More Shanghai Natives Joining Expats At Swish Restaurants On The Bund
The Bund, an icon of Shanghai’s rapid development, is not only a premier lifestyle destination, but also the home of some of the best Western dining in the city — and arguably all of China. In a city well-known for a high rate of failure in its food & beverage (F&B) industry, Jing Daily recently asked Fabien Verdier, who has served as Director at many Paul Pairet restaurants, and Pascal Ballot, Marketing Director of Three on the Bund (which houses several Jean Georges imprints, as well as the Whampoa Club and Shanghai Gallery of Art) what keeps their restaurants strong after so many years.
Given the high turnover in Shanghai’s F&B sector, perhaps the greatest secret for culinary success is a strong executive team, excellent management, and a more comprehensive approach.
Often, well-known Western chefs want to open a new enterprise in Asia yet do not commit the time to geographically relocate. As such, the quality needed to preserve the integrity of a fine dining establishment is not always consistent. When Mr & Mrs Bund opened four years ago, Paul Pairet moved to Shanghai and introduced a new concept, with the average cost for dinner around 500 yuan (US$81) and the kitchen staying open until 4:00 AM.
With other fine dining institutions typically double that in price, the exceptional value for Mr & Mrs Bund’s Haute French Bistro cuisine had never before been seen on the Bund. Coupled with its proximity to Bar Rouge — also owned by mother company VOL Group — Mr & Mrs Bund has remained a popular destination for expats, travelers and locals for its impeccable service and elevated casual atmosphere.
Three on the Bund will be celebrating its ten-year anniversary next year. Like the VOL group, which owns a number of different venues, Three on the Bund offers a comprehensive lifestyle experience not just in gastronomy but also in art, culture and philanthropy. By creating a more encompassing atmosphere, Three on the Bund differentiates itself as a beacon of luxury, which has ingrained itself as a landmark destination on the Bund.
Though the Bund remains a “heritage” fine dining location, rising real estate prices have forced many new fine dining venues to move to downtown Shanghai. In recent years, Capo, Otto e Mezzo, and Madison have all launched either in the former French Concession or behind the Bund, with very successful opening seasons and lower overhead costs.
As Fabien Verdier told us, “If you really look at the long term, Jean Georges is the only Western fine dining establishment that has survived on the Bund. The others are all located in the five-star hotels, and that has sheltered them from excessive economic concerns.” As Verdier sees it, the Bund will be home to more and more commercial concepts, rather than fine dining destinations with exceptional chefs.
“In recent years, our clientele has shifted from primarily expatriate to primarily Chinese,” says Ballot of Three on the Bund. “Local guests are now more educated, and many are well-traveled. These experiences, combined with increased interaction with foreigners, have helped them develop a very sophisticated taste for Western cuisine.”
Some Shanghai locals are choosing these upscale Western venues to entertain European or American business partners, while others are Chinese tourists from the many growing second- or third-tier cities attracted by Shanghai’s reputation for authentic international culinary experiences. The growth in local Chinese diners at these upscale eateries can also be attributed to exponential increase in Western restaurants of all price ranges in the city. Local Chinese are more likely to try new cuisines at these more affordable locations, enjoy them, and then choose to “trade up” to better dining experiences.
This defining characteristic has motivated some leading Shanghai-based chefs to take a page from the high-end fashion playbook and introduce “diffusion line” concepts. As Greek-Australian chef David Laris told Jing Daily last fall of the motivations behind his mini-chain of affordable Fat Olive restaurants, “I want to define the market in China as the middle- to upper market. [The Fat Olive is] an affordable option for the Chinese couple who wants to have a romantic evening or for the family to gather for a nice evening.” In addition to The Fat Olive, Laris currently operates a number of concepts ranging from the accessible (The Funky Chicken) to the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” (12 Chairs), and piqued local interest further last year via his first Shanghainese restaurant, Le Sheng.
As its dining market matures, Shanghai remains an incredibly dynamic and fast-paced market. Ballot believes that once the Michelin Guide become established in mainland China (A Hong Kong edition launched in 2008), the city will see a great influx of international celebrity chefs. Given the increasingly refined Chinese palate, the quantity — and more importantly the quality — of these upscale dining options can only rise, and — like the Shanghai skyline — rise quickly.
Stephany Zoo, cofounder and marketing director of Bundshop, seeks to bridge her bicultural heritage and achieve a greater understanding of international consumer behavior.
(Opinions expressed by Jing Daily contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Jing Daily editorial team.)