In the 21st century, Shanghai cuisine is rolling up its sleeves up and putting up a fight. Or rather, in the case of new restaurant Paradise Garden, it’s putting on its glitziest outfit and showing those fusty old classic Chinese cuisines that they’d better shape up. Dusty versions of Jiangsu’s specialties would be mumbling if they walked in from the lift, past the mirrored entrance glaring with reflected light, past the screened-off tables raised on dais platforms, and sat under a huge tangled metal snake of light, to be served with two outstanding cold starters – crunchy stem lettuce blanched in chicken stock, and de-boned chicken feet. These Gardens are not just showy – they work.
In truth the dishes are not a million miles from renditions that appear in many (but not countless) other upmarket Shanghainese restaurants around town – they’re just better. There’s the Zhenjiang style pork, a Huaiyang-styled pressed pork terrine with a delicate jelly. There’s the exemplary soy-braised cuttlefish, closely scored and sliced on the diagonal. Or Yangzhou gan si, thin shreds of tofu skin sitting in a subtle, milky chicken broth. A pyramid of crispy tofu skin and crushed cashew is a novel presentation, and after those first impressive displays it’s no surprise the kitchen knows how to steam a grouper to perfection, or produce xiaolongbao to rival a certain Taiwanese chain. No wonder Paradise Garden is packed with confident looking Shanghai money, young and loving every minute of it.