In the heart of Shanghai's former French Concession, a discreet Cantonese restaurant is pairing authentic Chinese haute cuisine with the finest French wines.
Ji Pin Court is just two years old and has just been awarded two-Michelin-stars. This high-end Cantonese restaurant in the former French Concession has already made a name for itself as one of the best in the city, even when surrounded by Shanghai's exploding culinary scene.
Chef Yat Fung Cheung is 40 years old and has been cooking for half his life. He spent his entire career working in Hong Kong before being given this opportunity to work on mainland China for the first time, leading a kitchen team of 30 in an elegant building that's also home to the Relais & Chateaux French restaurant Passage by AKMÉ. The basement houses the largest wine cellar in all of Shanghai, with a focus on the most prestigious producers from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Although he was excited by this opportunity, Cheung admits that he was quite homesick at first, and has had difficulty with sourcing many ingredients in China that he could easily procure in Hong Kong. “Japanese ingredients like wagyu beef, dried abalone and even soy sauce cannot be imported here,” he explains, attributing the difficulties to trade disputes between China and Japan. Cheung blends his own soy sauce to achieve the essence he prefers for dishes like diced Australian wagyu beef with black pepper. Most of his produce comes from Guangdong province bordering Hong Kong.
The French may be best known for their sauces, but Cheung's rich, flavorful concoctions are masterpieces all their own.
“Cantonese food is all about showcasing the true flavor of each ingredient,” he explains. His sauces, whether it's the rich pumpkin broth with egg white pearls that accompanies his signature sautéed prawn dish or his silky carrot sauce with braised fish maw, are always complementary and never overpowering. Unlike spicy Szechuan food or sweet Shanghainese cuisine, Cantonese food is all about perfecting the steaming and braising techniques that allow the delicate aromas of seafood to shine.
Although seafood is his focus, Cheung makes excellent crispy goose and barbecued pork, too. European ingredients sneak into his menu, like strands of saffron topping a steamed prawn and wild mushroom dumpling, and butter that adds extra richness to Chinese cabbage and morel mushrooms.
In traditional Chinese style, most diners, even at tables for two, are seated in private rooms. Each of the eight private rooms features commissioned artworks of art by contemporary Chinese artists inspired by European masters including Picasso, Miro, Dali and Matisse. There's also a main dining area with six tables, but I recommend requesting a private room for a more intimate experience.
Two set menus change every couple of weeks and you can also order à la carte. Regulars dining in large groups will often order favorite dishes à la carte to share, but for smaller parties or first-time diners, the set menus are a great way to try a variety of perfectly portioned dishes. Of the tasting menu options, one is a bit more modern, which Cheung says younger guests and international visitors gravitate towards, while the pricier option focuses on traditional Cantonese delicacies including abalone, fish maw, goose web and bird's nest.
Allow one of the restaurant's three Chinese sommeliers to pair each course with a wine, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well Cantonese cuisine harmonizes with Burgundian chardonnay and elegant pinot noir.
I love simple Cantonese dim sum like shumai dumplings and barbecue pork chang fen (rice noodle rolls).
What is a delicious ingredient you love to cook with?
Fish. It is such a versatile ingredient and I love eating it. My favorite fish is the red spotted garoupa, a Hong Kong delicacy.
What is one delicious place you'd like to visit?
I plan to visit Yunnan next summer to explore the mushrooms and truffles, and I'd also like to visit Australia and the United States.
What is one of your most recent delicious memories?
The egg tarts at Ming Court in the Cordis Shanghai Hongqiao were unbelievable. The best I've ever had. And I never would have imagined I'd have such good egg tarts in Shanghai!