What It Is:
Ho Lee Fook down in Hong Kong is an irreverent Cantonese joint, inspired by the city’s Cantonese diners, as much as traditional Canto dishes like roast meats and live seafood, set in what is basically a club. It took a little while for people in the southern city to get it, but since they did, it’s been going gangbusters. Canton Disco is that, but for Shanghai. It’s a mash-up of funky Chinese food like a celtuce ‘Caesar’ salad, Chongqing-style chicken wings buried in a sea of heaven-facing chilies, Wagyu carpaccio with smoked beef fat chili dressing that tastes like Korean BBQ, and then classic roast meats (goose is the standout) and expensive live seafood, like lobsters or Dungeness crabs done ‘Typhoon Shelter’-style, i.e., completely showered in crispy fried garlic.
This is not your everyday Cantonese food. It’s not your everyday restaurant. The name really sums it up. It’s sort-of Canto cooking and a loud soundtrack of 1970s dance music. Italo-disco meets cha chaan teng, with low low lighting and Neri + Hu design. Food-wise, I appreciate what chef Jowett Yu, of Ho Lee Fook, is doing: cooking very personal, idiosyncratic Asian food. Who else is going to suggest you order peanut butter French toast along with your roast meats to soak up the jus?
It doesn’t please everyone – my table of four was quite divided on a lot of the dishes – but it’s never boring, and often very good, as in the massive Angus short-rib with a roasted Hunan chili puree and green shallot kimchi. Good stuff.
- Chris St. Cavish
What It Is:
While Berner’s Tavern is known for its museum-like setting, Shanghai Tavern is less ornate, with bare walls and burnished 1930’s decor to match the history of the building.
Chef Scott Melvin (formerly of Commune Social) is keeping British roots intact with staples like Fish n’ Chips and Mac and Cheese sprinkled into a selective menu. The starters are delicately constructed. Favorites include the crab toast, rich and creamy, cut by pickled celery, and the Baked Clams Rockefeller, chock-full of N’awlins nostalgia. As a second act the mains are less dazzling, but still good.
To add to ambience, there are trollies maneuvering around the dining room with whiskey, Champagne, and cakes, tarts and caneles from Jacopo Bruni, the original pastry chef at The London Edition, and waiters in white dinner jackets. Then, separately, they have things like that old standard, Flaming Alaska, an eggy meringue thing that they light on fire, with cherry sorbet on the inside. Tricky, tricky chefs.
Shanghai Tavern is one of those places where the staff is always waiting for you to make your next move. If your water glass is nearing empty, they’ll make sure it’s full before you notice. This kind of attention may make you feel like a queen or nervous, depending on who you are.
My prediction is the retro-spirit of this place will draw a fashionable, slightly older crowd and the regal ambience will lend itself nicely to important lunch dates.
- Sarah Boorboor
What It Is:
Davide Segat, the bar manager behind the original Punch Room in the London Edition, likes punch's egalitarianism. It was English society's tipple of choice once, served alike in genteel clubs and on the decks of East India Company schooners. Shanghai's Punch Room, like its cousins in London and Barcelona, however, is characterized by exclusivity, insisting on reservations -- a necessity considering how small the space is. Moving in and around that space is a staff almost entirely composed of pretty ladies with exposed midriffs. The sound system blasts classic 90's hip-hop.
The punches, made daily, are served by the glass (100rmb) or the silver bowl (500rmb for the smallest one, plus 15% service charge), doled out with a silver ladle. There are only a handful of recipes on the menu for now.
The punch is pretty good. What luck! The Edition Punch was refreshing, but a little underwhelming. Might be because their massive square ice cubes aren't in yet. The little ones melt too fast. Or, another theory floated to me recently, they're catering the strength towards the crowd of young millenial Chinese ladies who don't want frat-house punch. I can get behind that. For those looking for more spirit-forward flavors, things like the mezcal- and tequila-based Jamaica Flower exists, and are excellent.
The Punch Room's basically an exclusive house-party in an upscale, downtown apartment. The cozy layout, the tasteful interior, the volume of the music and the punchbowl centerpieces seem aimed squarely at small gatherings of chic, upwardly mobile socialites being their chic, upwardly mobile selves. It is worth a visit if you are one of those.
- Alex Panayotopoulos