Few chefs in China are as ambitious as Tony Lu. Involved in restaurants in Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, the heart of his small empire remain the three Fu restaurants. At Fu1039 he serves classic Jiangnan cuisine in an old mansion.
Whilst on paper, this sounds no different to Fu1015, a few houses further down the road, Fu1039 is in fact a unique restaurant. First of all, it offers the possibility to sit in a “normal” dining room, and not only private rooms. This might be a more comfortable dining environment for people who have not spent much time in Asia, and would find a private room a little secluded.
The food at Fu1039 is much more classical than at Fu1015. A perfect example of this difference is the hong shao rou (红烧肉). This “red-braised pork belly” is served in a more elaborate version at Fu1015. Including truffles, and abalone, it bears little resemblance to the original, whilst the Fu1039 version is simply a perfectly executed classic hong shao rou. This most classic of all Shanghainese dishes is done to perfection here: large cubes of pork belly are meltingly tender, and glazed in a sauce that is concentrated, sweet/savoury, and absolutely unique to this preparation.
Another emblematic local dish that is found in all of Lu’s restaurants is the smoked Shanghainese fish (老上海熏鱼). This is a classic preparation of smoked fish that is smothered in a savoury, sweet sauce. What makes the version here so special are its remarkably intensity and the texture: the incredibly crunchy outside is matched by flaky, firm, and juicy meat. Combine the crunch with the richness of the sauce, a subtle smoky note, and you have one of the most addictive and complete dishes in all of China.
What makes restaurants such as Fu1039 and Fu1015 so compelling is their combination of perfectly cooked food, reasonable prices, and a setting that is steeped in history. Recreating the environment in which most of these dishes would have been served a century ago is the icing on the cake.
Ultimately, what matters at Fu1039, however, is the food. And there is not much to complain about here: Lu’s team serves perfectly executed, classic regional dishes that elevate Shanghainese food to a level of sophistication that is rarely seen. It is this combination of sophistication and a very clear understanding of the classical bases that really is what makes his restaurants so unique.