3 Michelin Stars is not enough for Jean Georges. Nor is a dozen other restaurants in New York. A handful in Asia? Still no. Even after JG has established one of the finest long-term restaurants in China he's still not happy. Will a category-defining Korean restaurant in Shanghai satiate his appetite for seed-spreading, or are cross-category Chefs the new form of global dominance?
We can suppose, in this instance, that Korean food makes sense. Jean George's wife has Korean ancestry and has become a food personality in her own right. With their combined forces and perhaps a nod to Shanghai underrepresentation of a powerful national cuisine, here comes Chi-Q, slap bang in the middle of the Bund.
In the name is a play on two elements symbolizing Korean food (KimCHE and bbQ) and a hint at the modern, re-invented meal within. Chi-Q is a blend of Korean notes, high end dining and some design magic.
Let's get the design magic out of the way first. Neri & Hu, the playbook writers of the modern Shanghai restaurant, have again pulled off a space which is simultaneously echelon showpiece and attractive restaurant. It feels minimal at first, but then the layers of concrete and wood and brushed metals and bulbs accumulate into the considered space that we cherish them for.
In true Korean BBQ tradition, the meal revolves around the grill in the middle of each table. Rather than being vented up and through the ceiling, the smoke is sucked through through the floor.
And the food. Oh the food. To our non-K palates it's as good as any Korea food has ever been, if not better. The distinctively pickled-punch in the kimchee, the robust flavor of the pancake, the way the grill adds a taste-dimension when it's applied one precise mouthful at a time.
And so it should be. Chi-Q is the most expensive Korean BBQ for miles... by a factor of five. Each basket of raw meat will set you back two or three hundred RMB. Those few strips of perfectly marbled Blackmore Wagyu Ribeye - ¥1,000.
But yes it's freaking delicious and yes you're paying for much more than just the food. This is not the lively, frenzied BBQ over in Korea-town. It's a whole different animal, one created by a Michelin-lauded superstar chef and his celebrity roots-embracing wife. There's a time for both and certainly one will happen more often than the other... but for a taste of a different Korea, Chi-Q is serving up charcoal and diamonds.