Melbourne institution David’s Country Shanghai reopens with a fresh new interior by Hecker Guthrie.
David Zhou is as excited about the new look of his restaurant as he is about the street food of Shanghai. And why not? Having made a clean sweep from the old gilt-edged Emperor red interior to a fresh white space by Hecker Guthrie, Zhou is a man reinvigorated.
For fifteen years his iconic Melbourne eatery off Chapel Street Prahran has served Shanghai cuisine in a traditionally inspired setting. ”But times change and so must good restaurants,” says Zhou, a ten-hat restaurateur, to his guests at the relaunch of David’s Country Shanghai on Wednesday 1 August. “Shanghai cuisine is all about slow cooking and delicate flavours, street food and cooking smells, it’s theatrical. With this redesign, we wanted to make the atmosphere more relaxed so people can more fully enjoy the experience of the food.”
Hecker Guthrie breathed new life into this warehouse space, stripping it back to bare essentials, and painting it chalky white right up to the vaulted timber ceiling. Furniture is kept simple and rustic, a mix of domestic and semi-industrial objects in whitewashed wood or gently peeling painted Whote paper lanterns reference the street lighting of old Shanghai, while stacks of rustic timber tables are stocked with bowls and water for people to serve themselves, relaxing the rules of hospitality. “The design plays on simplicity and homeliness, referencing traditional Chinese elements in a contemporary way,” says designer Hamish Guthrie. “It was about bringing a playful, fresh design to a very well established restaurant, while reflecting the simplicity of David’s new menu.”
Back of house, Chef Chen and Executive Chef Jeffrey Xiao overhauled the menu too, keeping traditional staples and weaving in local additions like potato, a very unChinese ingredient. “You can’t just keep cooking the way your grandmother did. That’s not my idea of authentic cooking. Authentic cooking is more adaptable than that,” says Zhou. “You find a lot of ‘drunken’ dishes in Shanghai cuisine, dishes with rice wine that are briskly cooked/steamed or served raw. We intend to serve drunken crab, drunken chicken, amongst other delicacies”.
Guests at the opening sampled river prawns, pork belly and potato, prawn dumplings (bok-choi infused rice paper), and later, white chocolate dumplings and red bean sticky rice. “People have known this place for a long time as a more formal room, so the redesign is a fairly radical transformation, as well as getting back to basics in the kitchen. We hope all our regulars like it.”