When it comes to absinthe, burlesque and late-night 10RMB shots,
no one can deny that art deco paradise Modernista has long reigned supreme.
Like many of its neighbours, however, it lacked the space in the trousers to
realise its full potential – until recently. After expanding into the adjoining
building and a renovation, Modernista is now a play in two acts, with a
full-service restaurant occupying the original space, and a bar and dance hall spread
across two floors in the lofty digs next door.
The bistro-style dining room was largely unchanged by the
move. The chequered floor, art deco light fixtures and polished brass accents remain,
but a selection of Asian-influenced continental staples from Chef Luis Wei have
taken the place of the tapas menu. Hints of Wei’s time serving under Catalan
master Jordi Valles at Spanish eatery Agua are scattered throughout the menu.
The shrimps a la
boqueria (46RMB) does not disappoint. Fresh shrimps sautéed with garlic, oil
and chillies impart a soft, nutty warmth that builds into a mouth-coating heat,
leaving the parsley sauce to refresh with a grassy finish. The tuna tataki
(62RMB) is less successful; the delicate sear required to preserve the soft texture
of the marinated lean fish is beyond reach, and the strongly flavoured
mascarpone, shallot and wasabi obscure what remains. A salad of tuna carpaccio
(46RMB) fares better, abandoning the heat in place of punchy vinaigrette and
spicy rocket greens.
The mains are less creative, but the execution is still top
notch. The salmon enrobe (88RMB) is wonderfully moist. The slow-cooked, herb-spiced
lamb medallions (pictured; 68RMB) are also tender and well matched with the
fennel root puree, but the meat cries out for bolder seasoning. The star of the
mains is, unsurprisingly, a Spanish rice dish; the arros negre a la sepia (58RMB) may lack some of the sophistication
of its Sanlitun rivals, but the strong black ink and sautéed squid are on
Consider a second glass of wine from the short but
well-selected list and wander next door for cocktails and dancing. The dining at
Modernista still isn’t the venue’s main attraction for us, but well-presented, good-value
dishes next to one of the area’s best after-hours hangouts is a very good thing