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PLEASE NOTE – LARIS IS NOW CLOSED

Joanna and I are attempting to eat at as many of the Miele Guide Top 20 Restaurants in Asia as we can this year. Don’t really know how we decided to pursue that… I think accidentally when we realized that we had dined at a few and were about to dine at a few more. And so on our last trip to Shanghai, we decided we had to treat ourselves to a meal at Laris. It’s the highest rated non celebrity chef restaurant in China (not to take anything away from the Robuchons), coming in at spot number 8 on the list… just below one of our personal favorite meals of the year – Gunther’s. Unfortunately that step down from 7 to 8 was a longer one than we were hoping for…

We arrived on a drizzly, cold Sunday night to a near empty dining room. The space is massive. Decorations are simple, clean, and white. Laris’ interior would work wonderfully in a more intimate space, but in their cavernous Bund location leaves the restaurant feeling stuffy and lacking personality. It’s a stark contrast to the group’s lower level Jean Georges, which manages to transform the vast space into something warm and sexy.

Surprisingly, even though there were only three tables dining that evening we were all grouped together. So what could have been a more romantic, intimate table for two turned into us trying not to hear the ramblings of the over excited girl at the next table. Might sound like a minor point, but with so many empty spots, why group all the diners together?

The menu is divided up into meal courses and then priced according to the number of courses you want to take. You can order a simpler 3-Course meal for 480 CNY on up to a 6-Course mini tasting for 780 CNY. Then of course there’s the restaurants signature Tasting Menu at 888 CNY.

Joanna opted to put together her own 6-Course meal consisting of:

A very light and fresh Crab with Avocado & Lemongrass Gazpacho. Though she did find a bit of crab shell in the dish

:(

Next out since they were out of the Warm Potato with Foie Gras and Truffle was a Lobster Bisque Sambuca Fennel Foam. The dish had a fantastic aroma and wasn’t heavy like a normal bisque.

Then came a Wild King Fish with Braised Mushroom Ragout. The fish was perfectly cooked and was another stand-out dish for Joanna.

Out next was a Blackmore Farm Wagyu. It sounded so good in the description but was over seasoned almost to the point of being inedible and unfortunately the temperature was off as well. I think Joanna throws these high end places for a loop, ordering mid-well steaks… they’re so used to sending out the bloody slabs that I so love that they seem incapable of doing anything past medium correctly

:)

After the Wagyu was the Homemade Tagliatelle with Clam Chowder Sauce. The pasta was more like fettuccine than tagliatelle (why do people always try to pass off fettucini as tagliatelle???) and the taste in general was good but not great.

Last out was the Scallops with Cauliflower & Celeriac with Bacon Jus and Red Pepper Foam. It sounded good, looked good, and was decent all around. I think I ended up eating most of this dish as Joanna normally doesn’t even enjoy scallops, but was trying to grow her appreciation.

I was excited for my tasting menu. I mentioned the cold, rainy evening earlier and so I was excited to see the tasting titled “Comfort Food”. Perfect for a night like this, I thought. I started with a Laris Sashimi of Oysters, Toro and Kingfish. Despite my usual distrust of foamy dishes, I found the Oyster portion to be my highlight.

Then came a Creamed Salad of Quail Eggs & House Smoked Mackarel. Unique in presentation and taste.

Out next was a Poached Foie Gras with Saturn Jelly, Persimmon, Sweet Ginger, and Orange Compote. I’ll just come out and say that while I appreciate all forms of foie (and the sacrifice the duck or goose makes for me), I generally prefer a nice saute. A well sauteed foie for me doesn’t need anything else added to it. Poached foie on the other hand needs all the jellies and breads it can find. The jelly was good, but there just wasn’t enough of it.

Now we were getting to comfort foods for a rainy night – Crab Chowder with Corn Puree and Parpika. The soup itself was as standard as any lobster or crab soup you’ll find anywhere in the world… but that corn puree was beautiful. I would have gladly had a dish centering more around that than the crab.

Afterward came my highlight for the evening, a Risotto of Jerusalem Artichoke and Sage Butter Lobster. This was the dish I had been waiting for. Risotto well cooked, flavors all there. It would have been a lasting highlight if not for the more refined risotto I tasted the next night at Stiller’s.

The last “main” of the night for me was a Red Wine Braised Veal Cheek with Truffle, Sweet Peas, and Baby Carrots. Though not overly remarkable or inventive, this was a successful comfort dish.

For desserts I had a Cheese Fondue with Fig Jam… it tasted about how it looks, which was in a word, underwhelming.

And then a Dessert Sampler with Poached Pear with Goat Cheese Cream, Sticky Date Pudding, and a Parfait of Kumquat. Good, but again… not great.

Lastly some Laris Signature Chocolates. This is something they’re known for in town. They have a full chocolate workshop in back near the restroom (bad place for chocolate shop?

:)
) where you can see them at work. It’s nice to have some quality western styled chocolates as I generally don’t like the Asian varieties.

So the food wasn’t quite up to our expectations. It wasn’t bad food, but for being one under Gunther’s on the Meile Guide, we struggled to understand the rating. Joanna and I both had two items of the six that we’d return for (she marked her notes with a check mark), but if I wasn’t re-reading the notes I’d be hard pressed to remember what they were.

The food was good but forgettable, but what really left a lasting memory was the service. Not only was it bogglingly slow (this place is massive, yet there were only 3 tables of 2) but also a bit rude. Halfway through my tasting the staff decided it’d be time to clear down the restaurant. And so we were treated to clanging glasses, silverware, and plates removed from all the empty tables while dining. The staff joked and talked with one another as they worked, somehow managing to never make eye contact or check to see if we needed more wine or water. I’m a former waiter and so am very forgiving, but at a restaurant operating at this level it’s unacceptable. To be fair, they didn’t pour wine in our water glass like the folks at Jade 36, but it was still bad. This could be blamed on local talent, but at M, T8, Stiller’s, Jean G’s, and others they’re all working exactly as you’d expect….

I might sound harsh here. I don’t mean to say that Laris isn’t among the best of Shanghai. It’s a good restaurant, striving to push the culinary scene in Shanghai. Maybe on a full night, with the chef in to watch over his domain the restaurant is better. But for me, you need that consistency every night to reach that next level and that’s what Laris was missing for us, that extra something. I don’t doubt that it can get there, I just wish it had for us.

Laris
6/F, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu,
The Bund
near Guangdong Lu, Metro Line 2 Nanjing Dong Lu Station
Phone: 6321-9922

Paul

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