Walking into the new FIVE Palm Jumeirah Dubai (previously known as Viceroy Palm Jumierah Dubai), with its striking glass-cube entry, is a pretty grand experience, and heading into Maiden Shanghai, the drama continues. Just opened last month, the city’s newest upscale Chinese restaurant drips in old-school glamour inspired by 1930s-era Shanghai – a look it’s got down so well, I find myself continually expecting Kate Capshaw to pop out and burst into song with a Mandarin rendition of “Anything Goes” à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Spread over three floors, guests enter at the mid-level bar area, and just above the rooftop bar can be found, which while too hot to experience in June, will surely be a popular spot come October. Sitting down for an aperitif amid low-key dance tunes and old-school Asian style with industrial accents, an expansive cocktail menu showcases some of the most creative drinks I’ve seen in town. They’re inspired by Shanghai old and new: the “Pudong” section features innovative cocktails fitting the modern high-rise centre, while the “Puxi” section mirrors the traditional neighbourhood with quintessential Chinese flavours such as mandarin.
Hailing from Pudong, The Magical Peach arrives, a mix served in a coupe that includes gin, Aperol, fresh peach and – in a humorously femme flourish for a drink ordered by my male companion – a tableside spritz of elderflower spray that completes the concoction. With metal straws in an effort to be gentle to the environment and all the ice purchased from a professional ice-maker, then cut and shaved into shape for the cocktails, it’s clear that much thought has been put into Maiden Shanghai’s bar – and it’s somewhere that I’ll definitely return to when in the mood for cocktails a cut above the rest.
Moving downstairs to the dining area, and sliding into a grey banquette that fits into the glam-meets-industrial décor, I’m presented with another lengthy menu. The restaurant’s cuisine comes from chef Bing Luo of The Shard’s award-winning northern Chinese restaurant, Hutong, in London. Glancing through the menu and at a bit of a loss for how to best dig in, our waiting is happy to make recommendations (the “boom boom” chicken a must-try) and suggest that a mix of two cold starters, two hot starters, and two mains is ideal for a table of two.
We start with the recommended “boom boom” chicken – the meat shredded and served with Chinese pancakes – the soft and slightly sweet doughy parcels one of the favourites of the evening. The soft-shell crab was presented in a small basket and had been fried and spiced just right on the outside leaving a succulent interior – but beware the bed of chillies the crab is laid on, mistakenly forking one up with the crustacean will leave a lasting impression. A surprising stand out came in the turnip puffs, the airy puff pastry in thin ribbons encasing shredded turnip (looking almost like a cream horn pastry) made for two excellent contrasting textures, and something I would insist on ordering again given the opportunity.
While the starters’ portions left me without complaints (in fact, the soft-shell crab seemed almost overly generous for two people), the portion sizes of the mains were a bit on the small side (although if you’re ordering enough starters, you likely won’t be bothered outside of the fact the prices are on the high end) – a single order of fried rice to accompany the mains would likely not be enough for two quite hungry diners. Keen to try a Chinese favourite along with something a little less familiar, we opt for the kung pao chicken and drunk beef. The former was well done terms of taste and execution, although for the price (AED130), both myself and my dining partner felt it should have left a bit more of a “pow” on our impressions – it seemed a standard recreation. The drunk beef, however, was excellent, the meat falling apart at the touch and practically melting in the mouth; the bed of oyster mushrooms that the beef sat on was so thinly sliced it almost could have been mistaken for pappardelle – altogether it was rich, decadent and interesting, a sure highlight from the dinner.
Maiden Shanghai seems to delight in the innovative – the brilliant cocktail menu, the fantastic décor – and the same goes for the menu. Leave the standards for your usual Chinese go-to, and opt for dishes that lean towards the unexpected to discover where this restaurant excels.