fortnightly.

The Pork Bun was a cross between a bun and a potsticker – crispy on the bottom and fluffy on the top. While it was hard to criticize per se, I am not sure this Pork Bun was any better than your typical street food dim sum buns, which are quite good anyway and at a fraction of the price. The Chicken and Mango dish was simple, but enjoyable, with the perfectly ripe mango contributing the expected freshness to the saucy chicken. Sadly, the beef was rather forgettable…a little dry and excessively tough and chewy.

While individual dishes like the King Prawn did stand out, I kept asking myself what is holding me back from a wholehearted recommendation of Whampoa Club?  And on the final analysis I have to say there are simply far more spectacular fine dining options simply an elevator ride away on at 3 on the Bund or even across the street at 5 on the Bund in Shanghai. Yes, Whampoa Club features a Bund view (“bund” meaning the embanked riverfront for which Shanghai is famous), but the overall ambiance of the place was an odd combination of grand Chinese decor and modern Mondrian inspired color panels. A combination that frankly should be reconsidered and somehow even though it features timeless design references, manages to give an overall feeling of the place being a bit tired and dated. The too bright lighting inside didn’t help matters much either. And to be honest all this combined did effect my enjoyment of the food. Don’t get me wrong, I eat noodles on the street with motorcycles whizzing by and am perfectly happy…but when one goes to the oh-so-luxe Bund, one expects a more refined aesthetic.

The jarring décor combined with good, but not excellent cuisine, makes me think that next time I will choose a slightly more exalted dining option on the Bund…maybe M on the Bund again, or Jean Georges. Since the aforementioned options are all rather international in nature, if I am really craving Chinese food, I’d probably head back to my old friend South Beauty instead, a Shanghai classic fine dining restaurant where one can be sure to get tasty, reliable and elegant Chinese cuisine in a lovely setting.

whampoa-club-entrance

Whampoa Club
3 on the Bund, 5th Floor
Zhong Shan Dong Yi Road
Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 21 6321 3737

Pictures from Whompao Club via Just the Planet

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