In the summer of 2012, Jing’An, the restaurant located in Shanghai’s luxurious PuLi Hotel & Spa, made a bold move by hiring Michael Wilson as its head chef. A mere twenty-seven years old at the time of his appointment, the Australian was tasked with establishing a culinary identity in a city with plenty of competition.
Among the first Chinese ports to be opened to foreign trade in 1842, Shanghai has historically been a meeting point between East and West. This is reflected in a vibrant food scene where one finds both Chinese and European restaurants of a very high-level. Chef Wilson thus had his work cut out for him.
He eschews the two most common traps that chefs tend to fall into: the expensive copy of a European restaurant, solely built around imported products and with prices to match, as well as the dreaded fusion cooking that adds unmotivated Asian twists to Western classics. Wilson does combine local and foreign influences, but in doing so creates dishes that manage to stand by themselves.
A perfect example of his cooking is the black cod, served with black radish, shiitake and aubergine. The fish is of a quality that one finds in only the best restaurants in the Occident. It is a sizeable piece, immaculately cooked, keeping its firm, meaty character that mixes well with the smooth aubergine and the Japanese mushrooms. The slivers of radish, which add a bit of crunch, are another nod to Japanese cuisine, in this case Daikon. Thus Wilson serves a dish that, while drawing on different elements, succeeds in being both coherent and delicious.
A similar achievement is his duck dish. While that classic of Chinese cuisine, the Beijing Duck, is roasted in an oven for almost an hour and exhibits crispy skin and moist, but completely cooked through meat, Wilson wisely goes in another direction. His duck meat is served two ways. Once roasted, but for a much shorter time, so that it retains a juicy pink centre. The skin, while obviously less crunchy than the Beijing version, is still very tasty. Then as a pressed duck in a piece so tender that it literally falls apart on the tongue. Served with caramelized onions, this deceptively simple dish really hits the spot. Both starters and desserts are of a similar high level, as is the immaculate service.
The fact that the food is so consistently good here proves that the kitchen is operating at a very high level day in day out, making the Jing’An restaurant one of the highlights of Shanghai.