To 1930's Shanghai with Lunch at Park Chinois
In between ogling at the Jaguars and the Bentleys and Rolls Royces in one wide shop window to the other, you'll readily walk to the end of Berkeley Street without realising it. Unless, of course, shopping for wheels is the purpose of the day because then you'll truly miss the measured, less imposing facade of Park Chinois.
But even with its conduit sized front, there's one thing restaurants on this street have in common, and that's their ubiquitous men dressed in black.
Like a secret corridor inside, the restaurant maintains its long passageway. If we kept walking, where would we come out? I wonder. The no windows, low lights, adding to its intrigue. Fully draped and claret-red walls do much else to quench the expectation of black stockinged thigh-high kicking ladies making their way down the centre aisle. I am intrigued and ready for a scandalously good afternoon.
Coats in the cloakroom, we snagged a corner seat on a slightly elevated section of the room, drapes at our backs, we sat positioned to survey it all. Except, this is Salon de Chine. Any scandalous happenings are one floor down in Club Chinois.
Instead, heels firmly buried themselves under the table; bums cosied on velvet sofas while liquid pleasures made their way over to the table with side helpings of live jazz.
Reading my stories, you'll know Pina Coladas get a mention. You may even have walked away thinking I like the stuff. Truth be known, Pina Coladas have never made my list. But with a sip of Mr PWT's not-so-poco-grande-glass of tropical goodness, I felt a slight shift in the carpet. I was ready to exchange my no-longer-so-zingy Shanghai Soleil (the only mocktail not from the off-menu) for this fresh, unputdownable blend of coconut cream and pineapple juice.
A melody taps at my ears, its quicks, steady, highs, lows; dictating the atmosphere, dictating heydays in a New Orléans watering hole. While, on the other hand, a ledger-sized menu promises a jaunt across China. Crispy aromatic duck heads up the list, bang-bang chicken halfway down it, maintain the status quo.
But a moment lingering over this menu, you'll see just how globetrotting it is. Char sui'd Iberico pork fills bao buns, summer truffle accompany crispy bean curd Cheung Fun, and Scottish beef short ribs get into bed with black bean sauce. Xiè Xie, I say!
Choosing becomes a bit of,
Ok, I'll have this, you have that! And why don't we have this with it?
Even our tuxedoed waiter gets to choose. Laughing!
Not long, the kitchen sends out a bamboo basket of four Ibérico Char Sui baos and another of Japanese pumpkin and morel mushroom dumplings. I'm not expecting the sugariness or pillowiness of the baos, and pass those over for its more spiced filling. The dumplings, however, are gold-leafed topped happy yellow balls bursting with eyes wide opening flavour. A dip in the sweet chilli oil delivers a peppery keep-doing-it-kick to the back of the mouth.
I reckon the chef got his numbers wrong on these; it really should have been the other way around.
I've, however, since forgiven the chef when out comes an island sized portion of stir-fried rice. And the Bentley of the meal - a skillet parading Japanese Gumma Wagyu rump betrothed to black bean sauce. Our waiter eagerly positions the skillet (one I'd like to take home) for the money shot!
If you've heard it said
Wagyu is meltingly good in the mouth.
Believe it. It eats as though I've personally had a hand in bottle feeding the cow—singing it a sweet song or possibly a cheeky massage or two in the afternoons. It was that good to eat.
There's no mad rush to marry the wagyu and the bean sauce, but I am melting on the wagyu.
The band, now on a break, we focus on the venue's yesteryear glam said to be inspired for 1930's Shanghai heydays. I am mildly entranced.
There's an eclectic mix of diners about, including a Disney crowned princess and family. And, by mid-afternoon, sassy smocked ladies wearing quilted gold chained crossbody bags are catching up for a face to face about the chinwag already had over the phone in the middle of the week.
The lighting, though low, is ambient, giving colours their pops against vivid white table cloths.
Chef's kiss for foodie grammers!
The maître d redirects our attention to the dessert menu. I decline, but my decision is questioned, and I sacrifice my 'fruit only dessert rule' for a garden of bite-sized morsels of chocolate, macarons, cakes and creams.
If only to look at, my eyes are rewarded, drawn to a satiating red creation on the platter. Lips around the dessert spoon deliver everything eyes communicated to the brain. Tangy raspberry freshness burst into a cottony sweet cream, mingle with a crunchy shell and rose petals: this, the Rose Royce of the platter.
For a jazzy lunch in the middle of a Saturday afternoon in Shanghai, take a flight of fancy in Park Chinois, Mayfair.
Back out in the pandemonium that is Picadilly and the four-minute walk, it took to get us there, the antidote of Salon de Chine begins to wear.
Oh! And before I forget, make for the ladies restroom before you leave. And as per Mr PWT, the gents are even more intriguing!
Location: N°17 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 8EA