Appetizers are the new entrées and small plates, bold flavors are the maxims proclaimed by two-star Michelin chef Julian Serrano of LAGO, the fine dining eatery at Bellagio Shanghai. The order of the day here is a new take on social dining. Think Italian food with a tapas philosophy. Which makes sense from a Spanish chef.
The sister restaurant to their flagship in Vegas, entry to LAGO is dramatic, through a striking tunnel-corridor. It opens up into a well-appointed marble and glass restaurant designed in the distinctive boot shape of Italy. The cupola (or ball, or Sicily), where we were seated, must be one of the only dining rooms in Shanghai with views over the Suzhou Creek, across the Huangpu and the lights of Lujiazui. And stunning they are.
Nobody likes a overly-long or overly-elaborate menu, and LAGO’s is a pleasantly efficient two-page affair, featuring Serrano’s take on the Italian repertoire - antipasto, pastas, risottos, pizzas seafood and mains. All are a smaller size, to be ordered to share - a concept diner's in this city have surely come to know and love.
Overseeing the kitchen is a familiar Shanghai face, Mexican Jair Gudino Chavez, formerly of 1515 WEST Chophouse in the Jing'an Shangri-la, and the man behind the revamped menu at The Captain. He kicks off every meal with an amuse bouche designed that day, dependant on what is fresh.
Chefs Jair Gudino Chavez and Julian Serrano
You know things are good when the bread and butter are worth a mention. Focaccia and Sardinian flat bread are served with a truffle butter ball, covered with dehydrated olive and black truffle powder.
Moving onto our opening dishes, the crudo di salmone comes in a scallop shell, covered in a jalapeno and caper gel. It is a dazzle and delight discovering the salmon underneath the pickled and piquant.
The crudo di tonno takes its inspiration from the flavors of a beach, and as with all the dishes is beautifully presented; tuna rounds come with a pickled ginger and coconut cream, along with a soya and citrus marinade.
The vitello tonnato is a dish that will get people talking. Chef Chavez's aim was to give this dish a completely different visual presentation and appeal than the traditional vitello. They cook the veal loin at low temperature, cover it with charcoal made out of bamboo and burnt tomato skin, and then create a sauce made of fresh and sauteed tuna, with capers and lemon skin, which they turn into a mousse.
Onto the pizza and pasta. Pizza tarfufo is all about the tartufo, or truffle. The pizza is made with truffle paste from Italy, truffled cheese, sliced fresh truffle, with decadent lardo and quail eggs on top to give it creaminess.
The strozzapreti is another delightfully presented dish. A pasta originating in Abruzzo, LAGO make it with the best lamb from New Zealand, which grazes on ocean slopes to give it a natural salty flavor, offset by house made ricotta and a hint of citrus.
For those with a sweet tooth, classic Italian affogato is a must eat – and a must Instagram! A perfect blend of espresso, vanilla ice cream and chocolate, it almost seems a shame to eat this work of art (almost...) but once you start there is no stopping.
When it comes to the wine list, the efficiency of the food menu is sacrificed for options. Lots and lots of whistle-wetting options. The restaurant serves over 340 different wines, including rare, quality Italian varietals and many Australian and New Zealand labels.
As we said in the opening, this is Italian food with a tapas philosophy, which makes perfect sense in China, a country with a food sharing, try-everything-on-the-table culture. And at LAGO by Julian Serrano, everything is worth a try.
See a listing for LAGO by Julian Serrano.