Since opened in 2009, The PuLi Hotel and Spa is a timeless luxury urban resort centrally located in the very heart of Shanghai’s JingAn District. On Level 2 of the hotel sits its much-loved PHÉNIX eatery & bar, which has retained one Michelin star for six consecutive years. Now its previous rich Southern French flavours have recently been revamped by the new Executive Chef Ugo Rinaldo, who has embarked on a mission to give a new life to French cuisine through revisiting old favorites with a modern refreshing twist.
Left to Right：Hotelo GM:Olivier Zatka、Executive Chef: Ugo Rinaldo、Writer
A native of Paris, Chef Ugo Rinaldo moved to Southern France as a child and trained under three celebrated chefs. He started his career as an apprentice working at the one-starred restaurant La Barbacane with the renowned double-starred MOF Chef Franck Putelat. During that three and a half years, he won a silver medal in the Bocuse d’Or competition together with Chef Putelat before he worked with Chef Alain Ducasse at the three-starred Le Louis XV in Monaco. After returning to Paris, he joined Yannick Alléno’s team and worked on many international projects, including the opening of the fine-dining STAY restaurant on the Palm, Dubai. In 2013, Ugo was designated to lead the Beijing restaurant and has since been working on Fine Dining projects in Shanghai and elsewhere in China.
When asked about his past experience with three chefs, Chef Rinaldo mentioned that Franck Putelat is his first mentor and that Franck did not see him as an apprentice but as a qualified chef. This high expectation accelerated his learning and showed him what it takes to be a real chef, and after three and a half years he emerged from apprenticeship all the way to demi chef de partie. In addition, the experience in the Bocuse d’Or with Franck once again made him very determined on pursuing culinary dreams, while working with Alain Ducasse equipped him with knowledge of three-starred kitchens and the commitment to the finest, freshest, and best quality ingredients. Yannick Alléno brought him a creative way of thinking, especially when preparing the restaurant in Dubai, where he learned futuristic concepts of the restaurant.
I met Ugo once when he was working at the MGM Macau before he joined the PuLi Hotel in Shanghai this year. Before that we met at the Kee Club, a private club in Shanghai, where he was the club’s head chef. Ugo is sincere, polite, thorough and accurate, and it was exciting to hear that the new chef announced at The PuLi Hotel is a familiar face. It had been a few years since we last met, so I was really excited to discover what Chef Ugo Rinaldo would bring to the table after he takes the helm of PHÉNIX.
It wasn’t a surprise when I first saw the menu where there were scallops, lobsters and others, I but after I tried the dishes, I was totally amazed by Ugo’s refined skills and sophisticated production.
The first course was Hokkaido scallops with black truffle, which is a classic pairing, and scallops are usually seared but not all restaurants handle this ingredient very well. Here is different. The moment I lifted the scallop shell, I was pleasantly surprised by the neatly arranged petal-like black truffle and scallops topped with a warm cauliflower sauce, where the sashimi-grade scallops were sizzled on the side for a smooth and crisp texture, and even after slicing, the umami was not compromised. The aromatic black truffle complemented the whole to offer a flavourful blast as well as a visual beauty.
Another dish was Kaluga Queen 10 years caviar with langoustine and bavaroise sauce. The sauce is made from whipped cream just as the mousse, but is thicker and creamier; the langoustine is handled thoroughly and accurately that it is impossible to go wrong.
Hokkaido scallop, black truffle, cauliflower, warm dressing
Kaluga Queen 10 years caviar, langoustine, bavaroise
This was followed by a duck consommé with morels raviolis, sage and house-cured duck ham. The tender, moist duck, together with earthy morels and clear consommé, formed a hearty winter dish with rich flavours and meaty delight. High-end restaurants usually serve house-cured duck ham because the fresh duck meat has shorter shelf life due to moderate fat content, so the house-cured method helps chefs better control the level of saltiness needed to extend the duck’s shelf life.
LE CONSOMMÉ DE CANARD
Duck consommé, morels raviolis, sage, house-cured duck ham
The key to the surprisingly tasty turbot dish may lies in the excellent fish supply and the use of ikejime (Japanese fish preparation method that paralyses fish and drains them of blood) to best maintain the quality of the meat. The turbot was delicate and firm and dashed with Chinese yellow wine to give it a local touch. But using Vin Jaune in French cuisine is not uncommon, so I reckon that Chef Rinaldo is also no stranger to using Chinese yellow wine. On a second thought, maybe the fish would also taste great with older, oxidative sherry wine. Seaweed butter, carrot and fennel were on the side.
LE TURBOT “IKEJIME”
“Ikejime” turbot on the bone, yellow wine, seaweed butter, carrot, fennel
The other main course was the pigeon. It’s soft and tender, filled with foie gras and served with salsify and shiso. A finely crafted kung fu dish by Chef Rinaldo. Perhaps the elaboration and sophistication that come along traditional French cuisine is something no French chefs could give up.
Pigeon, foie gras, salsify, shiso
The dessert was a multi-layered Mont Blanc made with house-made chestnut puree and diced chestnuts. The overall presentation was more spontaneous and artistic because it’s designed by Chef Rinaldo himself on that day.
Chef Rinaldo is the third Executive Chef at PHÉNIX, and although he is Alléno’s student like his predecessor, there are still some differences in their styles. It is interesting to note that Yannick’s students are all very good looking.
Chef Rinaldo’s professional career has not always been smooth. Alléno’s restaurants in France were all up and running, and I had a memorable experience at the three-starred restaurant Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris. But his business in Asia was not necessarily successful as their French counterparts. At that time, Chef Rinaldo was sent to work in Beijing, which inevitably meant opening up new territories, but he remained optimistic, saying that the most rewarding thing about Beijing was meeting his wife.
The travel from Macau to Shanghai was not an easy one. Due to the pandemic, Chef Rinaldo had to be transferred to Hong Kong before arriving in Shanghai for quarantine, but he said it was worth all the hard work to be at the helm of PHÉNIX and to return to the Fine Dining system where he can play his part. No wonder when we met this time, I could feel his lifted spirit and vital energy.
I’ve always liked the PuLi hotel: it’s just a turn down the bustling street and you can leave all the buzz behind and return to quietness. Through the large floor-to-ceiling windows of the hotel, you see a wall of towering bamboo trees, separating the hotel from the busy area even though it’s centrally located between Nanjing West Road and YanAn Road. The interior is also well maintained throughout years of operation, only adding to the charm of it. The lobby bar has always been a place I’ve wanted to go for a drink once in a while for a moment of peace of mind.
PHÉNIX is a place that brings back fond memories for many Shanghai people. In its early days, it was called JingAn Restaurant and was famous for its made-to-order, exquisite brunch. I remember visiting it several times with my friends when it was one of the trendy restaurants in the city’s culinary scene.
Now with Chef Rinaldo at the helm, the menu at PHÉNIX has been completely revamped and transformed to take on a new look for the restaurant. Very much looking forward to what’s next on the menu.