Coquille has been considered one of the best French restaurant in Shanghai, despite it being owned by an American Taiwanese. Needless to say, it had been high on my list to visit for many years. So what stopped me from visiting earlier?
Warning: Excessive amounts of praise incoming. If you do not like the restaurant Coquille, read no further.
All reports I’ve read and heard about Coquille had suggested that dining there was no cheap affair. In fact, dining there is pretty expensive, on par with many restaurants on the Bund. Many celebrities have often been spotted there too. In the past, I’ve been somewhat of a thrifty diner, hence I’ve literally procrastinated my visit to Coquille for years, until finally last year.
This review was based on about 4-5 visits, none of which were invited. Since my first visit, their menu had changed.
Sadly, I did not get to taste the food when Chef Anna Bautista was around.
So, what had me take the plunge?
Here’s The Shanghai Kid’s tip for you. Every thursday evenings from 5-8pm is Happy Hour at Coquille. For 68RMB, you get two of the same cocktails, which mind you, are not weak watered-down affairs, along with two bar snacks from chef Jason Oakley. What you get served depends on the Chef’s mood of the day, but I’ve been served arctic shrimp rolls, smoked salmon pate, assorted tempura, seafood consome, amongst others on my visits. I consider this the beginner’s entry to Coquille. You are welcome.
a restaurant a modern, industrial, homely, rustic, etc. Not Coquille. Coquille is straight up a class act. It is one of the very few places in Shanghai, where upon entering, you feel you have been transported to another city that is not Shanghai. Of course, the impeccable service adds to that feeling as well. Cleanliness, is without a doubt, spotless.
Upon entry, you are greeted by a beautiful oyster bar featuring a plethora of oysters from all over the world. Beside the oyster bar are a few bar seats for drinks and mingling with the bartenders.
Most diners sit on the ground floor, whilst larger intimate groups are often hosted upstairs. 10/10
Upon entering Coquille, one is immediately greeted courteously by the staff. On a few occasions when I was there early at 5pm, I even saw chef Oakley come out to greet and welcome. I was surprised to hear the managers greet repeat customers like, “So good to see you again, welcome.”. Sitting at the bar on my various happy hour visits were almost educational experiences on what restaurant service should be. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Even though my first few anonymous visits were ‘cheap-ass’ affairs of 68rmb, I never ever got the feeling of being judged. Mind you, this is a restaurant where the average bill is above 300rmb per head.
When I finally did took the plunge to order something off the menu (a very lovely pan-seared scallop dish, which sadly had since been replaced), the server was very knowledgable of every dish on the menu, and occasionally gave her personal thoughts on which dish she liked most, and why, clearly indicating that she had tasted their own food.
Ordering was always comfortable and pressure-less. At no point in time did I ever felt I was being sold something. This is the sign of great service, when one enters a restaurant and feels like they’ve returned home. I have experienced this level of hospitality at several places in the states, very less so in Shanghai, hence, this merits a 10/10.
With regards to food, unfortunately I haven’t been able to afford to sample every item on the menu. Therefore, the tasting part of this review will be somewhat limited, but worth it nonetheless because of the best Beef Wellington that you can taste in Shanghai. But firstly, some ala carte items.
This was a hamachi crostini served complimentary during my last happy hour visit. I was with a friend that day, and we ended up ordering a few items for dinner. The fish was as fresh as it could be, free of any foul fishiness but bursting with a subtle richness balanced with the pickled shallots and olive paste. 9/10
Tete de cochon (88rmb). This is like a terrine made from meat from the head of the pig. It’s a very traditional French dish more commonly had in the country side, and is unlike the usual terrines you find here in other places. It tasted rich, gelatinous but not too heavy on the palate at all. As a matter of fact, one would hardly know that one was eating pork head meat if not for the slightly gelatinous texture. The fennel and leeks also added a nice brightness to the mixture.
If I had a complaint, I would prefer the bread slices to be slightly thicker. The ones served were nearly like crisps, and a little delicate to handle without breaking. The accompanying coleslaw paired pleasantly with the meat, offsetting the meat’s richness with it’s acidity. 8.5/10
On one of my visits, I overheard a lady specifically ordering the caramelized brussel sprouts (58rmb) side dish. She was raving about how good the brussel sprouts were. Naturally, I was very intrigued, and ordered it this time round. Unlike the usual way of simply boiling and stir-frying, the brussel sprouts at Coquille are roasted with pancetta, until charred and crispy on the outside, while still retaining much moisture within. The resulting maillard reaction is a fragrant, smokey flavour with notes of the pancetta. A few individual leaves on top were extra crispy, like brussel sprout crisps. Lovely. 8.5/10
Roasted Pork Belly with sauce Diablo (118rmb). This one is a tricky one to master. Western-style roasted pork belly is usually either delicious or awful. There is no middle-ground. The requisites are:
- Crackled, crispy but light skin
- Tender meat with a good fat-to-meat ratio
- Good flavour from aromatics and seasonings in the meat
Unfortunately, the pork belly I had that day was not on a good day. The skin was insufficiently crackled, which resulted in the signature rubbery bite of pork skin. As I said, cooking pork belly is very unforgiving. The fat-to-meat ratio was a little heavy on the fat side. That said, the meat was sufficiently tender, flavourful and paired quite well with the slightly spicy sauce. 7/10
We also had a 3 cheese platter to end the meal. Being from Singapore, I didn’t grow up eating proper cheeses, so naturally, I’m not too well versed with the less mainstream cheeses. We had a trio of cheeses around the camembert family. They were pleasant for me, and paired well with the walnuts and what-nots salad. My Romanian friend concurred with the score of 8/10
This was the pan-seared scallops (288rmb) from the previous menu. Perhaps someday, John will bring this dish back. He should, because it was one of the best scallop dishes I’ve ever had. The 4 scallops, pan-seared to perfection with that beautiful crust, while still being tender within.
The 2 prawns, also seared to perfection, had my favourite charred prawns taste and were bouncy to the bite. The creamy sauce was complex and packed with umami, pairing beautifully with the shellfish, corn and green pepper. Absolutely delicious and worth every penny. 10/10
It is known that service manager Vincent sometimes offer madeleines to customers he likes. I was happy to be one of them. Freshly baked madeleines, soft, light and fluffy. I’m not a sweets person, but this was definitely ok.
Wellington Wednesdays at Coquille (688rmb)
Only publicised via word of mouth and social media, and available mostly by advanced booking. For 688rmb, you get one of, if not the best and only beef wellington money can buy in Shanghai. Yes, it took me awhile before I decided to splurge, but life is too short not to try the best beef wellington in Shanghai. The wellington actually feeds 3 men comfortably on it’s own, so it is actually not that expensive. We were two, and ended up very, very stuffed.
The beef wellington was probably made famous internationally in recent years, by chef Gordon Ramsay. I have had the pleasure of trying chef Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington at his steakhouse in Las Vegas a few years ago, and it was an eye opening experience.
After trying Coquille’s, I am happy to say that Coquille’s beef wellington is even better.
Coquille’s beef wellington stuck very closely to tradition, with the exception of a single addition: a whole piece of foie gras. It was a stroke of genius, because the foie acted as the fatty balance to the otherwise lean tenderloin. Truth be told, I have never liked tenderloin steaks, because they lack flavour and fat.
Beef wellington is a notoriously technically difficult dish to get right every time. The reason is because you need to pan-sear the beef to anticipate the cooking from the baking process. Once you’ve wrapped the half-cooked tenderloin in the puff pastry, there is no turning back. You can only cook for as long as the puff pastry gets browned, otherwise you get burnt pastry and/or overcooked/undercooked meat; Our wellington was cooked perfectly medium. The puff pastry, beautifully browned.
Paired with the beef wellington were also some brocollini and potato puree. All of which, superbly executed.
The sauce that went with the wellington was light and delicate, although I felt that maybe a stronger sauce would have provided more ‘kick’.
That said, biting in the the slices, with the flaky puff pastry giving way to the moist and tender meat together with the mushroom pate, and then experiencing the richness of the foie gras slowly spreading across the palate, encapsulating all the ingredients together was sublime. 10/10
Thus endeth our tasting section for Coquille. I did not write more about the snacks I had during happy hour, because I couldn’t find the photos for them. However, worth mentioning was this Seafood Consomme that was offered recently. It was served in a beautiful espresso cup, and looked clear as tea, but tasted like it was simmered from the bones of a hundred fishes. It was amazing. Do ask for it if you are there on thursdays for happy hour.
Also, ask for the French dip; A sandwich comprised of left over beef trimmings, gruyere cheese with a superbly rich beef consomme for dipping. This one is not on the menu, and coincidentally is one of the owner, John’s favourite things to eat.
To conclude, in a market where many restaurants are focused on maximising returns and catering for the masses, Coquille is simply focused on food, service and ambience, and have done a remarkable job, in my opinion. There are restaurants where one would make more money so one could afford to eat at. Coquille is one of those.