Dining at Le Cygne, which lies on a small road between Maoming Road and Shaanxi Road, is a wonderful experience even before you enter its large, gate-like doors. Jinxian Road, debatably part of the Former French Concession, has interesting cafes and bars, perfect for a pre-dinner drink or post-dinner coffee. There are also a number of antiques shops such as 'Old Shanghai', ideal for a rummage, which set the scene well for a very special food experience next door at Le Cygne.
Le Cygne is a passionate and nostalgic enterprise for owner Larry Zhou, where he seeks to recreate the tastes of his childhood and the taste of the food eaten by Westerners in Shanghai's illustrious early 20th century. Larry was a charismatic host, cultured and urbane and must be complimented in having set up an establishment worthy of being counted among Shanghai's complement of good French and European restaurants.
To contextualise Le Cygne's excellent menu and atmospheric decoration, Larry explains his motivation in establishing the restaurant. The last half dozen generations of Larry's ancestors read like a ‘Who’s who’ of Chinese history from the late Qing Dynasty through until after the revolution. Larry is the son of a cultured and wealthy family, and his household chef as a boy was the chef of a famous French restaurant from Shanghai’s heyday that has now closed, Le Cygne. The old Le Cygne was not only a restaurant for Westerners but also the place where many old Shanghainese had their first taste of Western food. Larry has set up the new Le Cygne as an homage to its namesake of yesteryear.
This is not to say that the new Le Cygne is dated in any way; its intimate art deco style interior is trendy and smart, perfect for entertaining or a date. Large tables and even the whole restaurant can be booked for larger functions. The seating in the restaurant is thoughtfully arranged, giving the tables for two the privacy appropriate for a romantic dinner, while making sure that there are larger tables to suit different dining requirements.
Larry does not only wish to recreate the atmosphere of the old restaurant but also the food. Distinguished French chef Serge Alain Gros faithfully prepares some of the recipes of the old restaurant, provided by Larry. Ask the waiting staff to point out to you which items on the menu these dishes are. The food is modern European rather than strictly French, though there are some French classics on the menu. The menu had a superb range of dishes, with something to suit every taste, including a number of seafood dishes.
Everything was carefully prepared and beautifully presented. One dish worthy of particular praise was the cod wrapped in bacon with a creamy and tangy Hollandaise sauce on a bed of spinach. Smart and unpretentious food cooked thoughtfully.
Le Cygne is a good choice for a quiet and inspiring dinner. The rich upholstery is comfortable and the decoration chic. The waiting staffs are attentive and there is none of the snobbishness that sometimes comes with French food. There are also reasonably priced set menus, as well as a different set menu every night of the six evenings leading up to Valentine's.
-by Charles Prior
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