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Alluring eatery beckons with theater flambe

THE theater of food is as much a part of the overall dining experience as the cuisine that arrives on your plate. The curtain goes up on Sam Riley and the swish French eatery Allure.

It might be the practiced precision of an accomplished Chinese chef carving a Peking duck, the deft and delicate knife work of a master sushi chef or the hustle and bustle of an open Western kitchen.

But culinary cultures across the world recognize that the theater of food is as much a part of the overall dining experience as the cuisine that arrives on your plate.

Dining at Le Royal Meridien Shanghai's swish French eatery Allure is to experience the artistry of French cuisine with a dash of theater.

Sleek and stylish Allure is Le Meridien's premier Western restaurant in its stable of eateries.

When it comes to performance in French food, it is flambeing that provides the most drama.

Allure's chef Michael Wendling, who trained under Michelin three-star chef Georges Blanc, provided a touch of showbiz to proceedings by flambeing a slab of Australian Angus rib eye beef at the table during our visit.

Flambe cooking procedure dates back to the Moors in the 14 century and calls for alcohol to be added to a hot pan to create a burst of flame.

In our case it was a generous splash of cognac that set our dry aged rib eye aflame.

Connoisseurs of French cuisine have long debated the effectiveness of flambeing as a cooking technique - one school of thought argues that because the flame is above the food and hot gases rise it makes no discernable difference to the flavor of the dish.

But there is no denying it's an eye-catching cooking technique allowing the chef to strut his culinary stuff, while diners have a sensory experience of sights, sounds and smells that make for mouth-watering anticipation.

For this humble food hack, Wendling's flambe added caramelized cognac undertones to a rich red wine sauce that also had a lively sprinkle of Sarawak black pepper.

Wendling, who originates from the south of France, borrows heavily from his native cuisine, with an extensive menu reflecting flavors of southern France and the Mediterranean.

As diners enter, they see Wendling weaving his magic in a compact open kitchen.

Providing an inviting outdoor area, Allure manages to avoid that barn-like feel that deadens the atmosphere of many hotel eateries.

Like many of the top-end restaurants around town, sampling what Allure has to offer can be done at bargain prices by going for lunch.

Its set business lunch at 128 yuan (US$18.80) is one of the best values in town. Unlike other set lunches that jettison choice for value, Wendling give diners a tapas-like selection of entrees as diverse as frog's legs, red tuna tartar marinated with basil and roasted pepper or a creamy artichoke soup with croutons.

Diners get a choice of four of the eight starters and we went for the salmon tartar, the roasted swordfish with black olive crust and tomato tartar, the frog's legs and the hand-shaved cooked ham marinated with herbs and olive oil.

We also sampled a small shot of truffle soup made from white beans and cream that made a delicate, sophisticated starter.

The tapas-like arrangement allows the chef to showcase his skills over a range of small dishes and two diners can sample the entire list, making it perfect to put in the middle of the table and share.

The main course provides three choices: chicken, salmon and a risotto cooked with asparagus and Iberico cheese.

The chicken is braised slowly and comes with a dried fig and eggplant confit and the salmon is crusted in sesame seeds, served medium rare and on top of wok-fried vegetables flavored with fresh herbs.

For dessert diners can enjoy a daily dessert special or a classic creme brulee with lashings of mango and passion fruit.

For busy business types, Allure can do all of this in 45 minutes, allowing even the most harried executive a moment of culinary contemplation.

Wendling also shares his cooking secrets with couples looking to spice up their dinner table, offering "My Wife Cooks for Me" cooking classes to help men get into the kitchen.

The next monthly class will be held on June 27 from 2pm to 6pm; it includes dinner at 7:30pm. The classes cost 1,200 yuan per couples with Champagne and wine costing an extra 250 yuan.


Address: Lobby, Le Royal Meridien Shanghai, 789 Nanjing Rd E.

Tel: 3318-9999


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