S.T.A.Y. (Simple Table Alléno Yannick) At The Shangri-La Hotel
Launched last year, the Beijing outpost of the French micro-chain S.T.A.Y. (an acronym for Simple Table Alléno Yannick) at the Shangri-La Hotel manages to stand out in a city that has, in recent years, become a magnet for some of the world’s top chefs. The restaurant’s first Asia location, with its second opening in late 2011 in Taipei, S.T.A.Y.’s attention to detail and focus on creating the ultimate dining experience belies its growing global footprint. The restaurant’s concept centers around the communal table, around which family and friends can gather for a meal of shared courses and oversized bottles of wine.
For S.T.A.Y. Beijing, three-Michelin-starred French chef Yannick Alléno has selected the talented Maxime Gilbert as the “Chef de Cuisine” to execute his quarterly menus, while Florian Couteau runs the restaurant’s pastry kitchen and “library.” Despite their relative youth (both are under the age of 30), Gilbert and Couteau already count close to 20 years of experience between them. Having started his career at the age of 16, Gilbert has worked both in Yannick’s Royal Mansour Marrakech Hotel and the three Michelin-starred, Le Meurice in Paris. 24-year-old Couteau is the youngest pastry chef in Beijing, and boasts nearly 10 years of experience at the famed Pierre Hermé in Paris.
Brian Chan, the designer of S.T.A.Y. Beijing, has deeply incorporated the restaurant’s communal table concept into the ambiance of the space, with large tables and tasteful Lazy Susans allowing for easy access to shared dishes. At the far end of the large and open, yet cozy restaurant lies a “pastry library” showcasing Couteau’s delightful creations and tempting diners during the Sunday brunch dessert buffet. Extending this tastefulness into localization for Beijing foodies, S.T.A.Y. has incorporated some aspects of Chinese dining culture, including chopsticks. Asking Gilbert about using the restaurant’s beautifully crafted Yannick Alléno chopsticks to enjoy his dish, he mentioned that the chopstick is perhaps the most universal utensil, as it allows one to enjoy the most delicate of dishes.
As for the dishes themselves, we enjoyed a continual serving of perfectly cooked, seasoned and presented plates from the kitchen. Highlights included a fresh, cold and crispy red radish canapé dipped in melted butter with a sea salt garnish, a unique variation that simulated a chocolate-covered strawberry, as well as a delicious breaded and deep-fried gougeonette fish served with homemade tartar sauce. Following these refreshing starters came my personal favorite, a sea urchin shell filled with sour cream, quail eggs cooked in a “bain-marie,” or water bath, then topped with Schrencki caviar. Together, these ingredients melded together seamlessly for a perfect mouthfeel; Savory, yet sweet, but also velvety smooth from the custard and textured from the caviar. Presented neatly in the spherical shell, this dish was a strong standout among many others. Of course, I can’t leave out the seared scallops en meurette and the lamb saddle. Gilbert’s scallops, cooked to perfection, unlike the rubbery and chewy variations so often found in Beijing, were enough to convert anyone averse to shellfish, while his lamb saddle, plated solo and accompanied by potatoes purée, sautéed spinach and mushroom and vegetable gratin, rivaled the finest of steakhouses.
Last, but certainly not least, came the grand finale: S.T.A.Y.’s signature meter-long dessert tray. As my eyes bulged at the sight of this enormous mountain of sweets, chef Gilbert said, “You sign a contract when you order the meter — you eat the meter.” Atop the winding metal ribbon lay a plethora of treats, from cheesecake and strawberry balls coated with white chocolate and almond chips to a caramelized banana on a bed of chocolate with Malibu-infused coconut mousse and a pink macaroon biscuit with strawberry sauce, fresh ruby red grapefruit slices and vanilla custard. As Couteau said of his delectable creations, the aim is to strike a balance: “Not too sweet, yet light. You can eat the full dessert after a big menu…you won’t feel like eating a big brioche.” Although Couteau clearly has a talent with his flour and sugar, butter and cream, as he says of his secret ingredient: “I put all my love inside my desserts.”
With S.T.A.Y. Beijing still in its first year, Gilbert feels that, as a foreign chef in Beijing, “you really need to spend one year to understand the seasons and the produce. We know the seasons [and] the produce in France, but every country is not really the same.” Both Gilbert and Couteau are dedicated to incorporating the freshest of local and international products into their creations, importing from around the world. Despite finding it challenging at times to get all of the high-quality imported items they want in Beijing, the two chefs welcome the task at hand and consider it a learning experience — one that parallels opening a fine dining restaurant, albeit one that’s “casual” by their standards, in the lesser-developed “foodie” environment of Beijing.
Having been given a sneak peek of S.T.A.Y.’s new summer menu, I highly recommend that one visits soon to sample the new duck foie gras terrine with passion fruit and coffee jelly, as well as the black pepper Wagyu beef filet served with gratin dauphinois. I further suggest a weekend brunch visit, so as to browse Couteau’s dessert library (which is staffed by a team of six) and participate in the dessert-making process yourself. But if that isn’t reason enough to make the trip to western Beijing, just west of the zoo, Gilbert and Couteau have generously offered Jing Daily readers a free dessert upon their next meal. Just mention “dessert” and “Jing Daily” to receive your complimentary treat.
Considering the all-star status of the group running Alléno’s Beijing location, Gilbert and Couteau were refreshingly welcoming on our trip to S.T.A.Y. It is surprising, and somewhat unfortunate, that the two chefs were not included in Time Out Beijing’s 2012 Food Awards, as I find the dynamic duo has created a fresh and innovative menu rivaling that of Maison Boulud; their presentation alone is truly a work of art. Yet with that being said, the chefs at Boloud and Migas — another upscale eatery in Sanlitun’s Nali Patio — are of close friends with Gilbert and Couteau. The two even consider Maison Boulud one of their favorite restaurants in Beijing, along with Din Tai Fung, Migas and of couse, S.T.A.Y.
It is clear that the young team has gradually found their groove despite having spent less than a year in Beijing, and I can only imagine the tasteful creations the two will dream up in the years to come.
Through June 3, 2012, Jing Daily readers can receive their free dessert with meal purchase by mentioning “Jing Daily” and “dessert.”
S.T.A.Y. at the Shangri-La, Beijing
Valley Wing, Level 1, 29 Zizhuyuan Road, Beijing
Lunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Dinner: 5:30pm – 10pm
Sunday Brunch: 11am – 4pm
Tel: (8610) 6841 2211, ext 6727
Zandie Brockett is a Beijing-based curator, consultant and photographer from Los Angeles. Brockett is now working on several projects in Beijing in addition to her photography, such as the development and production of HONG轰, a self-sustaining platform that provides Beijing-based emerging artists a way to support the production, exhibition and sale of their artwork.