Nordic French fare at Oxalis in Shanghai
Delicate seafood and a tender pork shoulder showcase the lightness of Jonas Noël’s cooking
Ox-sai-lis? Oc-er-lis? I struggled to pronounce the name of The Waterhouse Hotel’s latest restaurant, until our host said it out loud as “Ox-seh-lis. A chorus of “ah!” followed around the table; apparently I wasn’t the only one. “When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound so strange,” said my dining companion. But there was nothing clunky about the Atlantic halibut. The bread crumb, parmesan, and brown butter crust was airy and the fish was spry, emblematic of the Nordic-flecked French food that’s happening at Oxalis.
Oxalis, which opened in April this year, takes over the space that used to house Table No. 1. Before it was the name of a restaurant, it’s more commonly known as an edible herb that Oxalis chef Jonas Noël first foraged for while working at Restaurant Bras in Laguiole·, France. Now, the plant shows up as garnish and etched onto the placemat.
Other bits of Noël’s life are sprinkled throughout his new restaurant. The knives come from Laguiole, with swooping handles made from oak barrels and volcanic sand. Nice to look at, not so nice when the staff don’t change them even when they’re ridden with sauce. There’s a flammekueche on the menu, a thin crust rectangular pizza with cheese, bacon, and onions that hails from Noël’s hometown of Alsace.
Noël’s time at Caprice in the Four Seasons Hong Kong also resulted in an Australian Angus beef tartare with 10-year-old Laphroaig scotch, chopped Indian almonds, and Oscietra caviar, and a chicken terrine with Shaoxing rice wine points to his previous stint at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Shanghai. But it’s Noël’s fixture at the Norwegian restaurants of Bagatelle and Renaa that has the strongest, yet lightest sleight of hand: the mackerel was so buoyant that it needed a spicy North African yogurt sauce for anchor, while the Berkshire pork shoulder blade, a 1 kilogram hunk of meat that takes three days to prepare, turned ethereal with apples and endive. Oxalis’ name may not roll off the tongue so easily, but the food disappears as quickly as a breeze.
The Waterhouse Hotel, The Cool Docks, 1–3 Maojiayuan Rd / 中国上海黄浦区毛家园路1–3号