Having opened initially as a private members only dining venue in 1999, it didn’t take long before Club Jin Mao had to open their doors to the public as their fame grew. The restaurant is located on the 86th floor of the 8th tallest building in the world (though I’m sure the Emirates and Chinese may have built taller ones by now), under the umbrella of Grand Hyatt Shanghai. With only 6 private dining rooms that cater up to 40 people, I felt quite priviledged to have scored a table here.
After switching lifts a couple of times we finally arrived at the reception. I did not quite expect such a grand art deco design for a hotel restaurant but it was very impressive. It was certainly far more tasteful than many of the establishments we had visited during the ten days we were in China.
We were promptly escorted to our private dining room which had a superb view over the city. We also had the priviledge, on this occasion, to dine with one of our culinary contacts from our trip, Peter Zhou. Peter has an amazing dining history, doing everything from hosting Gary Rhodes during his trip across China, to refining the famous Drunken Chicken at 28 Hubin Road and even cooking with Shannon Bennett.
Every single chef in this restaurant had been handpicked by Peter in his role as the Food and Beverage Director of Grand Hyatt Shanghai. He explained that he had spent months travelling around the region to scout for young talented chefs wanting to make a name for themselves.
Our lunch commenced with an assortment of Chinese bite size morsels starting with a fragrant Drunken Chicken marinated in shaoxing wine, Crispy fried prawns, cubes of Sweet and Sour fish, a couple of soft and juicy Spare ribs on the bone, a highly delectable Venison terrine and a stack of Celery sticks with pine nuts. Not a bad start at all.
Similar to our experience at 28 Hubin Road, the food arrived at a slow and steady pace which made the experience much more enjoyable. Our first warm course of the meal was a Mixed Fish Maw Soup which was very light and well balanced in seasoning.
These were the best Fried prawns from the trip. They were infused with the highly sought after Dragon Well Tea from Hangzhou. Each prawn was cooked to perfection with perfect bite and juiciness. Shame I had to share this plate with four others…Given we had arrived in the midst of the Hairy Crab from Yangcheng lake season, we were fortunate enough to try a few dishes incorporating them. I personally liked the delicate texture and balance of flavour in the Tofu with Crab Roe although some of my companions found the flavour was overly diluted.
Next was the Deep fried fresh water fish which had an amazingly crispy texture down to the bone! Unlike some of the other deep fried fish I had tried on that trip, this was not too oily and quite pleasant. With an addition bonus that it wasn’t done with a sweet and sour sauce for a change!
As we had not had any greens by this point, some Bok choy and sea root vegetable was thrown in. The sea root vegetable, which to this date still remains a mystery to me, had a rather bizarre texture not too dissimilar to rhubarb and parsnip.
Given the pricetag that comes with an entire Hairy (Mitten) crab, this was our one occasion we allowed ourselves to indulge in, and boy was it worth it! Each of these crustacean comes with its own certification tag given they can fetch up to $150 a piece (and trust me when I say they are not that big). As we had arrived on the 10th month of the lunar calendar when these crab are at their best, we could not resist ordering a piece each.
As with any warm crab we had to first eat the legs before they cooled down to fully appreciate the delicate flabour. Of course the core of this female crab was also divine, with a yolk like gooey centre formed by the roe. The intensity of the roe flavour was divine and perfectly complemented the regular crab meat. It’s funny to see how a specie of crab considered to be a pest in the Western world is so highly sought after here.
We had ordered some additional Xialongbao (Shanghainese dumplings) in case we were still hungry. The soup inside this dumpling was one of the best I’ve ever had, and what’s more the meat inside also contained more crab meat and roe. Heaven.
We finished our meal with a plate of Fresh fruits served over a bowl of dry ice emitting a dense fog. The fruits were surprisingly very sweet but I could not hide my disappointment that we were not being served a Chinese dessert. Given the calibre of cooking overall I expected something far more spectacular to finish but dessert was something that seemed to elude most, although not all, Chinese restaurants.
Club Jin Mao was without a shadow of a doubt one of the best fine dining establishment we came across in Shanghai. There were certainly moments of brilliance similar to 28 Hubin Road and the hairy crab season certainly enhanced the experience. It did come at a significant cost of course, albeit, in my opinion, being worth every single yuan. The cooking here was as authentic as Shanghainese food comes and who could complain with a stunning view? I certainly didn’t and would definitely recommend it if you were prepared to pay a bit for the experience. It’s definitely worth it.