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Culinary carnival in a refined villa

NESTLED inside a refined 1940's villa on Xingguo Road, Mardi Gras is a restaurant/lounge bar where you can experience an ambience of leisurely self-indulgence and creative French bistro-style cuisine.

Walking through the front gate, you are welcomed by a tranquil garden, which makes an ideal setting for afternoon tea served everyday at 1pm, weather permitting. Beside the garden is this simple and chic two-story French-style villa. Inside are black-and-white mosaic floors, cream walls, high ceilings with large fans, rustic cane chairs, red wooden furniture and plenty of natural light.

When Japanese Kou Yamada and his Chinese wife found the house in 2009, they liked it so much they decided to open a restaurant in it. "The house and the French cuisine are a perfect match," said Yamada, who speaks fluent Mandarin and Shanghai dialect.

"Shanghai has many restaurants serving French cuisine, yet few of them are bistro style, which aficionados of French cuisine couldn't go without."

The couple redecorated the ground floor and made it a spacious dining room. A soothing lounge bar with comfortable sofas and an outdoor terrace is tucked on the second floor. This is where the night life starts.

The restaurant's name, Mardi Gras, originally means "Fat Tuesday" in French, and refers to the last night people ate rich and fatty food before the ritual fasting of Lent started on Ash Wednesday. Today, "Mardi Gras" also signifies carnivals.

"Just as the name implies, we hope every time customers dine here is like having a palate carnival," explains Yamada.

And the carnival begins in the kitchen presided over by executive chef Keisuke Matsushima, who has more than 17 years cooking experience, initially in Japanese kitchens, then French ones including several Michelin-starred restaurants in Nice and Marseille. While specializing in authentic French cuisine, Matsushima's Japanese background unplugs his creativity in fresh and light seafood dishes.

Among the appetizer choices on Mardi Gras' menu, the smoked salmon confit is one of Matsushima's specialties and uses a very precise preparation method to result in a taste as if it were raw, yet more tender and tasty. The side vegetables change from time to time according to the season and the local market.

As for the main course, beer-braised veal cheek demonstrates Matsushima's French cooking skills and has attracted a devoted following to Mardi Gras.

The veal cheek is said to be the most delicious and chewy part of a calf because it is used by the calf while eating. To prepare this dish, the veal cheek is marinated in beer for a whole day before it is fried, which makes it tender and brings out the fragrance of wheat and grain on which the calf is fed.

The bouillabaisse, which the chef introduced from the "Le Petit Nice" restaurant he used to work in Marseille, is also strongly recommended. He has retained the soup base but adds more ingredients such as lobster, fish and mussels. A bouillabaisse for two people costs 380 yuan.

Set lunch is priced at 130 yuan per person. Afternoon tea costs 80 yuan, with coffee, black tea and a range of delicate cakes. At the moment, hiding from the freezing cold and having a relaxing afternoon inside Mardi Gras is totally worth the price.

Mardi Gras

Opening hours: 11am-2:30pm, 5pm-10:30pm (restaurant); 7pm-2am (lounge)

Address: No 1, 372 Xingguo Rd

Tel: 6280-7598


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