Asia's best restaurant?

A new restaurant in Shanghai sets new standards for six star cuisine and luxury dining.

This may be one of the region's most inconspicuous restaurants - indeed, there is no signage outside.

The only reason we got to sample its delights was because we met its owner, Vincent Lo at a cocktail party. Lo, who is the Chairman of the Shui On Group and the visionary behind the Xintiandi development, is a man who is well known for his sense of style. On the evening in question, he mentioned his new dining spot, Villa du Lac and recommended we eat there.

Unfortunately, we already had a reservation at Ashanti, the French restaurant inside the old Russian orthadox church near Fuxing Park. If you haven't dined there, I'd also recommend it. The food is outstanding and the cupola in which you dine is ornate and magnificent.

However, I digress. The next morning we bumped into Lo again at a conference. He asked us whether we had gone to his restaurant, and it was somewhat awkward to have to admit that we had passed up his recommendation in favour of another restaurant.

After this coincidental meeting, we decided to book Villa du Lac for an early dinner before flying back to Hong Kong.

The first problem we had was finding it. We knew it was in Xintiandi, close to the lake, but otherwise it required asking a few people. In fact it is located in a low-key three story building that overlooks the lake.

On entering we were greeted by some of the friendliest staff you will ever meet. The manager is German and told us about his philosophy of treating guests like royalty and explained that he took attention to detail so seriously he even served Coca-cola with ice cubes made from Coca-cola. The deputy manager, a Singaporean, gave us a tour.

The concept of the restaurant is ultra-upmarket private dining. You hire a private room, which means the place is ideal for those who are entertaining groups of eight or more.

The second and third floor can also be hired out for bigger functions. The third floor would be the best, since you also get the use of an outdoor terrace which is perfect for pre-dinner cocktails.

Once we sat down to dine, the first surprise was the menu. With its French name, we had assumed it was going to be European. However, like its exquisite décor, the menu is in actuality Yangzhou with a few contemporary kickers.

Before we even raised a chopstick to our mouths we were impressed by the restaurant's 1930s chic atmosphere and the general service levels. In the case of the latter, the waiting staff have been trained to leave the room backwards, so as to never lose eye contact with diners. Plates are whisked away at a speed that is both non-obtrusive and appropriately civilized and suggests the guy doing the washing up doesn't have many slack moments.

The wine list is volumous - with the priciest wine being a 1983 Petrus for Rmb17,500.

Before I even discuss the taste of the food, I should say that the overall presentation of the food was very much in the tradition of cuisine as art. Even the basic green vegetables were tied together by little bows made of carrot. We ordered five dishes with the most expensive being the tiger prawns (Rmb316) and Hu Ting's Spring Chicken (Rmb168).

My wife is Northern Chinese. She is very picky about food in general and Chinese cuisine in particular. It's fair to say she is a very stringent critic and normally will criticise at least one dish for being mediocre.

But on this occasion, she could find no cause for complaint, and was amazed by how good the food was. By the time the third dish had hit the table she was already composing a list of people she would like to invite to dine here next time she is in Shanghai.

The only sad thing was that we had to rush to the airport, and raced through our meal in an hour. One consolation was that we knew this would not be the last time we would dine here.

Obviously, there is always the chance that we had a great experience because the restaurant had just opened and everyone was very keen. But if Villa du Lac can maintain the standards we experienced then it will be one of the best Chinese restaurants anywhere; and a dining experience you will want to share with close friends and clients you really want to impress.

Villa du Lac, 383 Huangpi Road South, Xintiandi, Shanghai
Tel (8621) 63876387

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