M on the Bund, Shanghai

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro-Nilsson and Yina Huang at M on the Bund, Shanghai.

Sunday lunch at M on the Bund with the Swedish delegates to Shanghai (pictured below) and Yina Huang, Associate Director, Global Local Public Relations Office, Shanghai University’s MBA Center.
Photo © Olof E Johansson, J E Nilsson and C M Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

Shanghai is a remarkable city. Considering all vicissitudes this unfortunate city has seen over the last century it was with great expectations that I recently got to visit it, and to explore to what extent this city had regained its former glory. And in many ways it has.

The ebb and flow of great fortunes being made and lost ripples through the city, constantly changing its face. What is a constant is the river, and facing it is still the Bund however much widened. Across the river on the east bank, an entirely new skyline of Pudong greets us, the new skyscraper-laden financial and commercial district that also houses the new Pudong International Airport.

River view

Pudong area, just seen across the Huangpu River. To the left, the somewhat brutal outline of the ‘Oriental Pearl’ Tower.

What better place to take in all of this but at the fashionable restaurant, M on the Bund? As one review had it:

With superb Continental cuisine, an excellent wine selection and deft service, the fashionable M on the Bund sets the standard for other haute cuisine restaurants in Shanghai. As the place to see and be seen, the much-touted eatery attracts its fair share of Shanghai’s movers and shakers. Contemporary, airy and stylish decor complements sweeping views of the Bund. The food reaches equally high heights. Diners are recommended to try the Salt Crusted Leg of Lamb and the Crispy Suckling Pig. They should also leave room for dessert—the sinfully delicious pavlova is rightfully legendary.

But however much I had wanted that to be my impression too, I am forced to say I beg to differ.

I believe that if I were living in Shanghai, M could possibly be a place where I might want to bring friends and visitors. But it isn’t a place I would find myself craving to come back to, nor a place I would get addicted to as it stands right now.

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At our table, in good company.

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One of my favourite sights of the day – the Chinese flag in the wind, atop at the M.

Location

On a clear skied day in Shanghai, this restaurant is unbeatable in terms of its location.

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The location is fantastic, sitting on the high terrace with a view over the river and the Bund itself, the ambiance of the restaurant, fantastic – the food itself, is a different thing.

Drinks

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Drinks before the appetizers.

It is details in the dining ware that lend the restaurant its ambiance and for the moment, saves the dining experience.

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Hot chocolate. In the background, in a colourful gold and rose floral cup, plain hot water. The floral cup brings me back to days I would spend with my grandmother when I was a little girl, a comforting memory in a foreign place.

Food

The bread in the bread basket was neither warm nor crisp when first served in the bread basket. The accompanying butter looked neat but nothing outstanding in terms of presentation, where a simple detail of a sprinkling of some rough flakes of sea salt atop the little butter tubs would have made the presentation all the more interesting to the eye.

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Even the bread failed to impress.

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Salt and peppar on the M menu.

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A glimpse at the menu shows an obvious ambition to cater to an international crowd, though this is perhaps more difficult than it seems.

Red and black berries of any sort are often ingredients deeply rich and decadent in colour after being turned into sauces and jams that make it almost fail proof in terms of lusciousness when served. M however, managed to serve a voluptuous sauce in a lacklusture manner, spooned without care over the pancakes and hurried off to the customer. As people often eat as much with their eyes as taste with their tongue, that plate of pancakes that could have so easily been scrumptious, left much to be desired.

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Other dishes that seemed to lack presentation skills were clearly the pancakes and raspberry sauce.

Having not had clam chowder for several years since my days in Singapore, I ordered M’s version of clam chowder. What arrived looked much more like carrot soup spooned flat over a plate and two slices of burnt toast atop. Needless to say, the soup was cold even before it arrived at the table.

But artistry and presentation was not the only thing lacking at this restaurant – the chefs also seemed completely oblivious to the various cooking times of the ingredients. The burnt toast atop the clam chowder was not the only example of poor timing, but undercooked fish and chips, where the batter over the fish was barely cooked, and that the various ingredients on the Danish sandwich that came on another plate, didn’t combine in such a manner as to let off any fireworks in the mind of the consumer.

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Whatever happened to the pride and artistry of culinary presentation?

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A set of Danish sandwiches.

Haute couture dining at M on the Bund? I hardly think so.

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Egg and salmon salad. The salads at M were the only dishes that got a thumbs up from the group at our table.

So why would anyone pay a visit to this place at all?

Ambiance

Well, there are a few good things to say. It’s just as family friendly as it is conducive for business meetings where you might even appreciate its open bar and selection of wines. The waiters and waitresses are friendly and attentive enough and the restaurant managers, smartly dressed in pure black.

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The right wing of M on the Bund.

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Colourful hanging glasses created a decorative view of the bar.

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One of my favourite design features at M – the bar in the left wing of the restaurant.

Overall impression

If it hadn’t been for the inflated reputation that had went ahead of my actual visit, I think I and anyone else would have excused this dining experience as one of many things that accidentally can go wrong. I could have thought that this restaurant had not yet found its feet in this bustling economy and was in the process of improving. But now this is not really the case. This restaurant is hyped as one of the most important must do’s in the restaurant world of Shanghai and anyone will easily find any number of reviews to attest to its standing. I personally will have to disagree.

If the food improves and if the chefs put a heartfelt effort into their work with the customer in mind, I might give it one more try. But for now, with Shanghai as an international business hub with hundreds of alternative top notch dining places competing for a place in the sun, M will have a tough job working its way back up as one of my first choices.

However, the staff I met were very nice, and the view, admittedly, excellent.

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