When you start considering the lawn-chairs in front of the restaurant as a viable option in a rainstorm, you know something inside is amiss. It starts with the Disney soundtrack – Nemo theme songs to sweeten the taste of the ¥3,380 abalone. It continues with staff more interested in the solitary goldfish atop the bar than in customers unlucky enough to be seated in the staid hotel lobby that passes for a ground-floor dining room. (Except for when they’re apologizing for a menu item being unavailable, and recommending another, always pricier, option.) And you suspect it’s most apparent behind the thick-curtained private rooms upstairs – diners who should know better, a kitchen that patronizes them with showy Shanghainese food and little substance, and perhaps the ghost of the villa’s first resident – a ‘20s banking chief – nodding sagely at all the status-clutching.
Deep-fried crispy pigeon is all grease and no good. A casserole of braised silver cod is oddly flavorless. It’s not the only thing to spend too long stewing in the place and lose its taste. The Wuxi-style spare ribs are better; almost purple when presented, sticky-sweet and similarly rich with flavor. But, like everything else here, the rest of the menu is for show. A page for shark’s fin, a page for bird’s nest, another for sea cucumber – boiling in Evian costs extra. Picking the hits from what’s left just isn’t worth it – the only fun to be had in coming here is working out why anyone else would bother. That lawn looks wonderfully inviting, though. All cards.