Western businesspeople — and well-heeled locals— looking for a memorable Shanghai restaurant to entertain could do worse than head down to Restaurant Martin, the brainchild of Basque chef Martin Berasategui which opened this week.
Located in a colonial building in Shanghai's Xujiahui Park, Restaurant Martin is an ambitious — some would say risky — attempt to export the famed cuisine of Spain's Basque Country region to China and adapt it to local tastes.
It is revealing that this is the first time that Martin Berastegui has opened a restaurant outside his native Basque Country.
Instead of opting for the relatively safe choice of an outpost in Paris or London, where Basque cuisine is already known and hands-on management possible, he has chosen to dive into the unchartered waters of Shanghai.
Clearly, he is hoping for a lot of initial support from the growing number of Spanish businesses with offices and executives in Shanghai. They are familiar with the Martin Berasategui name and will play a key role in promoting the venture to other westerners.
But I suspect he is also trying to reach beyond the expat community and attract the more affluent members of Shanghai's burgeoning middle classes.
So, while one of the characteristics of Basque cuisine is its use of local ingredients, Berasategui has not been afraid to look to Asia for inspiration, incorporating into his menu oysters from Japan, Australian lamb and Chinese suckling pig.
The growing number of Spanish food suppliers in China means that Berasategui's Shanghai restaurant found it relatively easy to source Spanish delicacies such as jamon iberico — Spain's famous air-dried ham.
Martin Berasategui has overseen all aspects of the new Shanghai restaurant but continued to devote most of his time to running his flagship three-Michelin star restaurant which — full disclosure — is near EngagingChina's adopted home in San Sebastián in Spain's Basque Country.
To ensure that there were no problems during the months of preparation that have gone into his Shanghai offshoot, he held daily video-conferences with the two chefs in Shanghai who are responsible for day-to-day operations.
More in this earlier post.