Eye on Shanghai: Maison Pourcel
French restaurateurs the Pourcel brothers are not new to Shanghai, having previously opened Sens & Bund in 2004 and providing an authentic French gastronomical experience to the 650-850 guests who visited 6SENS, their restaurant at the 2010 Shanghai Expo’s French pavilion. Towards the middle of the Expo run, the Pourcel brothers decided that “[Shanghai] is well prepared for French dining,” and last August the pair opened Maison Pourcel. Located in the city’s French Concession area, Maison Pourcel features a refined dining experience and a more elaborate menu.
Maison Pourcel pares down the Expo experience to an elegant two-level restaurant, providing private rooms to cater to businesspeople and fine dinner dining on the 8th floor, and lunch, afternoon tea, and a nighttime lounge offering tapas on the 6th floor. Staying true to the background and cooking style of the Pourcels, the restaurant specializes in Mediterranean cuisine with a southern French twist. Working with the philosophy that “you can’t have good food without good produce,” Jacques and Laurent Pourcel select seasonal local produce while creating a classically French menu. For example, in Shanghai the Pourcels incorporate fresh local ingredients like codfish, which is little-used in France because of the poor selection available there.
The price for a prix-fixe lunch on the 6th floor is 258 RMB ($40 USD) while a prix-fixe dinner on the 8th floor runs 488 RMB ($74 USD), reasonable by international standards.
The Pourcel Group continues to plan its China expansion efforts, first establishing a stronghold in Shanghai before tackling Beijing and second-tier cities. Shanghai, as the international business center of China, is the natural launchpad for the Pourcels to build their brand name. The Pourcel Group sees French cuisine as an imported product in China, so acceptance in Shanghai is the first step before they venture into the cultural center of China, Beijing. Their expansion plans include a second line of mid-range restaurants to appeal to more local Chinese diners, and potentially a line of French bakeries.
As Marie Lamy, the restaurant’s development manager told Jing Daily, Maison Pourcel’s clientele is currently comprised of 50 percent foreign expats and 50 percent Chinese guests, but lowering the price range and adapting the dining experience to local standards will broaden the customer base.
While Shanghai is rapidly globalizing on a cultural level, for restaurateurs like the Pourcels there are still many difficulties to overcome. The slower pace of fine dining compared to local standards, apparent even as we were having lunch at Maison Pourcel, is only one obstacle. We observed a father and daughter dining nearby, who felt their food was not arriving quickly enough and called for the check as they were finishing their entrees.
There may be a degree of unfamiliarity with a slower multiple-course dining experience, but Maison Pourcel is doing much to adapt their service as well as introduce French dining to the Shanghai market. For example, the restaurant currently offers educational programs such as “Cellar Cessions,” a monthly wine tasting, as well as recent programs that include a special truffle-intensive menu and cooking classes that feature truffles or teach terrine-making. With these among the many events held at Maison Pourcel, the restaurant group is well on its way to fostering greater brand recognition and building a bigger fan-base which will assist in its plan to launch a second string of restaurants.
Special thanks to Marie Lamy, Development Manager for the Pourcel Group, for the kind invitation to visit Maison Pourcel and the opportunity to discuss the Pourcel brand and China’s dining culture.