SHEX Reviews: The Cathay Room
Since 1929, the ninth floor of the Fairmont Peace Hotel, formerly the Cathay Hotel, has been home to an exclusive escape from the often claustrophobic streets along Nanjing East Road.
Overlooking Shanghai’s scenic Pudong skyline (make sure to request a table near the window or outside on the terrace), The Cathay Room offers an exquisite dining experience for both lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Menus are prepared by Executive Chef Nicholas Blair, an Australian native coming from a long line of chefs dating back four generations.
Although the restaurant serves modern European home-style cuisine, Blair brings some Asian influences from his extensive international experiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
‘One of the best things about being a chef is being able to travel and come across so many ingredients that you don't normally get to see,’ Blair told me. As a result, Blair emphasizes his use of quality local produce, adding components that are local to China and Asia to what would normally be seen as traditional Western dishes.
For lunch, patrons choose a two- or three-course set-price meal for 238 RMB or 288 RMB, respectively, with an additional 15-percent tax and service charge. Blair’s Asian influences are immediately apparent among the starters—from his roasted pork belly with farmed scallop shallot crust and steamed silken tofu with squid ink jus, to the organic green salad with fried tofu croutons, soft-boiled quail eggs and button mushrooms. The restaurant also offers a wine list of 200 labels from Europe and the New World presented by its resident sommelier.
After trying the bread basket consisting of four different types of soft bread, I tried what Belle Bai, the hotels' assistant director of marketing communications, said was one of the chef’s favorite dishes: the roasted pork belly. The equal amount of meat and fat, topped with a nicely crisp skin, meant each bite was packed with indulgently delicious flavor. Plated next to the pork was a perfectly cooked scallop atop a thin slice of silky tofu, which felt nice to the palette after eating such chewy meat. Bai said that Blair’s Taiwanese wife, who he said is his ’toughest customer,' has greatly inspired him as a chef. Especially being in Shanghai, a 'mecca for chefs in Asia,' Blair said he’s more able to share the creations that he has been working so hard to develop.
Next, our server Jan brought the main courses. I chose the sautéed mushrooms with pasta, porcini mushrooms, fried pork and cream sauce. The crunch of the fried pork balanced well to an otherwise softer-textured dish. Not one for finishing restaurant pasta dishes, being able to finish this one attests to the perfect portion size. Given the lack of cheese in my diet of mostly Asian food, I also found myself particularly enjoying the thin layer of white cheese melted atop the stringy pasta.
If you’re looking for a particularly impressively plated dish, then try the roasted and poached sea bass with black truffle jus, spinach and mashed potatoes. This main course comes on a rectangular, Japanese-inspired black slate plate.
Finally, a chocolate tart topped with strawberries and blueberries with a scoop of toffee ice cream on the side finished off the experience. The smooth and soft milk chocolate wasn’t too sweet, and the scoop of toffee ice cream on the side, albeit small, paired well with cookie crumbs scattered beneath it.
The restaurant promptly emptied out by closing time at 2:30 p.m. Service resumes at 6 p.m., and it may be worth making another trip to try what the chef says is his best dish: black cod and king prawn with braised cotechino sausage, red wine emulsion, green asparagus and roasted mushrooms (258 RMB).
Shanghai Expat says:
Location: At 20 East Nanjing Road on the ninth floor of the Fairmont Peace Hotel, the restaurant not only is centrally located along the Bund, but also is the only one to have a balcony overlooking the Huangpu River and Pudong skyline. Take a right upon entering the hotel, and walk straight down the hallway to take either elevator on the left or right side to 9F. 7.5/10
Food and menu: Each dish is thoughtfully plated, nicely prepared and professionally presented. Portions are just right, and options are fairly varied for a fine-dining restaurant. 9/10
Environment: Décor has an upscale, 1920s-style European feel, with a combination of wooden-backed chairs and tall, fabric armchairs. Subdued music adds to the serene environment in the mainly sunlit dining area. 9/10
Value for money: For a restaurant located in such a historically rich area with such a fantastic view (and expertly prepared menu and food), The Cathay Room is worth the splurge. Expect to spend about 274 to 332 RMB (including the 15-percent tax and service charge) per person for lunch and about double for dinner, which does not have a set-price menu. Sunday brunch is priced at 798 RMB per person, including free-flowing Veuve Clicquot, red and white wines, beer, soft drinks and creations from The Cathay Room signature Bloody Mary trolley. Non-alcoholic brunch is priced at 598 RMB per person. Children aged 6 to 12 years receive 50-percent off at 299 RMB, and children aged 5 and under are complimentary. 7/10
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