Réel. Without that accent over the first 'e,' it's merely a spooling device. With the accent, it's a luxury mall that deals in designer handbags and shoes. That's good, because there is such an unfortunate dearth of places like these on Nanjing Lu. Réel has been open for just under a year now, and until Henkes opened, the only dining option here was debit card food court fare in the basement. Needless to say, this is a welcome upgrade. Due south of the mall is The Puli Hotel
. Crossing Changde Lu, you'll see the future site of Shangri-La's Puxi branch.
What it is:
Henkes is Aussie chef Craig Willis's homage to the other side of his family; it's his mother's maiden name. By his own account, he's extracted the DNA of his first namesake restaurant Mr. Willis
and expanded upon it with a trattoria/cafe/wine bar concept.
Food-wise, it's what we've come to expect from Willis -- his distinctive brand of rustic Oz-Med flavors served in sharable portions. To comport in line with the "trattoria" billing, the bulk of his menu, obviously, draws its influence from Italy. There's a diverse menu of antipasti, featuring staples like mussels steamed in white wine and garlic, crumbed and fried calamari and carpaccio. He has a penchant for pungent fish like anchovies, which work nicely in a white bean puree, or mackerel, which is served escabeche-style on his antipasti sampler plate. I recommend both. There is a sizeable selection of pastas, risottos and gnocchi, which get treatments like braised beef cheek, sage butter or cream and pancetta. He's also grafted the thin-crust pizza menu from La Strada
on Anfu Lu. There are little hints of Spain thrown into the mix, as well, like Serrano pork, for instance. You can get it roasted in a shell of rich crackly skin alongside lentils and fruit and mustard seed chutney. They also serve the famed Serrano ham with a few slices of house-pickled pears. Nice combo. Unique. To round it out, he throws in some North African and Middle Eastern ingredients as well. Think lamb kofta, or meatballs, with barley pilaf and tahini or grilled salmon over couscous.
Desserts are mostly familiar classics, like a cherry trifle, limoncello-soaked crepes a la Harry's Bar
in Venice and a delicious concrete-thick chocolote mouse. And, lest we forget, Craig Willis is
Australian. So yes, there is a pavlova on the menu.
Lunch is basically a scaled-down version of all of this, with an emphasis on quicker preparation times. Like at Mr. Willis, there is also a set menu option. 118rmb for two courses, 148 for three.
Then there is the cafe portion of the restaurant, which serves a variety of antipasti, charcuterie, Danish-style open-face sandwiches, patés and terrines as well as pastries and fresh-squeezed juices. And as soon as they work out their business hours with the landlord, they'll start opening up early for breakfast. Stay tuned for that.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that joining Henkes is the second branch of Sushi Raku
. You can click here
to get the gist of what that's all about.
Henkes is what Mr. Willis would look like if you took him out of his cozy boho loft on Anfu Lu and took him shopping for expensive Italian. Willis hallmarks like the dim lights and antique hardwoods remain. Dutch Design firm AIM
, whose most recent notable work can be seen at naked Stables
, has made clever use of the space. It is surprisingly huge. The ceilings are high enough to accomodate a second floor. The place seats well over 100 people (closer to 200 when you take into account the patio). So to ensure that it doesn't feel like you're dining in an airplane hangar, they've added drop down celings and have broken the floorspace up with natural barriers like the open kitchen and the cafe counter. In spite of its size, the place still feels intimate and welcoming.
Dips, spreads, soups and other starters range from 30 to 56rmb. There is an antipasti sampler plate that goes for 56 or 88rmb depending on how much you order. Other assorted beginnings cost anywhere between from 62 for steamed mussels to 198 for a half dozen Fine de Claire oysters. There are cold cut plates for 98 to 280rmb, terrine and pate samplers for 68 or 128 and salads from 58 to 88. Pastas, risottos and gnocchi are anywhere from 78 to 298, the latter having a half a Boston lobster on top of it. Mains start in the lower-mid 100s with lamb kofta and top out with 650-kuai Angus rib eye with red wine butter. Pizzas hover within 20 kuai above or below 100. Finally, desserts are all in in the 50s.
It's smack-dab in Jing'an's business district and directly in the shadow of an office tower. It's a natural choice for a power lunch or an after-work dinner. So the place attracts a lot of suits, business types discussing everything from integrating supply chain disparities to synergizing global platforms, or whatever it is those people talk about.