Grand Banks – Manhattan Chic Meets Shanghai's Historical Bund

By Sophie Steiner, May 25, 2021

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The Place 

Named for the international bank that this 100-year-old, neo-classical building was designed to house, Grand Banks – an NYC aesthetic lounge on Sichuan Zhong Lu – feels like walking into a Tribeca loft. Vintage revival pieces, original artwork, quirky room dividers, art deco sconces and cool-toned accents are heightened by a liberal dose of Manhattan chic. The soft lighting is muted, dim, sexy – adding to the aura of exclusivity. 

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The restaurant is the brain child of interior designer Chris Shao (Objective Gallery and Chris Shao Studio) who also owns the art gallery on the fifth floor of the same building. Said gallery houses rotating displays from international artists – the most current of which showcases a New York designer’s nod (or a spank on the bum) to BDSM. While the gallery is separate, diners can get a private walkthrough upon request. 

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Shao’s original Shanghai gallery location (yes, he owns one in New York too) on Chongqing Lu became the go-to destination for art-inspired popup dinners. What started out as a monthly, 12-person dining experience quickly booked out five days a week. Thus, the idea for Grand Banks was born. 

The concept is to enhance the synergy between interior design, art, furniture and cuisine, creating a comforting yet lux space for young creatives that acts as an alternative to other overly-hyped Bund venues.

The Food 

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Chef Danny Lee (previously of Stay in Beijing and Le Jardin) is trained in French cooking. He intermingles this with his own Chinese roots and other pan-Asian cuisine elements to create approachable small plates that pair with the Chinese-ingredient inspired crafted cocktails shaken by Klaus Yiu (previously of the Shanghai EDITION) and extensive wine list, curated by a Hakkasan and RAC-seasoned sommelier. 

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Paper-thin slices of delicate Hokkaido Carpaccio (RMB128) are displayed like blooming flower petals, gleaming with almond oil. An afterglow of citrusy lemon leaf and bright chili pickles are balanced by the scallops’ natural sweetness. 

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Presented in a glass dish, the Grand Banks Soap (RMB128) is a bar of suds we wouldn’t mind having our mouths washed out with after cursing. (No one else’s parents threatened them this way for being naughty? Ok, just us, then.) 

The size of an actual bar of soap, the foie gras pate is dense like cold butter, but still soft enough to lather across a piece of warm toast. A lemon-apple jam flecked with crisp almond slivers helps cut through the richness, instantly re-whetting the appetite for another bite until the entire bar miraculously disintegrates into the ether of our tummies. 

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Soft, warm Razor Clams (RMB98) are gilded with roasted potato cubes and ruby red jewels of yuzu tomato salsa. Fresh dill and micro parsley add an additional layer of herbaceous freshness, yet the temperature difference between ingredients results in somewhat soggy, cold spuds that were left dotting the plate.

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On the other end of the spectrum, not a single grain of rice is ignored in the Kimchi Risotto (RMB168). Buttery sea urchin adds an umami richness to this dense, velvety porridge, further elevated by toasted nori shreds. 

DSC01938.jpgConfit Octopus (RMB138), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Like your mom’s winter stew, the Cheek & Rouge (RMB88/small, RMB108/large) is what you want to curl up on the couch with after a long day. Melt-in-your-mouth chunks of shredded beef cheek are capped with pillowy potato purée foam. Rust-colored hibiscus powder speckles the top, accounting for a necessary pop of tart acidity that also doubles as an eye-teasing play, making the whole mug look like a mocha. 

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The pièce de résistance arrives in the form of expertly executed sliced Roasted Beef (RMB148) atop a spiced pepper aioli, dribbled with a warming red wine jus. Humble, classic, downright delicious. 

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While most dishes land with bells and whistles, a few of the dishes miss the mark, like rough-textured Torched Buri Fish (RMB126) that tastes tinny, metallic almost. The over-whipped brown butter hollandaise with parsley oil lacks the namesake creaminess expected of this mayonnaise-like sauce. 

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Less egregious, the Bamboo & Kidney Beans (RMB78/small, RMB98/large) stew is still boilerplate. While the sliced bamboo, braised kidney beans, shaved onion and Iberico ham combination sounds intriguing on paper, the resulting gritty soup tastes just of, well, beans. We have no problem with legumes, but the lackluster stew flavor departs from the many other inspired dishes we so readily consumed in their entirety. 

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Cocktails, on the other hand, all have exaggerated flavor profiles, in a good way. The milk-candy’s saccharine sweetness in the Rue de Montauban (RMB100) is counteracted by lip-puckering fresh kumquat juice and passion fruit, making us feel like we should be donning our best bikini whilst sipping this bevvie beachside. 

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The herbal and earthy John Tann (RMB118) is a booze-forward blend of whiskey infused with burdock root, mixed with Clement Creole Shrub and aromatic bitters, while the medicinal Grand Banks (RMB118) sees dark rum and bourbon-infused with dried monk fruit – a natural sweetener 250x stronger than sucrose that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries – plus maple and chocolate bitters come together in a boozy dessert libation. 

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Right, dessert – time to get off the hooch and back to the food. A trembly Caramel Truffle Flan (RMB68) acts as the perfect bridge between said cocktails and the meal’s sweet ending. A sauce made of caramel, roasted coffee and a deft hand of earthy truffles are balanced by slippery brandy gel cubes. Yup, more alcohol. 

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A true highlight of the meal, the unabashedly sour Yuzu Tartlet (RMB78) is sweetened by a sugary sea buckthorn reduction, with the berries of this plant being tart, like a sour orange with hints of tropical mango. We suggest using the crunchy toasted merengue shards as scoops for lobbing dollops of creamy yuzu curd straight to the dome. 

The Vibe 

Instead of sultry jazz, electronic music throbs in the background, subconsciously encouraging guests to drink faster, talk more and Treat Yo’ Self.

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Upstairs is more loungy, focused on bottle service for members and VIP guests, with a limited menu of your standard evening fare – caviar, oysters and the like – for those with the soul of a private jet owner.  

After some launch parties in mid-April, the restaurant is currently in soft opening with hours from 6pm-12am on Wednesday to Sunday. June 19 will see the kickoff of brunch on Friday-Sunday, and by the beginning of July, the Tuesday-Friday lunch menu will debut. 

Price: RMB250-500
Who’s Going: Well-to-do wine lovers, design-ophiles, those who have a love-hate relationship with the Bund
Good For: Pretending you’re in Manhattan, strong cocktail necessary date situations, long-awaited catchups that involve impressing the other party 

See a listing for Grand Banks. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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