Opening up in testing times, the introduction of KIINA to the city's fine dining scene may have passed you by. It shouldn't have.
KIINA is the word for China in the Nordic languages and, utilizing the Nordic foraging philosophy, the restaurant's mission is to locally source the best and freshest Chinese ingredients and then apply both traditional Western techniques and the most modern scientific cooking technologies to the cuisine served.
It is the brainchild of Chef Peter Zhou, or Zhou Bo, who has quite the pedigree; his CV includes Le Petris, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Catalunya, Spain, and the three star Benu in San Francisco. Industry leaders in molecular cuisine, Chef Zhou learned the world's most cutting-edge cooking techniques from the masters.
Chef Peter Zhou
The 46-seat restaurant is made up of two very distinct parts. A bright main dining room with terrace, all wood, white and light, giving it a clean Nordic guest house feel.
And then a darker inner sanctum, where 14 seats wrap around an open kitchen, allowing diners to check out the kitchen show and see how the magic happens.
Chef Zhou has published a book, Searching for Chinese Ingredients, and his sourcing is meticulous; each specific locally-sourced ingredient is clearly listed for every dish, with regional menus running for three months at a time.
Given the philosophy behind KIINA, we decided to try the Exploring Menu...
The meal begins with four Amuse Bouche: freeze-dried ants from Guangxi Province, with a rather delicious fermented ant sauce; crisp, sweet and salty pork belly from a Jinhua Two-End Black Pig, a specialty of Jinhua in Zhejiang Province; a black garlic cake with pickled mushroom and a mushroom gel center; and a shrimp crisp with herbs that is so delicately beautiful (just look at it!) we felt bad eating it.
The Chinese Mitten Crab, with its frozen dashi, acts as a palate cleanser as you enter the appetizer section of the meal.
Almost a soup, the lightly spiced Sakura Shrimp features sea coral, kuruma shrimp, dill, ginger, dried mussel and dried eel, all sourced from Dongshan Island in far southern Fujian Province.
Next up, Soup & Bread. And let's take some time to admire the bread. Three types – Italian ciabatta, a brioche with cinnamon, raisins and nuts and a sour dough – are all made with flour from Shanxi.
As for the condiments, the playfully presented homemade butter is half honey and half sea salt flavored; the basil and zucchini paste like a pesto sans the pine nuts; while the tomato sauce with olive oil is deliciously smoked.
The soup – a Shanghai, Shandong and Tibet-sourced crossover dish – features sour cream and orange juice in a squash base, with asparagus and black truffle shavings. Rich and incredibly flavorful.
The Palm Heart is sourced from Yunnan palm trees, and is prepared two ways – raw stars on the outside, while the palm is cooked with butter water for a liquidy middle bursting with goodness.
Thinly sliced cep and morel mushrooms keep everything in place, while truffle and pine needle pack extra punch.
Gathered from the wild, the Red Tremella is a wild mushroom that grows on tree bark and branches and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It's favored over the white tremella here for its chewier texture.
Presented with a sweet and crispy purple cabbage, cauliflower purée and jellyfish base, the sauce for this dish is next level, made by charcoal grilling a portabella mushroom soup and then squeezing it for its juice.
Duck Breast from Beijing is then dry aged in-house for a week, while everything on this dish brings something novel. The potato purée is smoked, giving it an oh-so-moreish bacon flavor; the white ivory contrastingly sweet and tender.
And then there is that maitake mushroom. Aged with pine needle oil and served with a sugary chestnut purée, it is so divine that you'd snap Chef Zhou's arm off to learn how to cook a mushroom like that at home.
On to dessert. Coconut is a mousse containing fig, pineapple and lemon sourced from Hainan, Guangxi and Shanghai, respectively.
The White Corn is a truffle ice cream with milk foam, in which lurks milk jelly and red mandarin sorbet. A Cocoa Krispies-style wafer adds a playful crunch.
The meal is rounded out with Petit Four. A grenadine and cherry mousse ball; toffee chocolate and banana 'tar;' Sibi, a spiky pear from Guizhou, with passion fruit in the middle; and a kumquat and mint juice water ball in a white coco balloon.
Play your cards right and you can also get your mitts on their very easy-on-the-eye chocolate selection...
The Exploring Menu experience, eight meticulously sourced and exquisitely executed courses plus amuse bouche and petit four, will set you back a very reasonable RMB888, with various upgrades available for truffle upgrades and wine pairings.
There is also a Classic Menu option – featuring such delicacies as duck liver and lobster – that runs at RMB1,688.
So what do we make of KIINA? While 'molecular' cuisine done wrong can become a byword for too much style and not enough substance, there are no unnecessary flourishes here, as reflected by the restaurant's unpretentious and welcoming guest house decor.
What lies at the foundation of the KIINA concept is a deep respect for Chinese ingredients and the desire to use innovative ideas to make the most of them. It's not gimmicky, just great fine dining.
KIINA, Room 301, 568 Zhongshan Nan Yi Lu, by Jumen Lu.
[All images by That's Shanghai]