It is very French here. Seventies French pop alternates with Daft Punk over the speakers, servers in flat caps and grey plaid vests ferry croque monsieurs across the floor, the tiles painted in pale blue and brown French country-style patterns. At breakfast, tables of diners split a French press and baskets of tiny croissants.
We’re at Polux, the latest venture from Paul Pairet. A household name in the world of Shanghai food and drink, Pairet’s behind two of the most internationally recognised restaurants in the city: upscale brasserie Mr and Mrs Bund and immersive, multi-sensory experience Ultraviolet where its ten nightly seats sell from upwards of 4,000RMB per place. Polux is Pairet gone casual, an ode to his love of the French café.
In the Xintiandi space that once held KABB, designer Baptiste Bohu has paid tribute to the cafés of France and their laid-back atmosphere. Polux is light and airy, with parquet floors, white tiles and gold accents. On sunny days, light streams into the dining room through a huge glass skylight and guests sprawl out on the terrace. The location’s heritage is evoked through exposed concrete, grey bricks and stone doorways. Millennials relax into chairs upholstered in houndstooth and café au lait-coloured leather, gossiping (and livestreaming) across roughly hewn wooden tabletops, while middle-aged professionals from the office buildings nearby unwind at the central bar.
Polux is an all-day joint, serving breakfast (from 9am), lunch, dinner and afternoon snacks across four lengthy menus. There are all the trappings of a French café – your croque monsieurs and madames, onion soup, steak tartare – but with levelled-up flavours and some modern-day classics in the mix: an avocado toast, a club sandwich, a burger. You’ll find Mr and Mrs Bund staples, like the excellent Eggs Mimosa (devilled eggs with tuna-whipped mayo and pickled anchovy), rejigged for more casual digs. Renditions of dishes
from Pairet’s now-shuttered Chop Chop Club make appearances. Accompanied by a creamy pastis aioli and bright sauce vierge of basil, tomato and olives, the exceptional grilled sea bass flakes onto the fork, both delicate and buttery.
While it might be a casual affair with a seemingly simple approach, the food is essential Paul Pairet – smart, exacting and unapologetic without being brash. A tender pork chop grenobloise glistens under lashings of browned butter, lemon, capers and a sprinkling of toasted croutons. Toast piled high with sautéed mushrooms and ham is draped in cream and topped with egg that’s been both poached and grilled.
Dishes aren’t here to rock the foundations of your culinary beliefs – just to be superlative renditions of what you already know. The Caesar’s thin bacon is shatteringly crisp and its dressing effortlessly light. Pairet’s terrific take on tabbouleh swaps in couscous for bulgur, lemony notes and fresh parsley and mint playing off a pool of nutty sesame sauce. For dessert, fresh raspberries served with burnt butter, a dash of sherry, black pepper and a healthy swipe of fresh cream are summer elevated. Casual looks good on Pairet. Very good.
By Cat Nelson