This is the second of the new-look Café Montmartre group, after the original was swept away with the old Xiangyang Lu Market. We reviewed the first reincarnation, up at the New Factories, earlier this year, and the verdict was: service, swift; fresh-out-of-the-box interior, too clean; and kitchen, not up to the original’s standards.
The newer Wulumuqi Lu arrival has 120 or so covers, and on a Friday lunchtime (the first of two visits) there was a lively buzz. To the wait staff’s credit, service remained slick, and the ¥55 lunch of one course from a daily changing blackboard with a drink is reasonable. Penne with dried fish roe was salty, creamy and rich, and a house salad with smoked duck and foie gras was a classic French bistro assembly, simultaneously rustic and luxurious. The second visit however, this time at night, betrayed problems. The service was again charming, but the food disappointed. Snails were totally unsalted (as reported in our previous Montmartre review) and a cod fillet, served with a thick, flavorsome pea purée and a perfectly balanced brown butter sauce, was undone by overcooked fish and a pretentious assembly involving a drinks glass and a sweet potato crisp. The Nutella crêpe restored smiles, with the pancake light, and the chocolate heavy.
Expansion is a tricky time for a restaurant. Consistency is one concern, being re-born as something more ambitious another. Café Montmartre is nearly there on the former, but might fare better ignoring the temptation to serve more restaurant-dressed dishes when it comes to the latter. If it does those simple bistro things well, Montmartre will remain a fixture of the casual dining scene.