The Pine at Ruijin
Add: Bldg 11, The InterContinental Ruijin, 118 Ruijin Er Road, Shanghai 瑞金二路118号 瑞金宾馆11号楼
Tel: +86 (21) 6015 9268
Hours: closed Mon; Tue-Sun 12pm-3pm, 6pm-9pm
Price: [lunch] 297 / 3-course, 697 / 6-course; [dinner] 1197 / 8-course; à-la-carte also available
Visited: June 2018
Will return: Definitely
In a way that few restaurants do, The Pine draws me in from many directions. The first is the utter flawlessness of Mr. Johnston Teo’s cooking. Everything I had over my long lunch in the soothing, light-filled dining room was impeccably executed — each ingredient perfectly cooked, every sauce wielded with precision.
The second direction is the astonishing level of eloquence that Mr. Teo manages to coax out of even the most unlikely players. Take the cucumber, for instance, around which Mr. Teo builds a riveting appetizer: a quenelle of sweet, lushly colored cucumber sorbet rounds out lively curls of pickled cucumber, livened up with tiny cubes of fresh cucumber and a vibrant cucumber broth. Beads of apple add a sweet crunch, and, just when I think it is over, a swoosh of kelp purée brings in a back hit of the sea.
Cucumber, coriander, kelp, Granny Smith apple
Any chef that manages to turn a cucumber into a concerto would certainly get my attention, and the rest of my lunch proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this attention is well-deserved. If the brioche that preceded it — warm, butter-rich heaven that took every ounce of my willpower to resist devouring — hadn’t already convinced me that the kitchen meant business, the cucumber would have.
In fact, the cucumber reads like something of a resumé for Mr. Teo: you can draw a straight line from his culinary background to the elements on this plate. There is the repertoire of immaculate techniques honed through classical French training; there is a kind of elegant restraint and modern sensibility, acquired in the kitchens of JAAN and Odette in Singapore; there is an adeptness in recognizing the potential in each ingredient and molding it to his will, cultivated during his tenure as R&D chef at Odette.
These qualities are never far below the surface at The Pine, but they are perhaps most apparent in a plate of delicate, butter-slicked capellini. The soft fragrance of chives and a hint of salty ham lay the groundwork for a bevy of girolles and black truffle, a tender assault of the forest underpinned with flakes of comté. This is poised restraint at its most expressive.
Chanterelles, handmade capellini, comté, black truffle
You would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate setting for that poise than the sequestered gardens of the InterContinental Ruijin. Diners sit surrounded by the restaurant’s namesake tree — be it actual pine trees planted all over the grounds as far as the eye can see, or their likeness painted on the walls in soft, serene strokes, exuding an air of quiet elegance in much the same way that Mr. Teo’s cooking does.
Technique and poise are by no means easy to attain — many restaurants take years to get there; some never do. But what really sets The Pine apart in my mind is how Mr. Teo manages to rework his techniques and perceptiveness around the local palate, with a coherence and congruity that can elude many chefs, let alone one who moved to Shanghai barely 6 months ago.
One of Mr. Teo’s nods to local cooking is his proclivity for using sweetness as a magnifier. Chawanmushi is cloaked in a smoked sturgeon broth thick enough to cling to the spoon, and sweet enough to bring to mind the comforts of warm tea and soft blankets. Tender chunks of bamboo clam rein in that sweetness with flickers of umami, while pearls of winter melon add a soft crunch. This is a study in gentle contrasts.
Bamboo clam, egg custard, winter melon
In much the same vein is the Wagyu short rib, all comforting warmth and subtle dimensions. The richly marbled meat yields easily beneath the fork, melting against soft coins of yam and a velvety onion purée whose sharpness is tempered and tamed. Gleaming underneath is a glaze made with magau peppers from Taiwan, whose sweet and sour accent tastes achingly familiar even though the combination is entirely new.
Wagyu short rib, magau pepper, mountain yam
The toothfish served in a hot soup represents another accommodation to local preferences. Quiet and inconspicuous at first, the flavors build endlessly in depth: the richness of tenderly caramelized fish that flakes into glistening layers, the persistent smokiness from the broth, enlivened with a mound of milk cabbage that tastes precisely as green as it looks.
Toothfish, smoked sturgeon broth, milk cabbage
All of these creations are symptomatic of a disinterest in pushing boundaries, a simple, earnest desire to please backed by consistently impeccable techniques, all of which culminates in the lobster that has become something of a signature at The Pine. The bouncy lobster and chive-fragrant rice are made exceptional by a small pot of XO sauce that draws its energy from the addition of rich lobster coral. Everything combines into a mound of spine-tingling loveliness, exquisite beyond words.
Lobster, coral XO sauce, daikon
Desserts by pastry chef Ms. Junstyne Wu, formerly of the acclaimed Le Moût in Taiwan, reflect the same kind of elegance as everything that precedes them, if not yet quite the same level of finely tuned expressiveness. To clear our palates after the lobster, Ms. Wu presents a refreshing granita, fragrant with osmanthus and lively with cherry.
Osmanthus baobing, cherry
Then comes basil-crowned globes of mango swimming in a fragrant coconut cream, alongside an inverted reprise of basil sorbet floating in a light mango mousse. The tropical swirls of fruit and herb are lovely; they might be more lovely with something to ground them. But Ms. Wu fulfills that desire for something more substantial with the petit-four, a crumbly dream of a vanilla cookie sandwiching a thin layer of black olive paste. The idea tastes a lot less eccentric than it sounds.
Mango, coconut, lime
Vanilla black olive cookie