A palat­able change for the Bund

Food in­dus­try play­ers and city au­thor­i­ties are hop­ing to lure larger din­ner crowds to the iconic wa­ter­front area in Shang­hai with the Bund 5 project

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai

xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The clock tower atop the Cus­tom House on the Bund, Shang­hai’s fa­mous wa­ter­front stretch that rep­re­sents the city’s glo­ri­ous past and its cur­rent po­si­tion as China’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal, has just chimed six times. It is the start of the evening rush hour, and crowds are pour­ing onto the streets as peo­ple ei­ther make their way home or to the pubs and restau­rants for happy hour drinks.

As the banks and trad­ing houses within the re­gal old build­ings along the Bund draw their shut­ters and lock their doors, tourists are whisked away by their loud­speaker-tot­ing tour guide back to a bus be­fore they depart for an­other des­ti­na­tion. The sun has al­ready set, and af­ter the crowd num­bers dwin­dle within the hour, the Bund will sur­ren­der its buzz to the night.

“The weird thing about the Bund is that ev­ery­one knows it and likes it, but the lo­cals hardly visit it,” said Wang Chih-Jen, an ex­ec­u­tive within the de­vel­op­ment and man­age­ment team at Bund 5.

Sta­tis­tics from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity show that the wa­ter­front area, which runs along the western shore of the Huangpu River, re­ceives a to­tal of 600,000 to 900,000 visi­tors ev­ery day, but only about 10 per­cent of them are lo­cals. The trans­porta­tion com­mis­sion also es­ti­mates that 80 per­cent of the ve­hi­cles mov­ing along the six-lane road ev­ery day at the Bund are merely pass­ing through and not head­ing to­ward any at­trac­tions or restau­rants in the area.

But the sit­u­a­tion is set to change. Real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, restau­ra­teurs and the city’s gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are look­ing to turn the wa­ter­front stretch into a prime din­ing area for not just wealthy tourists but lo­cals as well, and the build­ing known as Bund 5 looks to be the mag­net to do so.

The six-storey build­ing, con­structed in the 1920’s as the head­quar­ter of Nis­shin Kisen Kaisha, Ja­pan’s largest ship­ping com­pany in China, will be the first along the wa­ter­front to ex­clu­sively house din­ing es­tab­lish­ments. A to­tal of ten restau­rants, which will of­fer cuisines rang­ing from southern Amer­i­can steaks, hot pot, Can­tonese dim sum and western fine din­ing, will oc­cupy the build­ing, which has a fa­cade fea­tur­ing Ja­panese and neo-clas­si­cal el­e­ments.

There is no short­age of din­ing places at the Bund. There are up­wards of 100 restau­rants in the area — many of them be­long­ing to the up­scale cat­e­gory — in­clud­ing those op­er­ated by the five-star ho­tels in the vicin­ity, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties of the Huangpu dis­trict, where the Bund is lo­cated. Dozens more are ex­pected to open in the next few years.

Be­sides fac­tors such as traf­fic con­ges­tion and lim­ited park­ing spa­ces, Wang said that the Bund’s in­abil­ity to main­tain the crowd num­bers come night­fall is also due to a stereo­type that many lo­cals have about the lo­ca­tion — that it is an in­tim­i­dat­ing area where only rich peo­ple and for­eign­ers can af­ford to be in.

This stereo­type is not com­pletely un­founded. Af­ter all, the Bund is where Miche­lin-starred chef Jean-Ge­orges Von­gerichten runs his swanky es­tab­lish­ments such as Jean-Ge­orges and Mer­cato. The area is also home to Paul Pairet’s Mr and Mrs Bund, a mod­ern French restau­rant where cus­tomers usu­ally spend at least $100 per per­son dur­ing din­ner. Pairet’s Ul­tra­vi­o­let, dubbed as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary, mul­ti­sen­sory restau­rant, costs a whop­ping 4,000 yuan ($613) per per­son.

In or­der to pull in the crowds, Wang said that the meals served by restau­rants in Bund 5 will be friend­lier on the wal­lets.

“The av­er­age cost per per­son at most of the restau­rants in Bund 5 will be around 300 to 500 yuan, an af­ford­able amount to spend for im­por­tant cel­e­bra­tions or oc­ca­sions once ev­ery few months,” he said.

Michelle Gar­naut, an Aus­tralian restau­ra­teur and chef, is all too fa­mil­iar with the changes in the area over the years, say­ing that the scene to­day, de­spite the fall in crowd num­bers, bears a stark con­trast to the days when she first opened the M on the Bund restau­rant in 1999.

“When I de­cided to open a restau­rant here, ev­ery­one warned me that no­body was ever gonna eat on the Bund,” said Gar­naut. “For the first five years, we were all alone in this area, which was a dark and dingy place that barely had any­thing else.”

For a long time, M on the Bund was the go-to culi­nary des­ti­na­tion that was vis­ited by a galaxy of prom­i­nent fig­ures like the United King­dom’s Prince Ed­ward, me­dia ty­coon Ru­pert Mur­doch, and Harry Porter ac­tor Daniel Rad­cliffe. It was not un­til 2004, when Tai­wan en­tre­pre­neur Vanna Teng turned the for­mer Stan­dard Char­tered Bank Build­ing into a depart­ment store-like property that com­bined lux­ury shops, art gal­leries and fine din­ing places, that the cen­tury-old place started to gain a buzz.

For years af­ter, plush fash­ion bou­tiques and jew­elry stores trans­formed the Bund into the acme of lux­ury shop­ping in China. How­ever, with the slow­down of the lux­ury in­dus­try in re­cent times, ma­jor con­sumer brands such as Patek Phillipe, Gior­gio Ar­mani and Hugo Boss started to va­cate the premises while restau­rants grad­u­ally be­gan to en­ter the scene.

Mark Klingspon, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of The Nest, a gas­tro lounge along the Bund, is an­other per­son who has wit­nessed the trans­for­ma­tion of the area.

“I used to travel a lot to Hong Kong for busi­ness when I first came to China seven years ago. I al­ways felt that Hong Kong was so cool with all the restau­rants and food, and I thought Shang­hai was a hun­dred years away from achiev­ing that. I didn’t think that Shang­hai could catch up in my life­time,” said Klingspon.

If there is one es­tab­lish­ment the new restau­rants at Bund 5 can emu­late, it would prob­a­bly be The Nest, which be­came an in­stant hit with the lo­cals when it opened in Dec 2014. The lounge is the prod­uct of a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween night­club brand Muse Group and French vodka brand Grey Goose.

Lo­cated slightly away from the cen­tral ar­eas of the Bund, this classy, re­laxed lounge has earned it­self a rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity cock­tails and cre­ative culi­nary creations that don’t come with price tags lo­cals would scoff at. Be­sides Klingspon, the team com­prises ex­pe­ri­enced hands such as Christof­fer Back­man, for­merly from the Wal­dorf As­to­ria in Shang­hai, Car­son Xie, a bar­tender who had worked at Park Hy­att ho­tel, as well as French chef Freddy Raoult.

Ac­cord­ing to Klingspon, more than 80 per­cent of the guests fre­quent­ing his venue are young Chi­nese pro­fes­sion­als, most of whom work for in­ter­na­tional brands and com­pa­nies. He also added that The Nest has en­joyed dou­ble-digit growth for 11 con­sec­u­tive months and the place is of­ten booked out sev­eral weeks in ad­vance.

“We are ei­ther very lucky or we did some­thing right. I think we have con­nected to a guest de­mo­graphic that most restau­rants would dream of at­tract­ing,” said Klingspon.

“Th­ese are not the young rich Chi­nese that come here in their Lam­borgh­i­nis and just want to have the most ex­pen­sive things on the menu. What we have here at The Nest is real peo­ple, those who come here to ex­pe­ri­ence new food and drinks. You can­not sus­tain a busi­ness in to­day’s mar­ket with­out the real peo­ple,” added Klingspon.

With re­gard to the din­ing scene at the Bund and what could be done to en­liven it, the Cana­dian be­lieves that the com­pet­i­tive food in­dus­try in Shang­hai will keep restau­ra­teurs on their toes and in time help to in­ject more vi­brancy.

“Some years ago, peo­ple didn’t care much about what they were fed or how much they were charged as long as they had the view of the Bund,” said Klingspon.

“Now, you need to of­fer a qual­ity prod­uct in or­der to sur­vive here.”

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

1. Wal­dorf As­to­ria Ho­tel (the for­mer Shang­hai Club)

2. Three on the Bund (lo­ca­tion of Jean-Ge­orges restau­rant)

3. Bund 5 (lo­ca­tion of M on the Bund restau­rant)

4. Shang­hai Cus­tom House

5. Bund 18 (lo­ca­tion of Mr & Mrs Bund restau­rant)

6. Fair­mont Peace Ho­tel

7. Bund 27, the House of Roo­sevelt

8. Penin­sula Ho­tel, Shang­hai

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A view of M on the Bund, the first fine din­ing re­tau­rant to ap­pear along Shang­hai's most fa­mous tourist stretch. (Be­low) A food and al­co­hol pair­ing at The Nest, a gas­tro lounge on the Bund that has been very pop­u­lar with lo­cals.

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