Fifteen kilometres outside the city center in virtually every direction, Shanghai is going strong. No direction is developing as strongly, though, as the east. Pudong is the sprawling, all-consuming younger brother, held back by a swathe of deep water. This is the signature move of China's population in the 21st century... bolting a few million people onto the side of trade and economic epicenters. It's happening right under our noses.
Perhaps the Korean owners of the Ashley group are ahead of the curve. Their first forays into China have taken them deeper into Pudong. With 100+ restaurant in Seoul perhaps they know something about JinQiao that we dont. Actually, we know it already. Here is a few million international-savvy Shanghai residents looking for a fine slice of life away from the downtown commotion.
And so, in what was a Yolo-centric strip-mall on the outskirts of the outskirts of town, the Ashley are concocting an American buffet and steakhouse. Next week it will open in a revamped shopping gallery of highbrow stores and airy modern courtyards.
They've a challenge on their hands; Here are discerning local masses, hungry to express themselves but not hungry or wealthy enough to be in the french concession doing it. Here too are opulent suburban newcomers who have been sold on luscious surrounds to their gated developments. the Ashley must ingratiate them both.
Which is why the Ashley's steakhouse is a collection of attractive, well-themed dining rooms which combine to entertain three hundred diners at a time. It's a feat of five-star hotel proportions, with expensive collections of USA paraphernalia adorning the walls, flocks of rigorously trained wait-staff circling attentively and a gargantuan array of American, Italian and Chinese cuisine.
They've lava-stone cognac-flamed tenderloin, brick oven fired pizzas, seafood pots, jumbo chicken wings, pasta, bread, cheese, deserts... all for a set price of 128/lunch 188/dinner (with prime australian steaks added to the mix for 288-328). It looks, tastes and feels the part. Here they can entertain any walk of life as it wanders around barrels of bottomless prosecco and alongside counters of fresh produce. Private dining for the locals, number plate collections for the young professionals and enough shaved ice to make everything sparkle. They win, and they're very proud of it.
Here's where Shanghai begins to turn it around. Real reasons to be out in the sticks, just before they're not the sticks any more but natural epicenters of their own.