On the eve of his newest opening, at the recently relaunched luxury enclave Plaza 66, Nick Walton speaks with chef Michael White about the differences and similarities of New York and Shanghai, changing dining culture, and the importance of consistency.
Why did you choose Shanghai to be the first outpost of your iconic New York restaurant Marea?
We have such a large Asian clientele and felt the best extension of this special brand was first in China, and where better than Shanghai. We found just the right location; we have long admired Plaza 66 for its first-class luxury and professionalism and are happy to bring Marea to Plaza 66 and to bring a top New York restaurant and vibe to Shanghai.
Shanghai and New York are such different cities – was it difficult to bridge that divide from a culinary perspective?
Fortunately, we have extensive experience in other international locations. Marea’s menu is all about sourcing incredibly fresh and local ingredients to use in Italian coastal-inspired dishes, and Shanghai has access to such incredible product. There is actually a lot of alignment in ingredients and respect for freshness in Shanghai, so this will be an exciting culinary adventure, but not a challenging one in regard to sourcing amazing products to work with and approaching the client comfortably.
How do you see Shanghai’s culinary scene evolving?
Shanghai is a global city that offers a wide range of local cuisines as well as cuisines from different corners of the world. The Shanghainese love, of course, their own culture and food, but they have embraced the western touches very much and so many Shanghainese are well travelled and increasingly enjoy food from all over the world. That is certainly a culinary scene that is evolving and will continue to evolve.
What elements of the original Marea will diners recognise at the new Shanghai restaurant?
Guests will certainly see some of the signature dishes on the menu, but we will also adapt some dishes and add some new ones to reflect local seasonal produce. Our pastas, as always, will also be in the forefront too. Guests will be welcomed in an elegant, yet vibrant room, and will immediately recognise the emphasis on quality and focus on highly personalised client attention and service.
The Michelin Guide has been controversial in Asia but it is growing in recognition – are stars on the horizon for the new Marea?
The key is always to put your head down and create quality and consistency and focus on the client and ensure the service is all it can be. We are investing in a great culinary and service team to ensure quality and innovation. That is the main job and purpose. If we then earn recognition for our work with Michelin and others, it would be an honour.
What are some of your favourite meals in Asia?
I love eating great local street food and anything that you cannot get in New York or elsewhere. I also love to stretch my palate with different flavours, especially spicy food. Given my love for dumplings, my favourite place is Lin Long Fang’s. It is one of Shanghai’s best spots for soup dumplings.
You’re an advocate for the elegance of fine dining in a global dining scene that’s increasingly casual – do you see such formality in China and will Marea maintain that timeless elegance of Italian fine dining?
Marea Shanghai will feature an updated and more modern design aesthetic, reflecting the vibrancy and lifestyle of its location, while still maintaining the subtle elegance the New York restaurant is known for. However, we recognise the importance of a more casual option and will be debuting a
new, and more casual dining concept, along with a cocktail lounge, called Club W by Marea. This will add another level of dining and energy at Plaza 66 and is being developed only for the local market. In both cases, the client will feel at ease and comfortable.
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