Atmosphere: We arrived pretty late on a Saturday, and it was immediately clear that there are a number of people in Shanghai who see this as a place worth travelling for. It was buzzing - expats, locals, and Big Names In Shanghai. When we casually mentioned that we'd recently visited Union Trading, the manager pointed over to a woman eating a few tables away. 'That's the owner. She comes over every week or so.'
Al Borgo is incongruously situated in this massive complex out in Qingpu called FEAST WORLD that also houses the standard selection of fast food places, pizza joints and izakayas. It's a little awkward to reach on public transport (Panlong Road metro station then a 45 minute walk south-west), but easy enough to get a long, long DIDI to if you're coming from downtown. Once you get to FEAST WORLD, head through the ground floor to the line of restaurants that faces the river at the back of the complex. Al Borgo is the westernmost place on that strip.
Once you get inside, the vibe changes considerably. Coming in from the vast, neon-embellished food mall, the terracotta flooring, industrial-style light fixtures and raw surfaces are quite the contrast. They've done well on the decor here; it's almost, almost like walking into a little Italian city restaurant, complete with a gelato counter.
Food: Simple but good. Handmade pastas and imported cheeses make for Italian classics done well.
Everything about this place felt calm. You won't find the big, heavy flavours of Scarpetta or the flabby, anxiety-inducing prices of the Bund's Italians. Instead, you'll get a lovely, light plate of subtle baccala mantecato (whipped salt cod on crisp black breads) or a sweet little caprese salad. For your primi piatto, there's a little selection of ravioli, pasta or gnocchi, all made in-house, and some other classics made with dried pasta. They're all good - gentle but full-flavoured sauces and just the right chewy texture on the carbs. We ate slowly.
We couldn't make it to the mains, but we did try one of their top Dianping-recommended dishes for dessert: the ubiquitous tiramisu, a little jar of freshly whipped cream and not too much coffee. Lovely cooking all round.
Service: Staff were perfect. The owner came over to say hello and geek out about food photography with me when he saw me whipping out the light box. The barman talked us into digestifs even though we were terribly hungover - a real achievement.
The only minuses for this place are minor. The toilets are outside and, therefore, chilly, and it's a pain to get to. I'll be making the trip again, though, for sure. If our pasta courses were that good, I'd love to see what they do for mains.
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