The weekly round-up of new places to eat of and drink in, Shanghai. Chin chin. A Beijing-grown chain of healthful cafes opens up called Moka Bros; we're digging for drinks at Archaeology; and we're swinging around at Barraco.
What It Is: Straight outta Sanlitun Beijing, Moka Bros is the "power bowls" plus cafe venture coming from the team behind a few other popular Sanlitun restaurants called Mosto and Modo. Even ahead of Shanghai in 2013, Moka Bros were riding the power bowls craze in Beijing and filling that "fitness-as-lifestyle" niche for people who maybe felt Element Fresh, which was already there at the time, was too broad, generic, and... maybe not speaking directly enough to their personal brands. It was a hit in Beijing, spawned off a few other branches, including one in Chengdu, and this is their first in Shanghai.
Do you need to know that? No, probably not. Moka Bros is this then: A market-tested power (and poke and smoothie) bowls, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, juices, coffee, wine, breakfast, brunch place, with a clear identity and personality, great design, consistent service, and decent price points. Opened just before the holidays, they've hit the ground running (zumba'ing?) because they've been tweaking it since 2013.
The Shanghai venue is one giant open-plan room with cafe seating, communal tables, and a raised platform thing for assholes-who-think-they're-Steve-Jobs seating. (Beanbag chairs :P). They've got also got a lounge-ish, wraparound patio at the side. The space is really nice. It's comfy. It's casual. They're trademark Positive Mental Attitude slogans adorn the wall.
"Hey You! You're Awesome!"
Tell me something I don't know, Moka Bros!
The menu is... damn. Really big. Almost overwhelming. (Almost.) A page of dips (i.e. "Spinach & Artichoke" - 38rmb); a section of wraps and sandwiches (i.e. "Tenderloin Steak Avocado" - 68rmb); salads and Quinoas (i.e. "Shrimp Avocado" - 68rmb); a page of "Power Pokes" (i.e. "Sassy Salmon" - 70rmb); a waffles section (3 variations); a "Smoothie Bowls" section. And basically everything is exchangeable, from meat add-ins to the dishes, to switching out rice variations for the power bowl bases. It's involved. Every dish is bursting with about 90 ingredients.
On into the drinks -- small juices and smoothies, 38rmb; large 45rmb. 50rmb cocktails; coffees (14 kinds) 22rmb-40rmb.
"Veggie Medley - Green Beans, Chickpeas, Avocado, Hard Boiled Egg, Eggplant, Zucchini, Black Olives, Parsley, Basil Dressing - 55rmb. Add Cicken or Beef - 18rmb; Add Salmon Steak 38rmb"
"Jungle Jumble - Heart of Palm, Avocado, Tomato, Chickpeas, Green Peas, Corn, Pumpkin Seeds, Rucola, BalsamiC Vinaigrette - 60; "Energize with steak or chicken" - 18rmb"
First Impressions: Moka Bros has come a long was since their earliest incarnation in Nali Patio in 2013. The menu they're serving in Shanghai is intricate, idiosyncratic, creative, and really diverse, while still adhering to an overarching idea. Not going to lie: I've been six times already since they opened. It's a real great addition if you live or work in the neighborhood and are trying to eat healthy, without having to resort to the same meal every night. Stiff competition for Tribe, Wheat, and, of course, Element Fresh in the immediate vicinity.
Anyway, there's this: Took my parents there for lunch. The Shorts? Mum and Dah?
They fuckin' loved it. (Yuppies.)
What It Is: Behind the oddly angled door on the corner of Kangding Lu and Shaanxi Bei Lu is a brand new speakeasy. Best way to describe it. The door is unmarked, it's spacious but cozy, there're retro-ish elements in the design, and the cocktails are classy and well-made. It's brought to us by two individuals with some speakeasy experience under their belt. One is Alex Hsu, previously of the (suddenly shut down) Flask. The other is Allen Fang, of that decent drinking hole behind the red telephone box, Barules.
Foreground: La Pluma - Fig & Shiso infsed Tequila, Lime Juice, Grapefruit Soda (95rmb)
For now, the cocktail list is limited to a dozen drinks with names like FUXK ME UP (90rmb, pictured above in background), My Flow So Fresh Skr (95rmb) and Thug Life Swizzle (110rmb). I cherry-picked the least classy-sounding ones, because I previously said they were classy drinks. I'm making a point. it's 2017, way past when speakeasies could take themselves seriously, so it's nice that the Allens are having a bit of fun. This place is classy af bro. They've got shelves filled with textbooks titled things like "Cost Effective Diagnosis and Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease" by J. David Talley, M.D., "Targets in Heterocylcic Systems," and "Scientific and Expert Evidence" by Conley Moriarity. There's a mid 17th century atlas of Scotland and Hibernia in Latin. Yo, check out this angel's ass.
It looks like white marble, so it's art.
The cocktails are in the 90rmb-110rmb range, with more on the way. It's in soft opening, which means they're still figuring stuff out.
Dining Inspiration - Raspeberry, infused pear vodka, port wine, Grand Marnier, orange juice, mascarpone espuma
First Impressions: Do you like speakeasies? Did you like Flask? Do you like Barules? Do you like cocktails? The cocktails range from very drinkable to, in the case of stuff like Dining Inspiration, Trivial Pursuit. Spent ten minutes trying to puzzle out its heady musk (it was the mascarpone foam, duh). But that's longer than I spend thinking about most cocktails, or drinking most cocktails. Really dug the delta blues soundtrack too, hope they keep that. Feels like this place would've killed a few years ago. Maybe there's still demand for it. I'd say "Archaeology; it belongs in a museum," but a nice museum that people should visit more often.
What It Is: "Barraco" is Brazilian for a shantytown lean-to. A shack. No engineering, civil authority or central planning goes into barracos. Imagine the favelas they drive cars through in that one Fast & Furious movie. That's the inspiration for this place. Set into the front of one of the lanehouses near Sinan Mansions that these days gets turned into a fashion boutique, a vape shop, or both, it's walled and ceilinged with recycled doors, wood and a bit of corrugated tin, all daubed in bright, eye-searingly gaudy colors. They've got some stones on the floor to give the impression of a beach, actual plants hanging from the ceilings, and swings you can sit on.
Underneath all that is a Brazilian bar run by Brazilians (the owner used to be in textiles, shipping back and forth between Brazil and China), serving up a handful of drinks and Brazilian bar snacks like Pao de Queijo (40rmb for 6). The headliners are, of course, the caipirinhas. 60rmb each, in a variety of flavors including mango, lime, strawberry, passionfruit, etc. They also serve these little sweets called Brigadeiro (8rmb), basically condensed milk, butter and chocolate, which are delicious. Story goes they were invented (or at least used) by people campaigning on behalf of a Brigadier General during an election in the 1940s. Nice touch of history there. As is Michael Palin's book on Brazil, on the shelf by the bar.
Pao de Queijo (40rmb for 6)
For now, they open at 6pm and go until midnight. There're neighbors around, hope that doesn't become a problem, it seems like they've got a good arrangement with the upstairs. In the future, they'd like to open up earlier and cater to a coffee and tea crowd.
First Impressions: Just going to get the obvious comparison out of the way; If Boteco is a pub, Barraco is a beachhouse. It's colorful, casual, and not thinking too hard about it all. You might say "zany." If Brazil had vuvuzelas, they'd be hanging from the rafters. As an alternative to the staid, kind of drab surroundings near the Sinan Mansions, it's welcome. The food menu's going to stay bar-snack oriented, so this is clearly a place to go for a drink, probably a caipirinha. Which, by the way, are a-okay. Could be a little stronger. It's a shame this place only opened up now as the weather turns. Could be a really nice place to get a coffee or something. As it is, hey, solid spot to get caipirinhas and keep the summer going in your head.