Because of its location by the sea, Shanghai historically has been for many travellers, China’s front door, the entrance to the middle kingdom. Perhaps for this reason, many foreign companies today still choose Shanghai as the place to launch their first foray into the massive China market.
And so it is with Lawry’s The Prime Rib restaurant chain, which started in Beverly Hills, California way back in 1938 and has outlets in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Chicago, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Dallas, Singapore, Taipei and as of February 2008, Shanghai.
As their name implies, they specialise in Prime Rib, and their menu is extremely simple. Customers only need to decide what cut (size) of beef they would like from a choice of four cuts, starting with the tiny 6oz California Cut, to the 20oz, 2 inch thick Diamond Jim Brady Cut option. I went for the Lawry Cut which is about 10 ounces of fine beef. The price includes mashed potato and Yorkshire pudding which will make English diners feel right at home, despite the very American heritage of this chain. Sides are available too, such as creamed spinach (my choice) or creamed corn.
Their famous spinning salad also comes included in the price. They wheel out a huge metal bowl with salad in it balanced on a bed of crushed ice. They then spin the bowl while pouring the dressing on which I suppose is meant to ensure the sauce is evenly distributed. Frankly it’s a bit of a showy gimmick and the salad itself was just average for my taste.
But the same can’t be said for the main course which was simply perfect. They wheel out the rib on a specially designed silver carving cart that apparently costs 30,000 US dollars each. The waitress asks you how you’d like your beef and then the specially trained chef, complete with gold medallion, cuts it to your requirements. My requirement was a HUGE three quarter inch thick cut of medium rare prime rib which just melts in the mouth. For the record, I love eating, but I am not a big eater, yet somehow I managed to eat the entire cut of beef and still have room for the English trifle.
The waitress was very attentive as you’d expect from a newly opened franchise that wants to make a good first impression. She explained everything to us step by step, including how to use famous Lawry seasoned salt and seasoned pepper, which itself is a 150 million dollar business (annually) owned by Unilever.
All in all it was a wonderful dining experience, apart from the vibrations made by the throbbing bass coming from the bar on the floor below, which I am sure the Lawry’s management aren’t too thrilled about. The meal wasn’t cheap at 1600 rmb for two (including a bottle of Lawry’s Cabernet Sauvignon and a side each of lobster tails purely for research purposes!) which is arond 230 US dollars! You have to wonder whether at that price level, they will be able to sustain a constant flow of customers needed to survive, but their Xintiandi location should ensure a steady flow of tourists and business travellers.
I’m not a very good food critic so if you’d like to read more, there’s lots of reviews here of the Chicago Lawry’s and the Beverly Hills branch. From what I can see, my experience in Shanghai is very consistent with their other branches across the globe.
I for one though will be back, but perhaps not before a visit to the gym!