Le China

June 7, 2011By Sarah Emily MianoArchive
le china, restaurant, paris

Le China has retained the appealing decor and colonial-Shanghai feel of the China Club.

I was not expecting spectacular food at this three-story venue, a restaurant, bar and club that emphasizes the latter two, boasting an extensive

le china, restaurant, paris

Le China has retained the appealing decor and colonial-Shanghai feel of the China Club.

Pros: romantic, exotic, versatile dining; excellent service; extended hours

Cons: no head chef, so food quality could be variable

I was not expecting spectacular food at this three-story venue, a restaurant, bar and club that emphasizes the latter two and boasts an extensive cocktail list and hosts live concerts almost every evening. What brought me here was its history: in 1930s’ Paris, an opium den and jazz club; in 1989 The China Club, which boomed for a while in three incarnations before its reputation waned, but fought back as Le China after minimal revamping in 2008. Above all, there was the allure of the ambiance, of being transported from modern East End Paris to 1930s’ Shanghai.

And indeed I was, instantly, on entering the long rectangular dining room with checkerboard-tiled floor, leather Chesterfield sofas, black-lacquered tables and chairs, red-painted walls, and subdued golden lighting cast by flickering candles, Art Deco wall sconces and colonial-style lamps. It was a Sunday evening, so no live music downstairs, but jazz recordings played softly in the background. Amid such sensuality, my imagination got the better of me, and I pictured myself as one of the sultry Chinese beauties in the vintage advertising posters that surrounded me, Qi Rong cigarette or silk fan in hand.

From the start, our server, Maren – no Zhou Xuan, the Chinese Marilyn Monroe of her day, but a lissome blonde from Hamburg who spoke impeccable English and French – provided attentive, expert service. She stood to discreet attention nearby as my companion and I perused the cocktail list, our eyes flitting from apple ginger Martini to raspberry Bellini, Caribbean smash to Singapore sling, but since we are on a budget (most were priced at €12), we ended up ordering a velvety, structured bottle of Château Mauperey Côtes de Castillon 2009 at a reasonable €18.

From the food menu, one can mix and match to heart’s delight – finger foods; medleys of buns, nems and beignets; Asian-style vegetables, noodles and salads, etc. – or choose a traditional approach to dining with main courses like dorade royale in a banana-leaf wrap, pork simmered in coconut and caramel, suckling lamb confit with miniature crêpes. Where to begin? All were appealing, but for a fair sampling, a smorgasbord approach seemed the most fun.

Tired of umm-ing and ahh-ing, we summoned Maren, who knowledgeably answered all our queries, talked us through the options and – without being pushy – suggested we start with dim sum and rolls, see how we felt, then take it from there. Share a main course, maybe? The seared tuna with basil and red pepper was her personal favorite. We played it by ear, following her suggestion. First, the small but delectable sampling of dim sum (six pieces for €12) arrived in a woven steamer with ravioli of assorted vegetables, mushrooms, chicken and shrimp, and dumplings of shrimp and bamboo shoots. The rolls were underwhelming though plentiful, with 18 Japanese spring maki of ginger-salmon, grilled chicken, basil-shrimp and crab-cucumber.

Instead of the tuna, we opted for the more unusual magret d’oie, roast fig-glazed goose served in a generous fantail of bento-sharp slivers on a mat of banana leaf alongside plump plantains and a nest of fresh, fragrant coriander. As an accompaniment, our server suggested a steaming bowl of crispy steamed vegetables: bok choy, oyster mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and soy beans – wise advice, it turned out.

Overall, the food offered simple but appetizing marriages of flavors, served up in light but satisfying portions and with impeccable presentation.

Afterward, Maren gave us an enthusiastic tour of the other two floors. The dimly lit downstairs bar sported a long zinc counter and intimate red-curtained stage. Upstairs, the Club exuded colonial-chic charm and coziness, with patinated wallpaper, oriental rugs, distressed-leather chairs and sofas, backgammon tables, a tiny bar, library and fireplace. To our surprise, along with our bill, she gave us a bottle of juniper, black-licorice-flavored liquor, and two shot glasses.

Even sans exotic cocktail or live music, the evening roused all my senses and felt complete. I can’t wait to go back for the whole three-tiered experience.

Sarah Emily Miano

Le China: 50, rue de Charenton, 75012 Paris. Métro: Ledru-Rollin. Tel: 01 43 46 08 09. Open Monday-Friday, noon-2am, Saturday-Sunday, 6pm-2 a.m. www.lechina.eu

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