This year’s Shanghai Restaurant Week (SRW) boasted over 130 restaurants. I did not have the time to participate much this round but managed to book 1 dinner at Maison Pourcel, a French restaurant tucked away on a street off of busy Huai Hai Road.
Here’s my review of the session.
Being fans of French cuisine, my wife and I knew we had to try Maison Pourcel when we saw the glowing reviews and the lovely menu they had prepared for SRW. We arrived at 6pm for an early dinner, and were delighted to be seated by the window, with a nice distant view of The Bund.
Located on the 8th floor of the building, Maison Pourcel looked like a fine dine restaurant, along the lines of Pelhams at the Warldorf Astoria. The actual dining area isn’t particularly big, I estimated about 20 tables or so. Decor-wise it was clean and modern with glass walls on 3 sides of the restaurant. It was a pity the neighbouring building on 1 side of the restaurant was under construction, affecting the view. The tables were well spaced apart, and well lit by the warm lighting, making photo taking very convenient..
Tap water was not provided, the cheapest bottled water being ¥60 for a bottle of Evian. I ordered a glass of ginger ale (¥30), which came pre-poured, leaving me to wonder which brand it was throughout the evening.
Shortly after, we were surprised with a complimentary amuse bouche – mini beef tartare and goat cheese on an unidentified green vegetable (we were told it was green apple, but it certainly wasn’t). The beef tartare was quite tasty, beefy flavour that was well seasoned, but didn’t taste raw. The goat cheese was a little mediocre, I didn’t feel that the flavours from the components matched each other. 7/10
House bread was served a few moments after our amuse bouche was done. I was quite taken aback by the generosity of the bread. 4 french rolls for the 2 of us. The bread was fresh and had a light crispy crust while the interior was warm and pillowy. 9/10
My partner and I chose the same starter – the Foie Gras Terrine with orange-apricot chutney, lemon and soy condiment, mustard seeds and muscat jelly. Intricately presented, the Foie was rich and creamy as I had expected from it. The mustard seeds had a mild flavour and their texture provided a nice crunchy contrast with the soft delicate terrine. The orange chutney helped to quell the slight gaminess of the terrine, while also balancing its richness. I had to be careful not to pair too much of the chutney with the terrine, because I found that the foie gras flavour was easily overwhelmed if the terrine-to-chutney ratio was more than 1:1.
2 parts terrine to 1 part chutney was a better balanced. I then tried a bite of everything on the plate together, and was impressed to find that every element harmonised together nicely, while still being distinct on the palate. This was a very well thought-out and executed dish which thoroughly met my expectations. The starter was well portioned and had me anticipating the next course without wanting for more. 9/10
For mains, I had the Grilled Beef Filet with roasted truffle gnocchi, vanilla parsnip puree and a red wine sauce. Beef was competently done at medium as requested, but I felt it could have used a little more seasoning. The Australian beef while being very tender and having a deep beefy flavour, felt a little cold and limp. The star of the dish was the vanilla parsnip puree, which was impeccably smooth and creamy with a well balanced sweet and tart, somewhat fruity flavour. The truffle gnocchi was pan-fried to a crisp, and truffle (oil) flavours could be tasted. That said, it tasted more like a tater-tot than a gnocchi. Nevertheless, it was an interesting alternative to chips.
The bordeaux reduction had a smooth consistency – a result of good technique and repeated straining. It had a mild sour taste that I had initially thought was a balsamic reduction, and that helped to cut through the richness of the beef and gnocchi.
There was an small scoop of ratatouille on the side, which was very tasty. Its rich tomato and basil flavours gave a nice contrast to everything else on the plate. This dish gets a 8/10, the marks mainly went to the quality of the beef, and the sides. I do feel the filet could have been seasoned better, and perhaps a little more excitement in the sauce.
My companion had the Filet of Turbot topped with a piperade emulsion, an eggplant caviar, pine nuts cream, sun dried tomato and martini pesto and a basil and parmesan ravioli. The turbot had a slight fishy flavour that was not as delicate as I am used to, for French fish dishes. There appeared to be a nicely caramelised crust, but unfortunately it was soft and soggy, perhaps from the foam. The foam was nicely flavoured, tasted like it was made from a lobster bisque of sorts. That was all I tasted on my partner’s dish, but she enjoyed it and finished nearly everything on the plate. She didn’t enjoy the pine nut cream, but found the eggplant caviar novel; It was cooked using a popular modern gastronomical technique where a mixture containing sodium alginate is dropped into a tub of calcium chloride solution. When the two chemicals come together, they react to form a thin membrane around the sodium alginate solution, which in this case was mixed with eggplant puree/essence. I did not taste it because the eggplant ‘yolk’ is a one-shot deal – You have to place the whole thing in your mouth and allow it to burst. It was interesting to watch my partner’s expression while she experienced it. That said, I wondered why eggplant was chosen, because eggplant doesn’t have a particularly pronounced flavour profile. 7/10
Regarding service, our male server explained the dishes eloquently and was a pleasure to listen to. At certain parts of the evening though, I felt we were watched by the line of servers standing across our table. Before our dessert course, our female server scraped the crumbs off our table, which I thought was a nice gesture.
Dessert was beautifully presented as one would expect from a fine dining establishment. I had the lemon tart with a well torched meringue paired with a lemon sherbet in a whole lemon skin used as the container. The pastry, lemon cream and meringue worked well together, and wasn’t too sweet. The sherbet was tart and helped balance the sweetness of the cream and offset any richness from the meal, a nice ending. 8/10
My wife’s raspberry sorbet had a beautiful sweet fruity flavour, paired with rarely sweet raspberries and a thick vanilla cream. However, the pistachio puree was lacklustre in the flavour department. 7/10
Complimentary petite fours were provided, and as usually true with all things complimentary, they were mediocre, nothing worth talking about. The exception was the olive oil with sugar soft candy, which I thought was pretty interesting. The 2 madeleines tasted pretty stale. 5/10
In conclusion, it was a very decent meal at a fine restaurant. For ¥258 per person, the Shanghai Restaurant Week was definitely a good value; I was sufficiently stuffed with food. That said, if Maison Pourcel had sought to impress and leave a lasting impression, I’m afraid the food did not hit that standard. The ambience was warm and welcoming, romantic even. I would highly recommend this as a venue for an anniversary, proposal, or even a date to impress the lady. Ask for a seat by the window to get the best view.