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.
If you pay attention to Shanghai's food and booze events scene, Camden Hauge is a familiar name. From events agency SOCIAL SUPPLY, the American-via-London transplant is behind a fair share of Shanghai's annual appointment dining and drinking soirees, from the larger scale FEAST food festival, to smaller Chef's Tables, Cocktail Cinemas, and Shanghai Supperclub events, even branching out into pop-up music events with the secret-ish Liveroom live music series. She's even already got a cafe in EGG on Xinagyang Lu, an amiable little laptop oasis in the midst of one of Shanghai's grittier streets.
At any rate, whenever a lifestyle magazine editor has some column inches to fill, Camden's got the hookup with her slew of projects. She's propping up a (collapsing) industry. Here she is again doing just that, with not one but two new complimenting venues bisected by an alleyway on Wuyuan Lu and Changshu Lu: Bird & Bitter.
The broad strokes: Facing them from across the street, "Bitter" is the one of the left. Coffee and snacks by day, cocktails and more by night. A place for pre- or post-dinner drinks for the place on the right, which is called "Bird". That's the kitchen-plus-wine, with a revolving menu of sharing plates and an emphasis on "wine with interesting stories". The venues are ostensibly separate with separate menus, but there's some obvious back-and-forth going on. You can go to one or the other, or both and get the full package.
Quick Take:Bitter is the day and evening coffee and cocktails compliment to the restaurant next door.
What It Is: Relaxed and minimally stylish in wood, concrete, and white walls, illuminated by Edison bulbs (designed with Linehouse) and a bartender with a pretty deep Beijing resume. Warren Pang is the erstwhile manager of PUNK bar at Swire Hotels’ first boutique hotel, The Opposite House. It's no longer around; in 2007 it was perhaps a bit before its time for the capital, emphasizing, as it did, serious cocktails and avant-ish club music in a city that was just falling in love with craft beer. He moved on to d.lounge and Jane & Hooch, both of which are easily at the top of the pile in terms of lounges in Beijing, specifically for their cocktails. The former is where movie stars frequent, the latter is where cocktails aficionados hang out. Janes + Hooch in particular ranked in Asia's Top 50 Bars in 2016 and 2017.
Most importantly then: The Drinks. Are heavy. They're serving a tight menu of cocktails, which are slated to rotate every two weeks. Thus far it's six serious and interesting variations on Negronis and three house cocktails to round it out. Simple and to-the-point. Price points: between 70rmb-80rmb.
The food menu is still a work in progress, but on the Bitter side of things, it'll end up being salad-y, sandwich-y, and cakes for daytime business, plus a crostini menu.
First Impressions: Pwarrrr. Strong drinks. Heavy and boozy libations. That's for sure. Nothing frivolous, nothing superfluous. Not messing around.
Overall, yeah, it's alright. It's relaxed and inviting. Suitable for social meet-ups of all varieties. I'll say this: it's nice to get a drink, as well, in an environment that is not some overly serious baller lounge with a towering wall of brown liquor up to the ceiling or in some overly stylized Old Shanghai speakeasy bit of fuckery too. (See: the last 10 cocktails bars that have appeared on the column).
We'll take it.
Quick Take: After coffee and / or drinks, you head over to Bird, an under-20 seater serving pan-world small, sharable fusion dishes from an ex-surgeon. Their wine guy will recommend some wines to go along with it. Camden, the host, will have breezy conversation with you if you like. Food is folksy and approachable but also quite finely-wrought and calculated.
What It Is: It feels like the culmination of a lot of pop-ups and "Chef's Tables", and in a way, it's exactly that. Menu is a simple one page card with 8-10 dishes, a few more snacks, and a chalkboard of daily specials. And all of it will completely change every two weeks. Popping up as something else. The food below then, is there to give you a feel of the style and pricing. This is available for another week or so and then it will all be gone.
Between those three platforms — the snacks, mains, and chalkboard specials — expect a fair amount of variety in terms of meats and veggie bases, simple wine compliment-type of dishes, and heartier, richer, saucier items. Priced between 48rmb to 108rmb or thereabouts, you're mixing up sharable plates and bowls however you like. Each dish is pretty elaborate and embellished, with 5-6 ingredients each. It's almost like a home-spun kaiseki sort of experience — populist fine dining — with lots of ooo'ing and ahh'ing as the next creation makes its appearance.
First Impressions: Against the international big names in the culinary world coming to Shanghai, dragging us, as they are, into international culinary respectabilitility (speaking of kaiseki, in fact), this one feels like it's coming from a very classic Shanghai sort of place: a reverence for "the event". With Bird's menus switching every two weeks, it's always going to be an "event" eating here, sampling the new dishes with the Shanghai scene foodies, with the community of people who — I'm going for it — have a predilection for gettin' hiiiiiiigh on the Shanghai Social Supply. It's a scene.
What was I saying again? Yeah, it's great. Food's excellent. Wine's excellent. It's a great team behind it who are caring deeply about what they put on the table and it really shows. In atmosphere, to hosting, to food, it's coming from a specific corner of Shanghai's food scene for said scene.
Honestly, I'm sad to see some of these dishes go though. The rice cake one, the cauliflower one, and the confit baby carrot in particular. Really, really delicious. Try to get a table to try these out if you can.
Maybe they can do a greatest hits dinner.
Bird & Bitter are at 58 Wuyuan Lu, near Changshu Lu.