Simple pleasure of whiling away the day
Paul Pairet, the man behind Ultraviolet, the city’s only Michelin three-star restaurant, calls Polux, his latest venture, an anti-concept concept. Its straightforwardness contrasts nicely against the city’s bling.
Occupying a busy corner of Xintiandi’s north block, Polux is a French cafe serving casual French fare with a refined, global twist. He wanted to serve the food he likes to eat and created a space to drink and eat all day — a rendezvous for fun seekers, a hangout for bon vivants.
“When in Paris, I love the small luxury of sitting on the terrace of a cafe. A French cafe is not solely a ‘coffee shop,’ it is as well a venue with all-day casual fare. A popular meeting point with a must-have terrace where French chaps and chapettes can indulge into their favorite sport: to sip a drink — watching the world pass by,” Pairet said.
His love for French cafes led to the birth of Polux, as one of those places where people can while away a whole day, from a hearty breakfast to all-day munchies to a cozy dinner. Part of the reason for its coziness is the chic, convivial setting and design, flooded with natural light in daytime, lit by a soft glow at night. The space realized by French designer Baptiste Bohu, together with Pairet, is inspired by Parisian cafes: simple but authentic with genuine materials, from the wooden floors, cement tiles to zinc bar counter. The interior also gives off a slight industrial feel and a mix of eras with some 1950s inspired chairs, tartan fabrics and some vintage wallpaper. Everything about the place feels personal, deliberate and unfussy.
And although the decoration gives the all-day dining restaurant a homely feel, what is really alluring about the place is the uncomplicated, well-executed food.
If you include the outside tables, Polux accommodates 110 people on sunnier days. There are four menus a day: for breakfast, lunch, afternoon and dinner. And they print them every day according to availability of produce.
One recent sunny day I went to Polux for a satisfying two-hour lunch.
The chef designs his recipes with simplicity in mind (but with sophistication) and while he doesn’t overuse the sauce and condiments the authentic French flavors remain. Sardine on toast (50 yuan) and grilled piquillos (50 yuan) are great picks to start for their deep flavors deriving from simple ingredients.
Combining French roots with a decidedly Asian influence like the use of soy sauce, the grilled salmon bearnaise (150 yuan) was elevated based on the classic recipe. The duck confit (130 yuan), as a classic bistro staple, was perfectly executed for its tender meat and crisp skin.
The sweets were the most memorable, especially the baba au rhum (100 yuan) and toffee coolant (70 yuan). I look back at the photos and don’t just remember the taste and texture but the sensations. That lunch, that moment was one of total contentment.
Opening hours: 10am-10pm (Tuesday-Sunday)
Address: No. 5, 181 Taicang Rd
Average price: 300 yuan (US$44.73)