Collectif: Breaking the Rules of Traditional Chinese Cooking

By Sophie Steiner, May 14, 2023

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The Place 

With a menu centered around the 24 solar periods of the traditional Chinese calendar, Collectif is an amalgamation – or collection, hence the name – of ingredients, recipes and memories gathered by co-owners and chefs Shane Wang (previously at INUA in Tokyo, Jean GeorgesSeul&Seul) and Malik Sie (previously Chef de Cuisine at Bloom) throughout their China and global travels.

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After studying and working around the world, the two returned to Shanghai this past October, empowered to honor the ingredients and recipes of their childhood (in Zhejiang for Wang and Taiwan for Sie) while also re-working lesser known flavors into a fine dining setting.

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“While working in Australia, I saw restaurants there taking pride in using local food, and I wondered why in China, that same sentiment came instead from boasting imported products,” says Wang.

“Imported doesn’t always equate to high-end. And I want to share that the ingredients in our own backyard can bestow onto diners that pride pleasure here in Shanghai.”

DSC02753.jpgDalian Wagyu beef, water fennel, Chinese toon shoots, Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s

The venue currently offers a prix fixe seasonal menu (that covers 16 courses) for RMB648, with an option to add on three glasses of wine for RMB268 or five drinks for RMB588 – three wines and two bespoke cocktails, showcasing their newly launched Chinese tea-inspired cocktail menu.

By the end of the month, they will also present guests with an a la carte menu, with highlights from previous set menus, plus a few new dishes.

The Food

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From the current Spring Equinox Set Menu (that runs through the third week of May), guests can expect curious ingredients like pungent Zhejiang Pinghu zaodan (糟蛋) – or koji-preserved egg; grassy jiuxiang caotao (酒香草头); flame-scorched Dalian Wagyu flank steak; barnyard funky Chinese toon shoots; jujube sponge cake; and custardy tofu pudding, as well as so much more. 

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As a classically-trained French chef, Wang draws on her "toolbox" of both French and Chinese cooking techniques to complete a plate – playing with the “root” or foundational dish, breaking it down into components and reimagining each in unpredictable ways. 

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Case in point, a humble hawthorn roll bound in a thin cellophane wrapper (one that mimics Western-style fruit leather that is sold at every convenient store in China) is reconstructed using only fresh hawthorn and apple juice, draped in a crystalline pear juice and dill jelly – that parodies said plastic coating. 

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Diners can simultaneously indulge in both the familiar and peculiar in ingenious form with Collectif’s take on baihuaji (百花鸡).

This time-honored Cantonese dish customarily consists of steamed shrimp wrapped in chicken skin, but here it’s taken a step further – minced with water chestnut and pork lard, topped with a shatteringly crisp sheath of chicken skin. 

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Work your way clockwise around three modest piles of seemingly similar “beancurd rolls” that couldn’t taste more distinct.

This dish exemplifies the diverse flavor palate of spring greens – from grassy malantou to bitter chuantang jicai to sweet and supple jiuxiang caotao

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Even everyday mantou is elevated, presented in three forms (twisted with sesame paste and peanut butter, grilled, and steamed) proffered alongside two compound butters – zaodan preserved egg and spicy tofu.

Plus, an aromatic meigancai crisp never hurts. 

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Sie really serves up the tastes of childhood with the Taiwanese radish cake, employing his own mother’s recipe; a housemade XO sauce focuses around squab rather than bacon, while crunchy Sakura shrimp round out the refined bite. 

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The meal culminates in delicately flaky yellow croaker, seasoned with seaweed salt, and swimming in puréed leeks dotted with green Sichuan peppercorn oil…

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… followed by succulent grilled pigeon with taut skin that puckers and chars. The juicy flesh firms up without scorching, resulting in a welcoming dribble down your chin if not eaten in one bite. 

DSC02824.jpgYunnan Pu’er tea, taro pastry, rice wine jelly biscuit, Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s

But this is just the beginning.

The soon-to-launch seasonal summer menu will see the likes of pork wontons – but actual minced pork tenderloin mashed with sweet potato flour and rolled into plump Fujian rouyan (肉燕) dumpling skins – topped with a spin on jiangpai lengmian (酱排冷面), a Zhejiang cold noodle dish that 15-year old Wang regularly slurped down streetside as an after school snack in Pinghu.

The newly released tea-centric cocktail menu pays just as much attention to promoting China-homegrown ingredients, utilizing them in unconventional yet thoughtful ways to appeal to younger generations.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Demonstrating the team’s deep-rooted respect towards Chinese tradition, a glass of the Zhaolu (RMB108) sees a creamy disk of frozen salted egg yolk ice cream balanced atop an ice cube – that slowly melts into an acerbic blend of Biluochun green tea, bitter melon and guava.

As the saccharine cream seeps into the drink, it changes with each sip, culminating in a pleasantly tart and sweet finish.

DSC02710.jpgTu Jun Su (RMB108), Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s

The Vibe 

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An homage to Zhejiang mansion legacy buildings, the space is outfitted in traditional Chinese floor tiling, woven bamboo hanging lamps, rattan seating and marble countertops, accented by warm-hued lighting and earth tones.

The main dining room seats eight across two circular tables and seven more at the chef’s table – front row seating to the open kitchen action. 

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Upstairs boasts more of a lounge feel – plush, slate gray couches, globe lights, and a backlit bar, with cocktails and space for group dining. 

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Pride for China’s heritage weaves its way through every component of the restaurant – from dish inspiration to ingredients to cooking techniques to design and décor – coupled with a goal to share the untold stories of China’s rich and abundant culinary history.

A journey diners travel through with each course served. 

Price: RMB648/set
Good For: Exploring contemporary Chinese; learning about seasonal ingredients and regional flavors; imaginative cocktail pairings
Who’s Going: Hip locals; well-traveled in China expats

Collectif, D-101, 850 Xikang Lu, by Xinfeng Lu, 西康路850号 D-101室, 近新丰路.


Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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