Yongfoo Elite is charming behind its exclusivity. And exclusive it is. Membership to the club runs to ¥20,000, and access to the restaurant began initially only through the high-design, members-only club. It’s since been opened to the public, but prices (dinner for two effortlessly breaks four figures) have done the work membership cards once took care of. The leather chairs are routinely filled with tall beauties, short power brokers, refined women talking about business relationships in Europe, and the glitter-iest of the gliteratti. An imposing maitre’d moves efficiently around the dining room. Vintage Gucci couches lounge in the bar; heavy wallets keep them company. It’s perfectly suited to Shanghai’s image of itself, and has all the necessary elements in place to be the gravitational center of our city’s pretensions.
But Yongfoo Elite’s strength is in its ability to temper the overbearing snobbishness with design. There is an active sense of humor in the details – a cheap stuffed animal here, an intentionally tacky statuette there – that subtly undercuts its heavy design, and charms in the process. The house has a warm touch and a genuine personality that transcend the food. Necessary, really, because, as a dining destination, Yongfoo Elite flounders. Its versions of Shanghainese classics like kaofu (wheat gluten), xunyu (smoked fish), or bean curd with hairy crab roe all fall flat. Much better versions exist at countless anonymous storefronts. The kitchen is neither subtle, nor refined; it’s bland and heavy-handed. But Yongfoo Elite is not a kitchen; it’s a house, a grand distraction, and a perch for its guests to look down from.