Daimon Bistro by Alvin Leung, the most exciting restaurant opening in Shanghai in 2016
Watch the Daimon Bistro video on Youku (China)
Watch the Daimon Bistro video on Youtube
This year, 2016, we have seen more restaurants shut down than new ones open.
At the same time, we have witnessed a rush of chefs and restaurants entering from abroad to Shanghai, seemingly to coincide with the launch of the Michelin guide.
Warning: Epic, LONG glorifying review ahead.
Enter Daimon Bistro, by critically acclaimed Hong Kong chef, Alvin Leung aka The Demon Chef.
Chef Alvin Leung was in fact born in London, raised in Canada for most of his life, before starting his restaurant lineage in Hong Kong, of which he owns three michelin stars at his flagship restaurant, Bo Innovation.
Daimon Bistro sits on number five on the bund, and is in fact, one of two restaurants sharing the same space. On appearance, it is a casual, slightly sinister looking restaurant with many retro elements derived from old Kowloon City. Kowloon City has a long line of history, and would require a much longer blog post to go into detail. Growing up, I have heard stories about it from my mum and relatives (my mum is from Hong Kong). It was basically the slums of Hong Kong, walled up, smack in the city center. Controlled by the triads, Kowloon City was notorious for housing prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals and gambling dens. Hidden within Daimon Bistro is the entrance to Bo Shanghai, the upscale Shanghai version of Bo Innovation.
The decor of Daimon Bistro was conceptualised by Alvin Leung himself, and in my opinion, is quite a masterpiece. Upon arrival at Daimon Bistro, you would be greeted by a closed giant door, engraved with the layout of Kowloon City. Entering, you would be greeted by a super old school Hong Kong style reinforced pawn shop counter.
Daimon Bistro’s logo is cut out on metal panel, revealing a digital screen behind playing Bruce Lee movies and sometimes, ‘cheeky’ content.
The lighting of Daimon Bistro is dim, but the open kitchen window exudes an eerie greenish glow. Initially, I thought it was odd, but then knowing how much attention was put into details, I knew this cheap looking lighting effect was not accidental. I connected the dots, and managed to come to a conclusion: Alvin is known as the Demon Chef, which would kind of make Daimon Bistro his lair. This sort of green lighting is traditionally used in Hong Kong movies to symbolise the nether realm and the supernatural; You see it in Hong Kong horror films all the time. So I think, the kitchen was meant to symbolise the nether realm, of which the Demon Chef’s minions dwell and work their sorcery to produce the food of Daimon Bistro. Maybe I’m just overthinking things.
Large wooden tables line both sides of the restaurant leading into the bar area, turning into a seemingly dead-end of booths, group seating and high tables.
One will neither find tablecloths nor table settings in Daimon Bistro. Instead, cutlery are placed in a metal container, saucers and bowls neatly stacked up on the side, Hong Kong cafe style. Chairs are leather-clad, and were very comfortable.
I seldom have so much to write about decor, but as you can see, a great amount of thought and effort had gone into producing the space at Daimon Bistro. While It was not the most lavish, if at all, of decors, it had immense depth in it’s ambience and story, which earned it a 10/10
As this was an invited tasting, my usual unbiased score of 7.5 is given. Daimon Bistro was still in soft opening at the time of visit, hence there were not many other guests for me to observe service. I will likely write about service in future impromptu visits.
Food and Drinks
The menu at Daimon Bistro has a focus on small plates designed for sharing, ala dim sum style. The cuisine is a mix of fusions between chinese, western and southeast asian cuisines. Perhaps one dish would sum it up: Seafood Laksa Steamed Egg.
More impressive, in my opinion, are the cocktails at Daimon Bistro. Frequent readers will know that I rarely write about drinks, but the drinks at Daimon Bistro are in a league of their own. I will however, refrain from scoring drinks.
Morning Glory (RMB120)
Vodka, Horlicks, Vitasoy, Sugar Syrup, Walnut
I repeat. Vodka, Horlicks, Vitasoy, sugar syrup and crushed walnuts. I dare say aside from Chef Alvin’s restaurants, no where in the world would you get to taste this insanely unconventional, yet delicious concoction.
I literally grew up drinking Horlicks and Vitasoy, and this was like the evil version of my childhood drinks. I’m not particularly professional in writing about drinks, so forgive me for my layman descriptions.
The drink arrived in a Hongkong style tea cup, looking very milky. Upon tasting, it was pleasantly thinner than I thought it would be. I recognised the familiar malty notes of Horlicks and that comforting soy milk flavour, before being hit in the face with a surge of alcohol from the vodka.
Drinking on, I would get bits of walnuts in the mouth, perhaps my least favourite part of the drink.
I had never tasted any drink like the Morning Glory at Daimon Bistro, and it truly left me in awe.
Vodka, Oolong tea, house-made wolfberry & ginseng syrup
The usual portion of this drink, and all tea-based drinks came in traditional Chinese rice bowls, imitating how people drank alcohol in the olden days. Our sharing portion came in small ‘kung fu’ Chinese tea cups, which was equally novel.
The drink tasted super clean and refined, with a familiar hint of herbal soup from the ginseng. Again, another mind-blowing concoction that I would never have dreamt was possible in a cocktail.
I shall stop at drinks here, but note that drinks were super expensive, at RMB120 each. They are definitely worth trying out, but the steep prices would refrain me from ordering more than one. I was told that the management have received this same feedback from many people, and will be revising the drink prices.
Pulled pork, sauerkraut (RMB 33 for 3 pieces)
A western filling in an eastern casing. We felt the spring roll was a little oily inside, though the skin was light, thin and crispy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed by this dish because I didn’t get a hit of sourness from the sauerkraut, nor an amazing spiced seasoning in the pulled pork. The filling simply didn’t stand out. It was a nicely done spring roll, but just that. 7.5/10
Little Dragon Bao
Chili crab (RMB38 for 3 pieces)
Shanghai would probably be the best place in the world to find competant xiao long bao cooks, which might be why the xiao long bao at Daimon Bistro were expertly crafted — Perfectly thin and resilient skin, with uniform pleats. There are 3 flavours available, and we had the chili crab that evening, a dish close to home for me. Biting into the dumpling, a super spicy and umami rush flooded my mouth.
I had initially thought this was a laksa xiao long bao because I hadn’t read the menu. The reason was because of the spicy rempah (chilli paste) and shellfish flavours. The chilli was not too spicy (for me), and was marvellously balanced between sweet, salty, spicy and umami flavours. Writing about this dish already has me salivating. 10/10
Black truffle chicken (RMB33 for 3 pieces)
Fun Guo is a type of dim sum, which is a dumpling made using rice flour skins, which looks slightly transparent and has an elastic texture. These dumplings too, have 3 variants available at Daimon Bistro. That evening, we tried the black truffle chicken.
Upon biting into it, my companion across the table immediately remarked that she could smell the truffle from where she was. Imagine the sensations that were going through my nose and mouth. I have tried a few Fun Guos in dim sum restaurants that featured truffle, but none of them came close to the explosion of truffle flavours in this version at Daimon Bistro. Every dumpling was beautifully crafted. Pricing and location considered, this too, deserves a 10/10
CSB (RMB32 for 2 pieces)
BBQ pork, milk bun, mexican topping
The char siu bao (CSB) came in the form of the slightly more modern Polo bun. The last time I enjoyed this type of CSB was at Michelin 1 star restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, inside Hong Kong’s Central subway station. The one at Daimon Bistro had a nicely dry and crusty bun, which is always a good thing with Polo buns.
The bbq pork tasted as it should, but less sweet than many bbq pork out there — a good thing.
What baffled me initially was a very apparent milky flavour across the bite, almost cheesey (because I had not read the menu), apparently it was from the milk bun. I’m still unsure of what the Mexican topping referred to, but this was an enjoyable char siu polo bao. 8/10
Siu Mai (RMB38 for 4 pieces)
Cuttlefish, kaffir lime leaf mayo
A fusion between cantonese and thai flavours. Cuttlefish is never used to make siu mai in traditional dim sum, but sometimes deep-fried as a fritter wrapped in wonton skins.
I thoroughly enjoyed the crisp textures of the skin, savoury flavours of the cuttlefish, balanced out by a bright tasting kaffir lime leaf mayo. Kaffir lime leaves have a different, more pronounced flavour compared with actual kaffir lime juice. 9/10
Kingfish Ceviche (RMB98)
Baby pink radish, honey peas, avocado cream, crispy rice, ‘jolo’ butter
This dish had it’s fusion levels turned down a notch. The south American staple featured generous chunks of fresh kingfish, seasoned uniformly with a bright and refreshing dressing. The soft textures of the fish gave a nice contrast against the crispy rice crackers and peas. I thought this dish felt a bit out of place on the menu, but my western companions loved it. What is ‘Jolo’ butter, though?! 8/10
Yellow-fin Tuna Tartare (RMB98)
Son-in-law egg, sesame, tamarind
I wonder if chef Alvin has a south-east asian son-in-law, because the egg that was featured in the tuna tartare is what we have back home in Singapore, called telur goreng, which is a malay dish where hardboiled eggs are deep-fried to form a crust.
This asian twist on tuna tartare featured sesame oil and tamarind pulp, which explained the brown muddy looking mix. On the tongue, it was fragrant from the sesame oil, and slightly sweet and tangy. I thought it was quite genius to replace the usual acidic flavours from a vinaigrette with tamarind. If I had to nitpick, it would be that the dish didn’t look very appetizing. 8.5/10
Braised Octopus (RMB138)
Roasted spicy miso eggplant, chimichurri sauce
Another somewhat mediterranean dish, featuring slow braised octopus.
While the octopus was moist and tender, it was unfortunately lacking in flavour. I wonder if it was because pre-cooked octopi were used; At the time of writing, I have been unable to procure raw octopus for my own restaurant for months. Octopi shortage in the region apparently. Anyway, assuming raw octopi were used at Daimon Bistro, I would have hoped for a more flavourful braising liquid used to cook the octopus, giving the octopus more flavour, even when eaten plain. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much of the eggplant nor the chimichurri sauce pairing, and can only award this dish a 7/10
Fried Chicken (RMB138)
HK egg waffle, gung bo sauce
Chef Alvin Leung’s take on the American chicken and waffles was ingenious, using Hongkong style egg waffles instead. The chicken thigh pieces were fried to a crisp in a likely dry batter, doused with a slightly sweet gung bo sauce aka kung pao chicken sauce.
The egg waffles, both crisp and chewy at the same time gave both a unique look and textures that put the typical western waffle to shame. 9/10
Whole Roasted Cherry Duck (RMB158)
Cucumber, leeks, beet & pancakes, sour plum hoisin sauce
I noticed that the ducks hanging by the kitchen were really slim and petite. A little bit of research later, I found out that Cherry Duck, also known as Pekin Duck was a small breed that originated from Beijing, later brought over to the United States, becoming the most popular duck breed there.
Although the ducks at Daimon Bistro looked small, they weren’t skinny. The roasted duck dish featured beautifully crisped skin with a thin layer of fat underneath every piece.
A whole duck was served, boned except for the two legs.
Traditional ‘pancakes’ were used to wrap the duck skin and meat together with slithers of cucumber and leeks, bound together by hoisin sauce. There was enough meat and skin to share generously amongst 3-4 persons.
At only RMB158, this was a steal, given the calibre and location of the restaurant. 9/10
Sweet and Sour Short Rib (RMB188)
Ginger slaw, tiger chilies, hawthorn, lemongrass
This was essentially sweet and sour pork, using good quality pork ribs. Every piece of rib was uniform in it’s cut and amount of meat, with abit of sweetness and tartness from hawthorne. The coleslaw was also quite explosive. Deceptively simple, a rush of ginger flooded the mouth on every bite of the coleslaw. One of those ‘woah’ moments. 9/10
Seafood Laksa Steamed Egg (RMB78)
Laksa has pretty much been bastardised to death outside of Singaporean/Malaysian cooking, from laksa pesto pastas, to laksa fried rice. This was however, the first time I have heard of laksa steamed egg. I would never in my wildest dream dare to pair laksa with steamed eggs.
Somehow, it worked. The steamed egg custard base was soft and velvety and already had laksa flavours/stock infused in the egg mixture. A ladle of coconut milk was spooned on top, along with lots of crispy shallots, adding fragrance to the pieces of fresh shrimp and scallop.
The laksa flavours were present, and the ample amount of coconut milk reminded me of a style of laksa we have in Singapore called Katong Laksa.
This was another bold and daring dish that worked. If only this had laksa leaves aka Vietnamese mint scattered on top, it would have gotten full marks instead of 9/10
Softshell Crab Bibimbap (RMB118)
House kimchi, egg, rumpa gochujang
This was an extra dish requested by us. It was served in 2 separate components separately, the deep fried soft shell crab, and the bibimbap. I usually don’t think much of bibimbaps, because I feel it is a simple dish composed of simple ingredients that didn’t require much cooking.
The bibimbap at Daimon Bistro was not too different from other bibimbaps, however the soft shell crab was quite unique. Due to the newly shedded shell, soft shell crabs usually end up looking slightly squashed/deformed after handling, but somehow, the one at Diamon Bistro came looking like a whole complete crab. The batter was crisp but slightly denser than the usual tempura-type batter.
The quality of the crab was superb, and didn’t taste unpleasantly fishy. The bibimbap was full of flavour and crunchy textures, pairing well with the shellfish flavours. 9/10
Lo Mai Beef Wrapped in Lotus Leaf (RMB38)
Curry, butternut squash, sticky rice
Lo Mai Beef is not a thing, until now. Traditionally, in cantonese cuisine, we have Lo Mai Gai, which is glutinous rice with chicken, wrapped and steamed in lotus leaf. The version at Daimon Bistro made use of a curried beef instead, paired with butternut squash which I had initially mistaken for salted egg yolk.
Lo Mai Gai happens to be one of my all time favourite dim sum dish, so I may be slightly biased in judging this permutation of my favourite dish. I thought that the beef didn’t really had a strong curry flavour, nor did the rice have a strong lotus leaf flavour. The butternut squash was a nice touch and added a natural burst of sweetness. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my favourite dish of the evening. 7/10
Cornbread Waffle (RMB68)
Drunken strawberries, brown butter ice cream
This was the unanimous crowd favourite. It was as beautiful as it tasted. Super light, crispy waffle with a hint of corn, lovely strawberry compote and caramel-like-tasting brown butter ice cream. This was so good we requested for seconds. This is THE dessert to try at Daimon Bistro. 10/10
Dark Chocolate Brownie (RMB68)
Ginger Ice Cream
The brownie was not very dense, and in fact, quite airy and loose. The chocolate flavours nicely balanced, not too rich and heavy. The ginger ice cream had a pleasant gingery kick, and paired very well with balancing the chocolate flavours. There was also some kind of blueberry jam to add some fruitiness to the mix. Lovely. 9/10
Lemon Tart (RMB68)
Salty preserved kumquat caramel, yoghurt lemon curd
The lemon tart arrived very pretty, albeit lonely on the plate with it’s crown of torched meringue tips.
The lemon curd was quite light and neither overly sweet nor sour. I didn’t quite detect the presence of the salty preserved kumquat element in the caramel, but noted that the caramel balanced with the lemon curd very well. 8/10
Coconut Sugar Creme Brulee (RMB68)
Sour cherry ice cream, dehydrated raspberry meringue
The creme brulee itself was expertly done, with a nice solid but easy to break crust. The little meringue drops tasted like astronaut ice cream, I thought it was literally eye candy.
What was most interesting was the use of coconut sugar, aka gula melaka, a southeast asian ingredient that I know very well. I believed it was used both in the custard as well as the caramelised crust, and I enjoyed it’s natural caramel flavours very much. The sour cherry ice cream tasted like raspberry ice cream, and aided in offsetting the sweetness of the custard. 8/10
Although I was bursting at the seams at the end of the meal, I was already looking forward to return, to try the rest of the menu, and repeat some of the items such as the chili crab xiao long bao and black truffle chicken fun guo. This is the trait of a truly great restaurant, that even before one has paid the bill, one is already yearning to return.
There are many great restaurants in Shanghai offering excellent food and decors. However, few come close to Daimon Bistro in achieving such culinary creativity, together with a venue that is full of character, situated in one of the most expensive locations in Shanghai, offering food at very affordable prices.
PS: you may have noticed that alot of the food was served on a printed piece of paper. The contents of every sheet is identical, and is an interview of chef Alvin Leung. More importantly, the ink used in printing the sheets is actually an edible soy ink. Daimon Bistro take food safety very seriously.