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September 24, 2009

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Laris shakes it up with a new menu

SHANGHAI, it's time to start going out again. The man, who helped transform the city into a thriving cosmopolitan city by introducing fine-dining, international service standards and upping the competition, is again causing a stir.

Celebrity chef and entrepreneur David Laris, known for his boldness and banishing sayings like, "it can't be done in China," is taking a huge risk and completely changing his well-established menu at Three on the Bund's Laris restaurant.

Over the past year he has watched the scene he helped to create in Shanghai slump, with the economic climate forcing people to tighten their purse strings.

Now he has decided it's time to say "bring it on" to the global recession and give people a fresh new scene to lure them out.

"I want to make an impact; I want people to feel there's been a change," Laris says. "In a recession people get secure and careful, but let's push it forward now."

He acknowledges his decision is bold and that there are bound to be shaky moments, but the optimist believes the year ahead is going to be a good one.

The new menu makes the most of what China has to offer by featuring produce from the country's increasing organic market.

"A lot of people have set up farms and you can get great quality caviar and other fresh produce," he says. "I'm always looking for the best of the best."

However, the new menu will still be distinctly Laris.

His love of truffles will still be evident, as will his use of hot and cold foam to add a light accompaniment to flavors and meals.

Evidence of his traditional training, like his regular use of foie gras, will be another Laris trademark on the menu.

What is new is the way in which people can dine.

To begin with, a range of bite-sized starters will be available, such as caviar and chilled cauliflower mousse, or shaved toro with seaweed salad, and will purposely be served smaller than normal starters so people can try a few as a small treat for the senses.

From here, the recommendation will be for diners to opt for anything from a three- to six-course meal, taking a sample from each category.

The menu will be split into starters, which will be sub-divided into cold fish, hottish starters and soups and salads.

The mains will include fish and shellfish, meat, birds and game, though the game looks to be limited to squib and, lastly, rice and pasta.

So for example, a meal from the new menu could start with oysters with red-wine vinegar foam, served at perfect temperature on ice, before moving on to warm potato foam with foie gras and truffle and crispy pancetta, followed by lobster Caesar salad, wild king fish with braised morels or squab roasted and stuffed with foie gras and prunes.

"It's a much nicer way to dine," Laris says. "This way I can keep the dishes simple and diners can really get to taste the different flavors without just having the traditional one main meal."

His staff will talk guests through the new style, but if they prefer they can still opt for a more traditional dining option of starter, main course and dessert.

"I promised my staff the new menu would be simpler but it has turned out with even more courses than before and more complex dishes," he says. "I'll probably keep on making changes until the last minute."

Once off the ground, a further addition to the new menu will be to run supplement menus featuring seasonal foods or meals created by guest chefs visiting from different parts of the world.

And contrary to rumor, Laris is still the head chef and works at Laris three to five nights per week.

"Now I'll be spending even more time here," he says. "I would never leave a restaurant that has my name on it."

The key to success is to keep on improving, he says.

He understands that in Shanghai's fast and emerging pace, you need to move even faster to survive.

Prices are yet to be confirmed but are expected to be similar to the previous menu with mains ranging from 200 yuan (US$29.30) to 400 yuan.

The new menu will be officially launched at the beginning of next month.


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