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Laris GM a high-powered Bund babe

LARIS General Manager Sandie Xu is a highly successful woman in the male- and expat-dominated food and beverage industry. She tells Aubrey Buckingham that she's good to go for Saturday's fifth anniversary bash.

They say behind every successful man stands a woman, and while this is often the case, the reverse is not often true. Many men, so typically pig-headed and chauvinistic, still find themselves intimidated by successful women, thus forcing some women to choose between romance and a career.

Laris General Manager Sandie Xu knows exactly which side her bread is buttered on. The local lass may be top of her game running the Three on the Bund dining institution, but she has yet to snag herself a guy.

"Sadly I'm still single and I still have to be looked after by my parents," Xu jests. "It may seem like I have many opportunities to meet people, but many say when I'm on the floor I'm too professional and serious. People are scared of me.

"Actually I'm a very nice person, and still looking for an opportunity," she adds with a knowing smile.

Still, one gent fully aware of Xu's worth is her boss, David Laris. The Greek-Australian chef-cum-consultant installed her as restaurant manager when he opened five years ago, and, when previous GM, the outstanding Mark Mosimann, returned to take over his father's catering empire in London, Laris placed his faith squarely on the shoulders of the 33-year old.

More than just a face to the operations, Xu is equal parts perfect host and master disciplinarian. Beneath her calm, cool exterior lies a drive second to none, determined to succeed in the male- and expat-dominated food and beverage industry.

"I do appreciate David, Mark and Three on the Bund giving me such an opportunity as a Chinese to play such a role in one of the most successful restaurants in Shanghai," says Xu in a sound bite fit for any awards ceremony. "There are not that many barriers as a Chinese, and there are a lot of opportunities to shine and push myself. You have to have an open personality, you have to be able to talk to people and you have to have an open mind."

Xu is a veteran in catering, first cutting her teeth 15 years ago at The Portman Shangri-La before it became the current Portman Ritz-Carlton. She stayed on after the property switched management, then left to open the Four Seasons hotel in 2000.

When Three on the Bund burst on the scene in 2004, the ambitious Xu was perfectly poised to waltz into to what was then the most exciting lifestyle project in town.

"I knew (then-managing director) Alan Hepburn very well and he suggested I come here. Also, when you work in hotels, you always think about working for a free-standing restaurant - more independent, more fun and definitely more challenging," she says.

"The concept of Laris was new not only for me but also for Shanghai. The key to Laris' success has been in our quality and consistency as well as our loyal team - more than 30 percent of the staff have been here more than three years."

The past five years have not always been smooth sailing, and the flagging economy coupled with the Bund road reconstruction, ready in time for next year's spectacular World Expo, has affected the restaurants on the Bund.

Laris also became embroiled in scandal last year when a number of bar staff from its attached chic watering hole, Vault Bar, were let go. Xu and management are tight-lipped on the issue, while industry insiders suggest an abuse of power went on behind the vaulted doors.

"That was a pity, but I think everyone has learnt a lesson," is all Xu concedes. "It reminds me that coaching staff and helping development is most important. We're looking at internal processes to make sure it won't happen again."

One of the greatest struggles any dining establishment faces is maintaining that balance between front of house and the kitchen, but Xu feels that the pressure-cooker environment and the squabbles between both sides ultimately benefit the average diner.

"It's a common problem - both sides (anywhere) are always fighting. Still, we have the same goals, and we're fighting for the customer at the end of the day," Xu says.

Fifth anniversary bash mixes sin and sparkle On Saturday, Laris celebrates its fifth anniversary in style with a 1950s-themed "Hollywood Comes to Vegas" gala dinner and party.

Finally in celebrating a decade other than the 1930s, the Laris soiree will feature Vegas showgirls, waitresses on roller skates (although it is unclear if these are professional waitresses taught to skate or skaters taught to wait tables) and a six-course concept menu that brings the razzle-dazzle of Tinseltown and Sin City right here to Shanghai.

"I wanted to choose a theme that was unique to match the character of the restaurant," explains the restaurant's namesake founder, David Laris.

"Hollywood is glamorous and timeless, Vegas is cheeky and fun with a surprise every time you visit; I hope our fans feel the same way. There is a timeless quality in our design as there is in the era of the 1950s, a certain kind of magic and fun we hope to capture on the night ... and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!" he says.

Having plied his trade in Las Vegas before venturing to Asia, executive chef Jason Oakley is right at home with the mouthwatering menu, featuring creations such as traditional foie gras and shortbreads but with a kumquat twist, and an already-grandiose chateaubriand with the luxury dialed up with speck, white asparagus and fried quail eggs.

"What we have chosen to do this year is to recreate classic interpretations of popular dishes served in the casinos and Hollywood restaurants of the era," says Oakley. "By using certain gelling agents and modified food starches we can present the same flavors in a new way."

The dinner costs 998 yuan (US$146) and includes a glass of 2000 Dom Perignon Champagne. The after-party in Vault Bar starts at 9:30pm, and premium drinks are just 50 yuan.

Address: 6/F, 3 Zhongshan Rd E1

Tel: 6321-9922


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