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Fine, affordable French fare in elegant villa
By Ruby Gao

ENJOYING exquisite French food in an historic Art Deco building in Shanghai's former French concession area sounds expensive, but it can be affordable.

Soliel de Provence, a new restaurant on Wulumuqi Road, features fresh quality ingredients, authentic flavors from southern France and an elegant dining ambience. It fulfills diners' expectations.

The restaurant is inside a three-story French-style Art Deco residence built in 1938. Old French windows, arches and exposed brick walls are well preserved.

The interior has cream-colored walls, dark wood trim and molding and French-style furniture collected by owner Wu Jianmin. A chandelier casts a warm light over the dining room and there's an ambience of old Shanghai.

The lunch set menu includes appetizer, main course and a cup of coffee for 79 yuan (US$12.67). The Wagyu beef sirloin imported from Australia costs 129 yuan.

Dishes are not as expensive as in many other restaurants in the same area because the house is owned by Wu himself, so there's no rental cost in the overhead.

"Without having to pay rent, I can put more focus on sourcing quality ingredients," Wu says.

Wagyu beef, sea bass and Gillaradeau oyster are excellent value.

The desire to open an affordable French restaurant dates back to Wu's early dining experience.

"When I was young, there's only one authentic French restaurant in Shanghai, the Red House Restaurant. I plucked up my courage to taste the food there, probably the most expensive in Shanghai at that time, and it cost almost a month's salary. From then on I started dreaming of one day running my own French restaurant," Wu says.

For customers preferring authentic French fare, there's oyster, grilled beef, turkey leg confit with mashed white bean and cranberry sauce, bouillabaisse seafood soup, roasted chicken roll with stuffed mushroom. Flavors are simple but rich.

For more variety, Wu adds Spanish and Italian dishes, such as Spanish-style roast suckling pig and various pasts.

The pastry chef is a French-trained Shanghainese, who turns out elegant cheese cake, lava chocolate cake and creme brule, all with moderate sweetness, fine texture and elegant presentation. And there are plenty of other pastries.

Teatime is from 2:30pm to 5pm, perfect for pastries. Dessert is free with a cup of coffee or tea. Wi-Fi is available.

Soleil de Provence

Tel: 6473-0831

Address: Bldg 1, 302 Wulumuqi Rd S.

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164