Park Chinois : The Charm of Old Shanghai
Last night was my first visit to Park Chinois, the latest venture by Alan Yau, the man behind Babaji Pide Salonu, and Duck + Rice. After having walked pass the cool container-looking scaffolding several times over the past one and a half years, and hearing rumours since last year that this one would be an old fashioned Shanghainese dance hall style restaurant, I was both curious and excited to experience Park Chinois, the most ambitious project by him to date. It all sounded fantastic, especially since I stopped going out clubbing in London for at least three years now because, frankly, I was sooo very bored of London’s nightlife. Even with all these new member’s clubs opening one after another in Mayfair and Kensington areas, in the end, they were all the same crowd… more or less the same atmosphere… the same old routine… and for someone like me who went out a great deal between 2009-2011, but did not enjoy excessive drinking, I just could not be bothered to go to any more clubs, no matter how exclusive, just to socialise any longer. So, in a way, I was jumping with joy to hear the concept of this new restaurant-nightlife hybrid, which I might actually enjoy!
I was lucky enough to be given a table from 6.30pm, which was perfect because the architect/ interior designer in me wanted to explore the interiors of this brand new Park Chinois both with and without the interruption from the crowd. Upon arriving at the venue, we were greeted with twinkling garland lights and the soft glow of Chinese lanterns above a discreet Shanghainese entrance doors behind a high metal fence, which both felt inviting and mysterious at the same time. I liked how the entrance alone, already set the tone of what could be expected once we stepped inside. It felt as if we were about to cross a threshold, leaving London into another world. Once the friendly yet very sophisticatedly dressed porter opened the wooden doors for us, we were blinded by the plush burgundy curtains, which added even more suspense to the experience. Behind it, we were greeted with a warm glowing fire and a very attentive receptionist at his desk. I actually enjoyed the friendliness of the staff a great deal from the very beginning until the end of the evening. It was actually the highlight of the whole experience, they made us felt so welcome and completely transported us from 2015 London to another era – both by their uniform and by their mannerism – which was quite unexpected, because I was a little worried that I was going to be greeted by snobby staff typical in many Mayfair establishments, but the people at Park Chinois were both very attentive, friendly and entertaining to talk to.
The interiors design throughout the establishment was mesmerising, and rich in detail. The opulent atmosphere reminded me of a hybrid between 1920’s art deco and 1930’s Shanghainese architecture – think the Great Gatsby movie meets Ang Lee’s Lust Caution! I was told by one of the staff that the fabric came from a French house who supplied for Versailles Palace, which was not surprising because the satin and red velvet certainly felt luxurious when touch. My favourite areas were the entrance lobby with a warm European fireplace opposite the giant traditional Chinese lotus lantern made of silk; and the hand painted Chinese screens with golden gilded details in the Ladies restrooms.
Although it was a little quiet when we first arrived, the dining hall soon came alive when more diners began to arrive, and a fantastic live jazz performance by the house band started from about 8.30pm.
Both food and drinks menu were very exciting and we ended up having two rounds of cocktails each, because we just wanted to try everything!! For the first round of cocktails, I had the ‘Blood Orange Thyme’, while my friend ordered ‘Apricot’ cocktail which were both great. We particularly loved very delicate and elegant cocktail glass that ‘Apricot’ was served in. Then we saw a nearby table ordered a very pretty looking pink cocktail, and wanted to try the same, so the waiting staff for our table went to find out the name of the cocktail, and promptly ordered them for us. The mysterious pink cocktail was called ‘Redcurrant Verjus’ which had a floral aromatic scent yet very light and refreshing. It was certainly the best cocktail we tried from the menu.
As for the food, we ordered ‘Park Carbonara’ as a starter, a dish consisted of udon served with 65 degree egg, pancetta and sea urchin, which was delicious, but we were more than disappointed that there was barely any sea urchins on the plate, i.e. we had exactly 2 pieces of about 1cm cube worth of sea urchins. Given the standard of the establishment and the price of the dish (£32.00), I really thought that an equivalent of one whole sea urchin would be a reasonable expectation!
Our mains were better though, we ordered ‘Potted Pumpkin Rice’ because I was a vegetarian, and ‘Guinea Fowl’ for my friend, which were both fantastic. We particularly enjoyed the potted pumpkin rice because it was like a Chinese style BiBimBub, where the rice was cooked in hot stone pot, so it had a mixture of crispy texture and soft, chewy rice.
For dessert, my friend had ‘French Strawberry’ and I had ‘Lime’ which were both light and refreshing, the perfect ending to a very enjoyable meal because we had very heavy Chinese food, so a light dessert was a good finishing touch. I was curious about their hot chocolate menu, and ended up ordering ‘Anaesthetic Sensation’, a hot chocolate made from pure cocoa, Sichuan pepper and grue de cocoa or cacao nibs, which was a very interesting drink because I never had cacao nibs mixed in a hot chocolate before. It had a strange chewy texture, which was very unexpected.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole Park Chinois experience. The setting and atmosphere was so romantic, perfect place for a date, casual people watching, or an entertaining evening for both food and music. I liked that it was sophisticated, elegant yet friendly at the same time. We felt very special while we were there throughout the whole evening, and I sincerely hoped that this atmosphere continued into the future. Unquestionably, it was a breath of fresh air for Mayfair nightlife scene, a much classier and more exciting night out than the usual member’s clubs. There is definitely something to be said about Old World Charm…