Long story short? Everyone in the whole world's been opening new Italian restaurants in Shanghai. Here's where we're eating lately in July.
An Italian-via-Hong Kong import, Pici has a solid rep in HK for their creamy, handmade-daily pasta dishes served at affordable prices. That's not earth-shattering stuff but it works just fine: decent food, good service, good value. Their "straightforward" — their word— approach to traditional Italian food has seen the restaurant grow to three in number in the super competitive F&B environment in Hong Kong. This is their first location off the island. Talking to our host, they’re looking to replicate their success with multiple venues in Shanghai and beyond.
...As is how these things go.
So, it’s a chain restaurant in the basement of a mall. (It’s in the Kerry Center.) The second basement, no less. The lower one. Yeah. Skepticism mounts. It’s hard to get excited about mall restaurants. They’re all right next to each other in this beige sea of marble and glass, trying so hard to make their spaces look unique, I feel like I’m a high school science teacher walking through a science fair just dishing out C-pluses for everyone. Ehhh…
But the pasta at Pici is actually really great. And they’ve got some good vegetarian options too, which is nice. We tried the Pici “Cacio E Pepe” (Percorino Cheese, black pepper) 88rmb; the Parmesan Ravioli 108rmb (also available in a vegetarian option); and the Taglioni Truffle 158rmb. Our fav’ was the first one, which was super rich and creamy — a real cheese-bomb.
Why you should check it out: If you live in the area, Pici is an opportunity try to enrich yourself with a meal at the Kerry Center which is not from the Shake Shack which you eat at three times a week. The pasta will surprise you with how good it is.
Unrelated: I’ve met The Highest Dude in the World, his name is Dave and he was my college roommate.
Let's talk fine dining! Nestled in the quaint and staid 6,000,000-storey Shanghai Tower, in among that French Michelin-stared restaurant, not to mention the J Hotel's other impossibly lavish new restaurants, Centouno — a very fun word to say out loud, go on try it — offers traditional and modern Southern Italian cuisine from Chef Andrea Calducci. Specialty meats and cheeses, home-made pastas and breads from the on-site bakery, secret recipes handed down from Italian-grandmother-to-Italian-grandmother — all that sort of thing. Expect traditional Italian, filtered through giant-white-plate fine dining, served on the 101st floor of one of the tallest buildings in the world, against a gorgeous panoramic view of Shanghai that could only be enhanced with the addition of a giant mushroom cloud.
Whats not to like?
Toscana! The menu: there are sections for traditional Primi, Secondi, et al. courses but tasting menus are the focus, with a business lunch set (468rmb); a dinner set (768rmb); and two lavish specialty sets — a five-course “Tradizione” menu featuring the kitchen’s take on iconic traditional Italian dishes (1588rmb) and the everything-must-go, seven-course “Innovazione” set, which embodies their “modern approach” for a whopping (2388rmb).
Just had the business lunch. Was meeting Tony Stark and wanted to keep it light.
Why you should check it out: I thought the food was marvelous and creative and delicious. If you’re a fan of fine dining and are looking for new viewpoints, here you are. Also of note: the way the windows face make for a really nice view at sunset.
Eduardo Vargas is planting another flag on the North Bund. This time, it's red white and green. Last year, when the veteran chef and restaurateur opened his second brand of Colca at Sinar Mas Plaza, he had more space than he knew what to do with. So one half of it became a restaurant, the other half he turned into an events space. That lasted just over a year.
Now, he's converted the events space into an Italian-inspired eatery. Vargas is eager to put the emphasis on the word 'inspired'.
It largely looks Italian, smells Italian, and tastes Italian, but he and Chef Willmer Colmenares have tweaked it here and there to make it more approachable for local tastes. Is it totally "authentic"? No. But that doesn't mean it's not good. There is plenty that is worth trying. The meatballs are delicious. As is the polenta with a porcini ragout. They do a cioppino, which is an Italian-American seafood stew of clams, mussels, prawns, scallops and halibut simmered with crush tomatoes and fennel — tasty as well.
At the time of writing, Azul Italiano is still in its soft opening phase, but should be open to the public any day now.
Why you should check it out: Because if you stop going to Eduardo Vargas’ latest restaurant the concept of “Shanghai”, and therefor all of us, cease to exist.
The space formerly occupied by Kaiba's Taikang Terrace branch has turned out to be a readymade setting for a quaint, casual French bistro. Little, if anything has changed — the exposed brick and rafters, the vaulted timber ceiling, the cozy outdoor terrace — and it all works. The menu is scrawled on blackboards, wine bottles, anything but paper and comes courtesy of Executive Chef and Partner Rembrandt Van Der Laan. Van Der Laan is living embodiment of the EU — a Frenchman from Brittany with Dutch and Italian parents. He grew up in his parents' Italian restaurant, which shines through in fresh homemade pastas. The rest of it, though, is straight-up French. Think: foie gras torchon, endive salad, duck magret with morel cream sauce, bavette steak. No whimsical deconstructions or reinterpretations, just simple, solidly good classics. Across the way, Bisou has also co-opted the the space that was formerly Rangoli. It now serves as their wine cellar. They offer an eclectic selection with bottles from France, Germany, and Chile among others.
It's a grab-and-go arrangement, so you can pop in to pick out what you want to drink with your dinner.
Why you should check it out: It's gimmick-free, pretension-free, and feels like it's coming from the heart.
In Case You Missed It...
Drinks? Smaller venues are making a comeback...
Feels like bars like this don’t open anymore in Shanghai. But they should. Because these are the good kinds of bars. Every new bar we’ve been to in the last year or so is coming as like the ninth cocktail bar venue of some conglomerat of investors — "it's a playing cards-themed speakeasy that serves a bar bites menu of Korean street food" — no!
Yeah, wasn't even sure you could make a bar like this anymore. The Drinkery is like a 15-square meter store-front converted into a bar, opened by a bunch of friends. You can tell because they have those wooden, break-your-ass bar stools. That’s a huge we-just-opened-this-for-fun-with-friends indicator right there. Those damn wooden bar stools.
Couple of Russians behind this one, as indicated by the bonkers Russian radio show feed they had on while we were there. It was like grime into Eurodance into nu-disco into chillwave into trap music. Super hip. And the hipness extends into the drinks menu as well with the cheeky drinks names. The "Midnight Haircut" cocktail anyone? Get it?
But there lot's of elements that show thought, creativity, and care. Home-made ginger beer, for one. The light switch shot thing another. And the drinks are super cheap. And really good, too.
Why you should check it out: Well, you probably already did because they had something like 200 people at their opening at the end of June. Maybe we’re late to the party on this one. But yeah, it’s a cool little bar. Friendly place. Check it!
Been a real flurry of activity in the smaller-size clubbing world as of late. What’s old is new again. We’ve already talked at breezy length about the new Dada bar, and joining them in new spaces is never-say-die tech house after hours club Celia. After club-surfing their events around town for the past half year or so, they’ve settled into their new Jing’an location. From shaking, pitch black video WeChat moments posted at like 4am, with like one visible, blinking red LED light, it looks like things are going well for them. Maybe just let the party photographers handle the content creation, y’all.
Another brand name from your after hours clubbing days of yore, Amber Lounge is back, taking up residence at the old Celia on Xingfu Lu, for a walk down I Have No Memory of That Lane.
Heim, an alt electronic club, has taken up the spot of The Shrine, and are trading in forward-thinking dance parties, house party vibes, and completely inscrutable WeChat promotional tactics. Pretty sure Derrida is Djing there this weekend?
Lastly, we leave you with this. CYBERPUNK - PLANET ONE opens this weekend. Oh yes. Tickets here. Click that link, trust us.