On The Radar is a weekly SmartShanghai column where we profile new venues that you might like to know about. Here are the facts and our first impressions.
Here's two new venues from a few serial restaurateurs. SmSh eats at the new ones from our buddies Al and Kathleen.
Quick Take: The Al's formula reworked for a stylish mall crowd at K11. The menu is standard Al's favorites represented as sharables and tapas, with a new main.
What It Is: Opened last weekend, this is the latest front of the Al's Diner empire. They've got four now (Xinle Lu, Xiangyang Lu, Reel Mall, and K11). There are a few variations with all these venues but they're all working from the same starting point: classic American diner food with just a little a bit of fusion-ness to keep it interesting, along with an eye to Shanghai dining trends. Al's do great all-day breakfast options (the XInle Lu one in particular is a brunch hotspot), great sandwiches (the Monte Cristo and the Patty Melts are both legit), delicious, delicious cakes, and, of course, Gracie's Ice Cream.
So, what's different about this one. Al's Place is catering to both the afternoon mall crowd looking for a place to sit in between bouts of shopping, as well as the white collar worker crowd, who stream into the mall for lunch and maybe dinner. For the former, they've reworked their standard diner fare into a tapas and sharables menu section (mini pancakes, strawberry waffles, nuggets, wings, fish tacos, meatballs, and more 18rmb-40rmb); and for the latter they're offering free-range "Signature Roast Chicken". Half a chicken (1-2 people dining) 98rmb; whole chicken (3-4 people dining) 178rmb. In addition to these K11-only elements, they've got the popular items from the original menu on offer as well -- the sandwiches, all-day brekkies, and burgers.
What else. Cocktails from Yao of Union Trading Company. That's unique to this venue. Two new milkshakes, including a Oolong Cheese Milkshake and a Matcha Milkshake (so hot right now), and this, the unicorn ice cream option. (For the kids.)
First Impressions: With a few clever bits here and there (the Oolong Cheese Milkshake is pretty great), this is more of the same from Al's. Which is a good thing. They've carried over what they're good at and accomplish what they're trying to do: If you're in K11 shopping or checking out an exhibition, or working in the area, it's a fine option for an afternoon seat and snack (the tapas options) or a nice lunch (the chicken and all the rest.)
Quick Take: Still Kathleen's, just a bit closer to earth (literally) and a little more mass market
What It Is: Uncharted territory for the Kathleen's, by all accounts. Background; the 'Kathleen' in the name is Kathleen Lau, a Shanghai dining institution. She founded the likes of KABB ('Kathleen's American Bar & Bistro,'), Kathleen's 5 atop the old clubhouse on People's Square, which closed in 2015, and co-founded Blue Frog . Oh, she also started some website called That's? Anyway, Kathleen's Waitan, her latest incarnation and contestant for "best view in Shanghai," went away when the Navy took the building back last year. It'd been hinted at, but when the notice finally came, they had three months to vacate. Ouch. Enter Kathleen's Bistro, originally meant to broaden Kathleen's appeal, now acting as a stop-gap. It's lower prices, more relaxed, less fine-dining. That's the idea. What we get in practice is a subdued, ground-floor dining room set beside the Pudong embankment. Put some high stools against that in the summer and it might go some way to mitigating the reduced view.
Menu's still Kathleen's Waitan (same leather bindings, even). Decent, capable, pricy international cuisine. Cheaper alternatives come in the form of some pasta (~200rmb) and pizzas (98rmb-158rmb) thrown in. For the kids! They've got plans to experiment more, see what appeals to the Pudong office workers. If it works, maybe we'll see more of these around town. If not, they promise it won't affect their plans for the "proper" Kathleen's comeback.
First Impressions: Still good! Just unsure of the ground floor and the lunch crowd. Like a Windsor butler bussing diner tables. It's a step down in surroundings, but not in food, which remains delicious and beautiful (fried foie gras was a bit oily--what am I even talking about). I imagined the chef being told they didn't have to space the miso sauce droplets so perfectly. They respond with a tearful "but I don't know any other way."
I liked eating here. Fine dining. Bit pricy for struggling writers. Hope they find their feet in this middle-market; calibrate the price-point for the area, and get some 88rmb lunch sets to pull in the Mirae Asset/Citibank crowds. But yeah, still Kathleen's, minus the view, plus pizzas. For the kids.
Al's Place and Three More New Ones at K11's New Food Court "Terminal 5"
Joining Al's in K11 Art Mall's new food court "Terminal 5" (it's actually on the 4th floor) is three more venues that we haven't had the time to check out yet. But you can if you like. Have at them: Chili Chili is a skewers restaurant, L.A Pho has also moved upstairs to this floor, and Bianchi, already with a few venues around town is serving no-hassles Italian.