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.
Three new spots for you to check out. Who says Shanghai can't surprise you.
What It Is: Machiya is a stage for the Tokyo-born sushi chef Ichinohe Naoki, who gained a loyal following when he was the sous chef at the Japanese restaurant in the Moller Villa on Shaanxi Road, which was a fairly big deal.
His father is a sumo wrestler. He is a former professional baseball player. Now he’s got his own place to show off his fish skills, courtesy of serial restaurateur Karen Chen, who owns, among others, Jianguo 328, that unagi rice restaurant on Wulumuqi Lu, and the new Vesta at Jing’an Kerry Center. He’s a handsome guy, too, and Chen tells me he gets fan-girls who come to eat at the bar just to get a glimpse of him.
The restaurant is bright and clean-feeling, with classic Japanese design: wood and bamboo. There’s a particularly large sushi bar (12 seats) for this genre of restaurant, where a well-known chef is basically performing for customers at the bar. Chen tells me there is an unofficial rule that prices at this type of sushi-ya start at 800 and go up from there (Sushi Yano on Yongfu Lu starts at 1,995rmb for one person). So she set the price for the best tasting menu at 700 rmb. That’s what she does. She is a stickler for quality, very well-informed about Japanese food, and also disappointed in how expensive everything always is in Shanghai. She and Naoki make a great team.
First Impressions: This is good. Very good. That was my reaction to just about every course on the 700 rmb set menu, which ranged from cold dishes like a foamy puree of okra and soy milk and a custard-like tofu (how did he do that?), through the poached egg with uni, the triple-flavor-bomb of raw wagyu beef wrapped around sweet raw shrimp and topped with more uni, to the various bits of Edo-style sushi, which means that a lot of the fish is aged and or/marinated first. It’s the old Tokyo style, back when sushi was working class and in lieu of refrigeration, sushi chefs developed other preservation techniques.
In practice, it means this isn’t your standard sliced salmon sashimi – in fact, they don’t even do salmon, because the fish markets are dominated by low-quality fish, which they don’t want. Most fish is flown in from Nagasaki, which is fairly standard for these high-end sushi-ya in Shanghai.
I’m shortchanging the rest of the menu, which is inspired by the casual restaurants of Kyoto, which Chen and Naoki blitzed on a research trip earlier this year. That means there’s a whole other a la carte menu of interesting things (at much cheaper prices) to explore – something I certainly intend to do on my next visit.
- Chris St. Cavish
What It Is: The rarest of the rare, a Lebanese restaurant in Shanghai. To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any others in the city. There are Israeli and Turkish restaurants, and menus overlap in this part of the world, but so far, no one dedicated to Lebanese-style hummus, labneh, muhammara (a walnut spread), stuffed grape leaves, falafel, a few wraps and salted yogurt to drink. This is that restaurant.
First Impressions: Abbreviation. In both size and scope. There are four tables, with enough seats for just eight people, and then maybe another eight or ten seats around the counter. We sat and ate on our visit, but the smart move is probably to order a few pre-made dips from the takeaway counter (definitely the labneh, a strained yogurt, and the muhammara), perhaps a couple items off the menu, and then take them to-go.
Given the name, the obvious question is how were the falafel? They were good. Light, not greasy, very flavorful, nice on their own, nice dipped into the tahini sauce, probably nice in the wrap. The dips were very tasty too, and I ate most of the stuffed grape leaves in less than a minute, picking them up with my hands and shoveling them into my mouth. What can I say? I love Lebanese food, and while Eli Falafel is perhaps not all the way to full-blown restaurant — more of a glorified takeaway counter — I will take what I can get. But guys, you need better bread. Fresh bread. It's essential for the dips. Non-negotiable. Crappy flat chewy pita don't cut it.
Otherwise, two thumbs up. Eli Falafel is not changing anyone's life, but if Wulumuqi Lu has to change, at least this is a direction I can get behind. Now if someone would just open up a Vietnamese sandwich shop, an ice cream shop, a jianbing stall in the mornings and a place where I could get cheap foreign groceries, I might even consider moving to the neighborhood.
- Chris St. Cavish
What It Is: Sunny's Burgerland (I don't think I'll ever not erroneously call it Sunny Burgerland) is brought to you by Jeno Racz (Tai'an Table), and his energetic partner Haiwen. They wanted to make a place near Jing'an Temple that does unorthodox, generously-sized burgers at about 70rmb a pop. Haiwen told me, enthusastically, that they wanted to make it a bright, cheery place for the people working in the area. Consequently, it's decked out in yellow, yellow everywhere, with little surfboards on the wall. It's supposed to be Australian. Looks like a beachfront ice-cream parlor.
The menu is made up of seven burgers. All 180g patties. You've got a classic, a bacon'n cheese, and then it all goes nuts. The Amigo Burger (68rmb) has corn, tortilla chips, guacamole and beans, the Budapest Burger (68rmb) got breaded chicken schnitzel, a mountain of garlic sour cream and parmesan. The Surf'n'Turf is slightly pricier at 78rmb because it involves shrimps. The Royale (88rmb) has foie gras. This is still Shanghai, goddammit. The bun's come in three "flavors," Butter, Beetroot and Bamboo Charcoal. That sounds nice, but just means you either get a yellow, red or black bun. They've also got a handful of home-made fruit sodas. The futures hold new burgers; they threatened with a lobster-based one (for the Chinese consumer, they said) and a veggie burger.
First Impressions: I'd describe it as "refreshing." A "refreshing" break from the general burger trend. Good, interesting burgers, decently-sized, 68rmb. The Amigo Burger has no business being as good as it is. I have an aversion to guacamole (avocado, the insufferably chipper yoga instructor of foods), but mixed with a citrusy sauce and the beans and the tortilla chips, it was like biting into a carnival. Top marks for that thing, would eat again. The Budapest Burger (drawing from Jeno's background) is dripping with too much garlic sour cream for my taste, but is worth it even if just for the novelty. Their fries were so-so but improved by dipping in the homemade vanilla cream (extra 10rmb), and the fruit soda was refreshing, if a little underwhelming.
I'd say it's a shame the burger buns, being so colorful, don't taste any different, but there's so much going on between the bread that I'm satisfied that they're firm enough to contain it. Sunny Burgerl— Sorry Sunny's Burgerland! It's really good! You should eat their burgers.
- Alex Panayotopoulos