Secret Garden has the decor of a half-assed Yongfoo Elite. That’s a compliment. The sniffy Yongfoo Elite mansion is gorgeous, but the knick-knacks and interior design are all carefully curated for maximum “eccentric” effect.
Secret Garden, on the other hand, feels organic. The decor is charming – a three-story mish-mash of cheap Buddha heads, oddball stained glass windows, creaking floorboards, suited hosts in bow ties, and views of their namesake garden. Waitresses wearing matronly aprons plod along on thick, ugly carpet. There’s genuine warmth. It’d be a prime location for a hearty stew. Instead, they opt for slightly fussy contemporary Chinese food.
Cold dishes come pressed into geometric shapes on oversized white plates. On one, an angular line of sauce demarcates the cork of blanched spinach with sesame from coins of salted vegetables wrapped in pressed tofu and oval wafers of blanched river eel. Order the fried, long-snout catfish (muddy and covered in bad sweet-and-sour sauce), and your table is fully occupied with its single plate.
But when they focus less on nouveau Chinese for nouveau riche, Secret Garden cooks well. The kitchen nails both a mild, understated dish of sauteed crab meat with egg white, and an intense chicken soup with spongy monkey-head mushrooms.
They even make a satisfying version of appropriated Western food. The red wine braised short ribs with potatoes, onion, and carrot are a step in the right direction – away from black pepper beef. All cards.
|Secret Garden, 333, Shanghai, China
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