The smog was descending and we could feel the cold in our bones so we thought we were in need of a little culture, some people watching and some great food. Our New Year’s resolution is to do something every week that will be enjoyable and give us some great memories of our time in Shanghai. So often we get caught up in work and family life we forget what a great opportunity it is to be living here. This week we decided on a taste of Paris and appropriately layered and togged up; we made our way downtown to the Renoir exhibition, A Life for Painting at the Shanghai International Exhibition Centre, 1333 West Nanjing Road.
At 120 RMB per person and 20 RMB for an audio set, we wanted to get our monies worth and diligently stood by each painting to listen to the narrator. The paintings of Renoir are truly beautiful. His use of colour, brush strokes and the technique of only hinting at the curve of a hand or hills in the distance encourages you to stand and stare until the painting draws you in and you can smell the warm citrus fruits the gardeners are picking in the orchard at Les Collettes or hear the thud of the olives as they fall from the tree into the bucket. On a more down to earth level and with a little less of the art critique, Renoir just loved women, in all their forms but mostly nude. He loved drawing and painting them dancing in straw hats, working in the fields, nursing a child and he loved to paint them bathing, delighting in their voluptuousness. However it wasn’t all fun and games for Renoir despite losing count of the number of mistresses he had, he did suffer terribly from rheumatism and a film from 1913 shows him painting as an old man with his hands contorted and held rigid with bandages. Not to be outdone by his great Grandfather, the photography of Jacques Renoir was also on display at the exhibition. Again the subject was the female nude, but this time its juxtaposition with the knarled olive trees of the families country retreat at Les Collettes. These seemed to appeal to Mr Smith much more. I had not previously realised his enthusiasm for the bark of trees and felt this may be an appropriate point to depart the exhibition with its enthusiastic Chinese art students photographing every aspect of the paintings including the screw fixings. Buoyed up by our adoration of the female form and feeling peckish, we hopped back into the car for a short drive to Franck Bistrot, Ferguson Lane, 376 Wukang Lu, near Tai’an Lu and a taste of France.
Tucked inside a lane of chic shops and restaurants housed in converted villas is Franck Bistrot, an authentic French Bistro, but without the pretention that so often makes you feel inadequate when dining in France. This is possibly just how the British feel and may be something to do with our own inadequacies of mastering a second language and trying to pretend that we don’t get on with the French because of history when actually we love France, its people and more importantly its food.
The atmosphere in Franck is definitely conducive to celebrating an anniversary or a special date night. I believe they only let children in who are 12 and over, so this is one for those special occasions. The waiting staff in their crisp white aprons are attentive and we were shown to a corner table where we had a front row view of the restaurant and its diners who were plentiful and an interesting mix of Chinese, American and more importantly French which I considered an excellent sign that this was going to be good. School girl French was enough for me to decipher the black board offerings which ranged from oysters to foie grois and venison to lamb shank. We chose moule mariniere, salmon gravlax, with steak tartare and lamb shank to follow. The liquor of the mussels was delicious and it wasn’t long before Mr Smith was requesting a spoon to slurp the juices which, by the depth of taste, must have been ladled from a slow simmering pot of stock with fish heads, scallions, white wine and a lot of garlic. Taste buds woken up, we embarked on the main course and this is where we came slightly unstuck and I showed my true Britishness. The waitress in her enthusiasm to serve me the lamb shank managed to throw it at me causing me to wear the gravy rather than eat it. Duly apologetic, on my part for sitting there (why do British people do that?) the meal continued in a relaxed atmosphere helped by some very good red wine.
Having put the world to rights and contemplated why two Chinese girls had ordered a RMB980 T-bone steak to share and consumed only a morsel, I managed to prevent Mr Smith asking for it to be put in a bag for his faithful friend, Bobbie the Welsh Terrier waiting at home.
Now for dessert, I read somewhere once that you can judge a good restaurant by its execution of a crème brulee so that is what I had and Mr Smith plumped for profiteroles, unusually filled with icecream but covered with the most bitter sweet dark chocolate sauce. As for the crème brulee, it had just the right surface tension. As I tapped the surface the caramel gave way to a smooth, creamy and sublime custard.
While in true Nigella Lawson style I compared the smoothness of the custard with the creamy flesh of Renoir’s nudes, the bill came. Now this is where Mr Smith took the celebration of all that is female a little too far and said as this had been my choice it was only correct and very modern of him for me to pick up the bill. At a whopping 1300 RMB this is one restaurant to visit only very occasionally, but I suggest well worth it. The Renoir Exhibition continues until March.
Thank you to Mrs Smith for her review.
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