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.
After several months testing the waters, Australian craft beer brand Little Creatures has opened their "Brewer's Lab" with some help from Australians next door The Camel Group; CSTC points us to a warmly recommended, centrally located unagi place Unagi Ryuu; and Stone Sal is slinging newly approved American steaks on Donghu.
What It Is: Slotted neatly between Homeslice and Hooked, Little Creatures is an exposed-brick-wall, wood-table, Edison-bulb, we're-down-to-earth-vibe, friendly neighborhood gastropub. Some lower dining tables on the right, raised beer-drinking tables on the left.
Beers on offer are Little Creatures, sister brewery White Rabbit, and fellow-Kirin-subsidiaries like Tooheys. They're 50-55rmb on tap, refillable 2-liter moonshine jugs ("growlers") of Pale Ale for 238rmb. In the hophead boffinry department, they've got a "Randall", a gizmo that lets you infuse beer with whatever flavors you like after it's been brewed. That's sadly not operational yet. They've also got a beer canner. Take your concoction home and poison your friends.
As befits a gastropub, there's a respectable (pricyish) food menu. Apart from beer-friendly sharing plates (Fried Chicken Wings for 55rmb, Angus Beef Sliders for 110rmb), they've got sit-down-meal mains like flatbreads and pastas for about 100-150rmb, and some steaks and ribs in the 150rmb-250rmb range. They include beer pairing suggestions, naturally.
First Impressions: Gastropub as heck. Gastro-ier, craft beer-ier, version of new Camel, minus the sports. I like the comfy, undaunting selection of beers. It's also on the pricier side, as befits Camel's plan to mature along with that lucrative "gradually more affluent / family-friendly punter" demographic. A lot depends on if you like Little Creatures, et al. Not to say the food isn't good, the Garlic Butter Prawns (125rmb) were jumbo, copious, and delicious. But you can get similar food elsewhere, so the brew's what sets it apart. That and the Randall. The promise of infusing beer with whatever nonsense I find on a shelf at Buddies.
What it is: A Japanese specialist of the order you’d typically find in Gubei or Hongqiao, not down the street from IAPM. This is the fifth or sixth restaurant from William Zhang, who is quietly assembling a little empire stretching down Changle Lu and nearby streets, including Miss Ali, Le Vin, and the cultish Yakitori Torishou.
This, Unagi Ryuu, is a Tokyo-style BBQ eel place, which means the eels used are on the smaller side, and they are first grilled, then steamed, then sauced and grilled again over charcoal, making for a softer, more tender eel, as opposed to the Kyoto school, which grills eels directly, resulting in a firmer, fishier bite — so Zhang says. Another important detail: the eels are killed in the morning for the lunch service, and then in the afternoon for dinner service.
First impressions: This is very tasty grilled eel rice. The minutiae make a difference. I can’t think of a peer in the downtown area (sorry eel rice place on Wulumuqi Lu). The atmosphere is simple and subdued, spread across three small floors, including bar seating on the ground floor, and the waitresses are quietly efficient. It feels properly Japanese. The menu has less than ten things on it, including fried eel bones, roasted eel without the sweet sauce, and then the eel sets, which are 160rmb and 280rmb (only the sets are available at lunch).
I’ve been twice already, and I don’t usually eat a lot of eel rice. The second time, we got a little treat from the kitchen of miso-grilled pork belly. It was excellent – try to snag that one if you can as well.
-Chris St. Cavish
What it is: Assuming a PRIME (yes) piece of real estate on Donghu Lu above the new Peet's Coffee is Stone Sal — not "Stonesal", as it reads and we've previously reported — a new US steak-oriented restaurant and bar currently burning up Dianping with 5-star reviews but still too new and fresh-off-the-farm to register on English-language media.
Opened at the end of 2017 right at the legalization of importing American beef into China, Stone Sal appears poised to reap the benefits of an (imminent? projected? imagined?) increase in demand of 'Merican meat. The stars of the "Mains" section of the succinct menu are as follows: "USA Prime Rib-Eye: 488rmb"; USA Prime Bone-In Rib-Eye: 1088rmb"; "USA Prime T-Bone: 1,288rmb"; Tomahawk Rib-Eye: 1688rmb". In addition to these they've got the standard steakhouse sides, along with a selection of pasta and sandwiches, salads, and apps.
Drinks program is right in line with what you would imagine. Standard mixes and cocktails giving way to a huge American wine and bourbon sections. Draft is Kentucky Ale, a suitable choice, along with a few others.
So, high-end USA steaks is what you're looking for, enjoyed in a deep and rich, but not too serious environment of leathers, woods, and faux stone. Open kitchen, the neon bull thing (can you even have a steak restaurant without one of those?), and a wall of dry aged meat complete the look. Masculine but approachable. Do you have 1,200rmb to splash out on a steak?
We don't. So we got these: Wagyu Burger (158rmb) and Steak Salad (158rmb).
First impressions: Feels like a successful Vegas steakhouse chain. It offers that serious, Americana-brand austerity in a mid-'00s kind of way; it's "masculine chic" and also nondescript enough to be scalable and replicated all over the southwest.
But yeah, my 24 USD hamburger was good. What can I say. For 24 bucks it better.
I can't speak to the steak, of course. So yes. We'll just say this: Stone Sal is here. It's open. If you're looking for where to get a red-blooded American steak, there you go.