“Luxury. The Rich and Famous. The sweet promise of something good. What else can you ask for?” Shanghai’s newest fine dining establishment asks us this in its brochure. And as you enter the confines of this clean, modern space, with gold leaf lighting fixtures, white leather couches and lofty ceilings, the setting commands your attention. Restaurant spaces can’t promise a thing, but they can make an impact - a suggestion of things to come. So does the involvement of big-name Toronto chef Susur Lee, who designed the menu here.
The Chinoise Story has polish – there are gorgeous plates and waitstaff in beautiful dresses, towering wine glasses and pieces of coral that cradle your chopsticks. The service is as good as we’ve encountered here; it’s worth the 10 percent they charge for it. There are a few kinks in the dining room, however, including a strange whirring noise that bothered us on two visits, and the clash of the Jinjiang Hotel’s Kenny G soundtrack with the ambient electronica piped into the restaurant.
The food is steady and competently prepared, but the flavors don’t quite live up to the surroundings. It’s pretty, plated Chinese food with a look to the West, and great emphasis is placed on presentation. We had crunchy whitebait, glazed with sweet and sour and flecked with sesame seeds, in an edible fried basket. A light, crisp cone filled with tuna, mango and vegetables was refreshing and perfectly seasoned, while a glazed cod dish was uninspired and served cold. The best thing we sampled were chunks of pork rib-eye in a sweet, tamarind-tangy glaze, with chunks of kiwi and grape. And this updated version of the sweet and sour standby, like many of the dishes at Chinoise, showed promise. What else can you ask for in a new restaurant? That’s for you to decide.