A SmartShanghai Brand Story Created With Caminetto
Behind the Menu at Caminetto
Opened just two months ago, Caminetto is the hot new thing in casual modern Italian from Chef Kelvin Chai, who rose to community prominence as the main man at Mercato. For his first original venture he's dealing in healthy, bright flavors, local ingredients, house-made everything, and singular concepts of rustic, traditional Italian cuisine that draw from his own experiences and Chinese heritage.
In our "Chef's Table" series, we're asking chef's to explain their creations. Kelvin took us to Italy and beyond with his ambitious and highly personal vision of modern Italian.
Home Is Where the Hearth Is
Caminetto means ‘fire place’ in Italian and trades in the themes that implies: warmth, comfort, relaxation — a casual, inviting place you can spend time with your family and friends in.
The interiors are rustic roughshod plastering, accented with sturdy wooden beams, and neon glow. The semi-open kitchen at the heart of the venue represents the fireplace itself — a forge for a little culinary creativity. Small details give the place a personal touch: interesting glassware, original art and sculpture, and fresh flowers on every table.
The space is diverse, with restaurant seating, a stocked cocktail bar, terrace seating, a wine cellar, and a private room with fireplace off to the side. The unique culinary creations of Chef Kelvin Chai draw in curious diners-in-the-know to rate his latest output, but the space is great for more casual affairs, especially with their well-appointed wine list featuring proper wines from all over Italy.
Introducing the Chef: Kelvin Chai
His first independent venture, Caminetto is the culmination and expression of a nearly two-decade cooking career for Chef Kelvin Chai, who’s own personal evolution and development mirrors Shanghai’s as a whole in the same period.His bedrock is, of course, Chinese cuisine, as inherited from a couple generations of family.From there, in his early 20s, he began his professional culinary journey first to Japan, learning grilling, tempura, and rolls, then to steakhouse and bistro territory, before the doors opened to him at Jean Georges.
The Shanghai native moved to Jean Georges’ Mercato as a sous chef in 2012 and four years later became Chef de Cuisine, master of the truffle pizza, and an integral element to that restaurant’s wild success and expansion.
The food and feel of Caminetto is reflective of his Chinese heritage, Japanese influence, and his extensive experience in rustic Italian.It’s almost like a homecoming to a home that is comprised of lots of different places. His creative outlook — to forever be searching for newness on the dinner plate — is emblematic of Shanghai’s own search for the new.
A Modern Mindset
Kelvin: "We say “Modern Casual Italian” and they say “fusion”.That’s fine.For me, being modern is always in my mind — new flavors and new possibilities for a younger generation, maybe. But still with an eye to tradition both to Italian cuisine and my Chinese heritage.I say we use local ingredients with Italian finishing.I’m proud of my country and my culture and I feel that there are new ingredients that we are just discovering -- new ingredients that we are seeing the potential of. Just in the past 30 years or so.Look at the avocado, that’s just life changing for the country!
When you try something new it takes time for people to understand. I make food for food lovers and gourmets.People who know whats going on."
The Chef Recommends...
Kelvin: "It’s hard to pick even a few dishes that represent the place.Each dish is my baby. Each dish is new. Pizza of course.Everyone loves it.I’m not just a pizza chef though. Don’t call me a pizza chef.
…But, yes, pizza:Wood roasted fig pizza.The four cheese, which is finished with pistachio and truffle honey.The eggplant pizza is popular as well.
People are showing love for the house-made pasta.A lot of effort is put in to make it just right. The texture and taste. I’ll serve you our house-made black squid later.
We do a very nice mushroom risotto.Four different techniques involved and 8 or 9 different kinds of mushrooms. Some from Shanghai, some from Shandong, some from Yunnan.The beef carpaccio I’m very proud of with a jianbing crunch.For mains, our halibut is popular, the beef cheek is popular.With soy sauce.
You know chef’s are always saying “I get this from my grandma”.But I really got that from my grandmother… “
Kelvin: "We've got house-made ricotta cheese, cranberry jam, house-made croutons, olive oil, salt and pepper. We’re going for a little bit more of a Christmas vibe with this one, with flavor and presentation. Everything is home-made here — pasta, pizza, bread, sauce, dressing, everything. Even the simple dishes, we put the time in.”
Kale, Avocado, Parmesan Cheese, Pine Nuts, Enoki, Lime (78rmb)
Kelvin: “Great little starter, using enoki mushrooms for a little something different.For me, I’m trying to use a lot of local ingredients with the Italian finish.Also kind of a Christmas-y one — it’s like snow on a tree, right?”
Kelvin: "House-made chicken liver. Truffle honey. House-made sour dough, raddish. Very popular dish. It's a must-try. I know some people get turned off about Chicken liver but this one will change your mind."
Squid Ink Spaghetti
Squid Ink Spaghetti, Mixed Seafood, Root Vegetables, White Wine, Chili (168rmb)
Kelvin: "Just a warm, comforting seafood pasta. Great for winter. With house made squid ink spaghetti. You can really taste the difference with house made pasta. And we’re up at 2am making it fresh every day. I just got a new machine so hopefully my guy’s life is a little easier now.But yeah, you’ve just got to spend the time…”
This one's incoming. SECRET for now.
Fois Gras, Cheese, Roasted Fig, Pickled Jalapeno (198rmb)
Kelvin: “This is totally new. Not on the menu yet.Fresh out of our wood burning oven. Foie gras, fig, kale, cherry pepper.Using fig here it comes out so nice in the roast.Roasted fig on a roasted pizza. Just such a warm flavor.
People always say, “Kelvin you’re from Mercato, why no truffle pizza?”
Because we’re trying to do something new!
…Unless we f—- up then it’s like, “sorry guys, truffle pizza is back on the menu, here you go!” [Laughs.]
Kelvin: “Scallops dish, mmmm. Celery hearts from Shandong. You know our celery pizza, and here we’re using celery hearts to come at it from a different side. Our own take on scallops. Flavors are really beautiful in this one…”
Kelvin: “Were using our pizza oven to roast this chicken.And we have here half the leg and half the breast, put together.It’s a sharing dish and usually we cut it up into four for people to share.But for your photos it’s all together.We’ve also got corn puree here, sautéed baby corn, mushrooms, and self squeezed tomato juice using the slow juicer. Chicken stock. Pickled chili. Really crispy and delicious. Really nice. The skin on the chicken is like yakatori.
Maybe going back to Japan a little bit with this one.I know I’m the “Italian guy” but I want to do more things. Another Japanese restaurant — hell, a Shanghainese restaurant.
We’ll see how we do here first.”
Australian Strip Loin
Australian Grass Fed Full Blood Wagyu Strip Loin M9+(220g) (588rmb)
Kelvin: “This is the steak thats been on the menu for a few weeks. This is an M9+ grass feed Australian beef.Usually grassfed is kinda hard (grass fed beef meat is very lean, so the texture of the meat can be very tough) but we are using m9+, full blood wagyu beef, so the meat self had great quality already and just melts in your mouth.We’re keeping it really simple with the salsa verde there.
Of course, we’re looking for new ingredients, combinations and flavors all the time.“New age things.”But you always have to respect tradition and culture.You can’t go too crazy.Fusion is not easy.You need a proper knowledge base. You need skills.
And sometimes you need to know when to just keep it simple… “
Kelvin: "It's a tiramisu but it's completely our own. Because of the secret ingredient. You can see if you can get it.
'Tell Them About Our Wine List'
Caminetto has a big, big, fancy, finely wrought wine list of Italian wines. There's some champagne in there too but the Italian wine list, sourced and hand chosen directly when Kelvin travelled all over the country visiting vineyards, is diverse, fairly priced, and comprehensive.
What we're saying is don't miss out on the wine. You could go just for that. Despite being open for only two months they've already been recognized by China Wine List.
For boozier options, seek out their signature G&T with hibiscus, their whiskey selection, grappa, and house-made limoncello.
This comes at a very affordable 298rmb for TWO people (originally 474rmb). You can choose one bottle from prosecco, white wine, or red wine. The set comes with chicken liver mousse (slide 9 above!) and house-made fresh pickles. This is for a limited time, so get it now while this slide is here (we'll delete it later!).
Contact and Reservations
So... if you've made it this far, then you're probably excited that Shanghai is creating it's own trends with some competent ethnic-fusions (in this case, Chinese, Japanese, Italian). What can we say? They wined and dined us, told us stories, and we left satisfied and smiling.
Want to book an evening at Caminetto for you and someone special? In dire need for a special menu for your vegan friend's birthday? On the hunt for a place to book a business rendezvous or company dinner? Scan the QR code below and speak to a real human in English:
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