Add: No.41 Guang Yuan Road, Shanghai 广元路41号
Tel: +86 (21) 6448 3851
Visited: April 2017
Will return: Yes
A cozy French bistro by Japanese chef Kenji Ishibashi, Racines is a hidden gem in the truest sense of the word. Discreetly located in a quiet residential building behind a rather nondescript door, Racines is certainly not a restaurant you’d stumble across. But if you know what you’re looking for, Racines is one of most invigorating French bistros in town, a compelling meeting of French techniques and Japanese sophistication.
Photo credit: Ivy
A blackboard lists some twenty options available for the night, with the dishes getting progressively more substantial the further down the board you go.
Photo credit: Ivy
Some of the most powerful dishes at Racines are vegetables, which, if you think about it, is rather appropriate considering the name “racines” means “roots” in French. Chef Ishibashi’s interpretation of ratatouille was served refreshingly cold, grounded by a plump, creamy pouch of mozzarella.
Ratatouille with buffalo mozzarella (165)
A plain-looking mushroom salad had a depth of flavor that took me by surprise, the fleshy mushrooms galvanized by a sharp jolt of acidity, tempered with a variety of sweet and creamy notes – croutons flecked with raisins, paper-thin discs of raw button mushrooms, rich, salty rosettes of Swiss tête de moine cheese, and a creamy dollop of mayo. The nuanced layers of complexity spoke volumes of Chef Ishibashi’s skills.
Marinated mushroom, tête de moine (150)
Racines is supposed to be a French restaurant, yes. But given that it is run by a Japanese chef, I was not as surprised as I might have been to see risotto – and two different risottos at that – on the menu. Chef Ishibashi’s wit and resourcefulness showed through in both. The scallop risotto twinkled with kernels of corn, echoing the sweetness of the perfectly seared scallops, while the foie gras risotto – foie gras generously browned on the outside but still quite rare within – was brightened by a touch of vinegar, with texture supplied by tiny cubes of burdock root.
Hokkaido scallop, corn risotto (235)
Pan-fried foie gras, burdock risotto (180)
The bonbons de foie gras have been a crowd favorite at Racines since it first opened. These little footballs had deliciously molten foie gras encased in a crisp shell woven with thin threads of potato – a lavishly decadent symphony of foie gras and potato.
Bonbon foie gras (170)
The menu is less than forthcoming when describing the main courses – “roasted duck breast”, “slow-cooked beef cheeks”, “pan-fried snapper” – but that secretiveness gives rise to a certain degree of surprise, and Chef Ishibashi’s choice of accompaniments are certainly far from boring. Succulent fillets of snapper were accompanied by fat stalks of white asparagus, soft, tangy parcels of fried artichokes, and, interestingly, plump little pillows of gnocchi. The textures were slightly one-dimensional, but the tickle of paprika was an inspired touch, lending an interesting depth of flavor. The duck breast offered more variation in texture, served with meaty mushrooms and crunchy chunks of arrowhead.
Pan-fried snapper (235)
Roasted duck breast (230)
Desserts, sadly, were not quite as poised as the savory dishes. The chocolate mousse was perfectly balanced in its layers of sweetness, bitterness, and a touch of alcoholic tang. But the bowl of diced mangoes, covered with passion fruit compote and an alcoholic jelly, was far less harmonious, the passion fruit too pointed in acidity and the jelly too sharp in alcohol to have anything reasonable to say to the mango. A lemongrass panna cotta in a strawberry gazpacho was pleasantly light and fragrant, but ultimately not quite memorable except for the fizzle and sputter of some pop rocks scattered on top.
Chocointreau mousse (45)
Mango passion fruit (45)
Lemongrass panna cotta, strawberry gazpacho (45)
Much of Racines’ appeal comes from the Japanese touch that Chef Ishibashi infuses so seamlessly into his cooking. That, combined with excellent techniques and hearty flavors, makes Racines a restaurant I’d happily visit whenever I’m in the mood to be gently and pleasantly surprised.