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Menus for lovers

TO help you get it right, that elusive ambience of Valentine's success, Nancy Zhang suggests three French restaurants that put amour on the menu The all-important Valentine's dinner is as much about the atmosphere as it is about oysters, Champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

But romance is hard to foster in the minimalist decor of ultra-modern restaurants, and intimacy is nonexistent in grand dining rooms packed to the rafters.

To help you get it right, that elusive ambience of Valentine's success, here is a selection of restaurants with a bit more character.

Le Cygne

Many things French seem linked to romance - from the city of Paris to the French language. And of course, French food completes this harmonious trio.

Le Cygne, a new addition to Shanghai's French fare scene, opened just two months ago on Jinxian Road. With a glamorous entrance lobby, and finely detailed Art Deco interior, the restaurant aims to create the "taste, style and discretion of old Shanghai."

The restaurant is loosely modeled on a long-gone French restaurant in the 1950s. In those days Shanghai had very little international influence and the Western food scene was limited to three restaurants: French restaurant Hong Fang Zi (now revived as HFZ), a long-gone German restaurant, and a French restaurant known in Chinese as The Swan - the inspiration for Le Cygne.

"Western food in those days was not really authentic, it was more a mix of styles," says Larry Zhou, owner of Le Cygne. "My aim was to offer authentic French food, plus some of the famous dishes from the old Swan restaurant."

The new Le Cygne employs French chef Serge Alain Gros who has worked at Parisian restaurants Maxim's, Le Pavillion de l'Elysee and Le Doyen. The Valentines menu at 588 yuan (US$86) for two features a salad entree with warm scallops and foie gras, followed by bisque of prawn soup.

Mains are a choice between beef and duck breast in spiced mango sauce, or a la minut scallop. To finish, there is a surprise Valentine's dessert, and all couples get a complimentary rose and chocolates.

Zhou's own family history is closely tied with the fortunes of the old Swan restaurant. The descendent of a distinguished Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) official, scientist and diplomat, Zhou's grandmother was part of 1930s Shanghai high society. Their home employed three chefs, one of whom went on to found the Swan restaurant.

The new Le Cygne will not only serve authentic French food, but it will also be in "quantities reflective of a bygone era," says Zhou.


Nestled in the dome atop Three on The Bund, the Cupola restaurant seats just two very special people at the very top, and only four on the level below.

This intimacy, the plush decor and 360-degree views of the Bund have earned the Cupola the label "one of the world's most romantic dining spots" by Conde Nast.

This year the glamour is upped a notch thanks to crystal maker Swarovski. The restaurant will be transformed with crystals from Swarovski's Crystallized line that bring "radiance, emotion and desire to everything they adorn." The decor will feature crystal tablewear and a crystal chandelier by Blue Heaven hung from the domed ceiling.

The Valentine's package also includes a crystal gift for the lady, a tasting menu, and of course Champagne.

The menu is prepared by Three on the Bund's array of fine dining restaurants, including Jean George, Laris and the Whampoa Club.

All this doesn't come cheap. Dinner from now until Sunday is 2,288 yuan (US$335) per person. If you can't get dinner reservations, lunch is available at 988 yuan per person.

A few levels below in the same building, you can find fine chocolates from the David Laris Chocolate Room. The 188-yuan chocolate box includes sweets with fillings ranging from rose to Sichuan pepper.

Le Platane

Luxurious renovations of Shanghai's signature lane houses are part of the romance of the city. And Xintiandi is the place to find high-end restaurants inside quaint architecture.

French restaurant Le Platane is inside a 1920s villa next to the artificial lake. Though the area is now more luxury than history, Le Platane by renowned Singaporean chef Justin Quek, attracts with good food as well as location.

Quek is known for his innovative Asian twists, but the six-course Valentine's menu is classic Western fare. Available only for dinner on the day, 1,480 yuan per couple includes "Love At First Sight" (sea scallops with oysters and truffle shavings), "Love Potion" (artichoke soup), and "Love Bird" (gray partridge stuffed with mushroom and fois gras).

The menu includes Champagne on arrival, and "sweet dreams" for dessert.

Le Platane borrows the words of famed columnist Harriet Van Horne to describe their menu, "Eating is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all."

Le Cygne

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 4pm-12am

Address: 169 Jinxian Rd

Tel: 5157-5311


Hours: through February 15, lunch and dinner

Address: Three on the Bund, 3 Zhongshan Rd E1

Tel: 6321-0909

Le Platane

Opening hours: Dinner on February 14 only, 5:30-11:30pm

Address: 373 Huangpi Rd S.

Tel: 5383-2998


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