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.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that this week out there in the city. A bakery, a bar with some beerpong, and a
marketing stunt larger-than-usual coffee stall for you to consider maybe visiting.
Quick Take: Small, cheap and excellent bakery on Huashan Lu from one of the original names behind Farine.
What It Is: Opened late last year, MBD comes to us courtesy of Hiroaki Homma (everyone calls him "Hiro"), a Japanese baker with a history of some big-name projects. He's been baking for 14 years, having learned the craft at DonQ Boulangerie in Kobe, where he's from. DonQ's considered one of the best French bakeries in Japan, and he's worked for them for years in both their Japanese and Chinese venues. He set up Avec Toi here in Shanghai, and has consulted for Muji Bakery and taught baking classes in the city. He was also the baking team leader at a little bakeshop called Farine, back when it opened up. That was a long time before... y'know. Hiro knows his stuff.
The name, by the way, stands for Magnificent Bread Destination, which is... fantastic.
The shop itself is a compact streetside affair with windows begging to be propped open in the summer. There's space for maybe 5 people to sit facing outwards. It's not much to look at, but as somewhere to stop-in for some bread, it works. They sell a decent array of freshly-baked goods from the counter, ranging from petit croissants (4rmb) and rolls for 6rmb, to sliced pain au lait (20rmb) and baguettes for about 18rmb. Probably the most expensive thing on there is the pain au campagne going for 40rmb or 20rmb for half.
First Impressions: That's some good bread, mister. The Pain Au Chocolat (20rmb) was fluffy and the perfect degree of moist, and the sourdough baguette (18rmb) was hunt-for-the-leftover-crumbs good. The coffee was so-so and a little pricy, but anything bread related in there is fantabulous, and, for the quality, very reasonably priced.
Quick Take: Shanghai's highest-tech beerpong tables, wrapped in a baffling concrete bar/club/thing in Found 158.
What It Is: Located in the tarted-up drained swimming pool that is Found 158, BALLERS (all caps, go big or go home), is a sparse concrete bar trying to look like an underground hip-hop hang-out, plus beerpong tables. The DJ booth is covered in silver streamers, which they got cheap from a high-school prom circa 1995.
Pride of place is given to two beerpong tables and the slapcup table. The beerpong tables are from Hong Kong company PongConnect, the "world's First Digital Beer Pong System that disrupts the 60-year-old traditional beerpong game." It lights up like an '80s sci-fi flick and electronic fanfares play when you sink a ball. Top-of-the-line beerpong setup. The e-sports future beerpong deserves.
They play with water in the cups, which is the only way to play. 150rmb gets a liter of generic lager or whiskey/gin/vodka & soda (if you don't value your life) that will last you about two games. The rest of the drinks menu is filled with 55rmb beers on draft and some liquor bottle packages at club prices.
First Impressions: I don't think the Shanghainese owners (who also run HILO next door, another underground hip-hop themed club) know how un-BALLER beerpong is. The place is ho-hum. Distinctly meh. Priced like a club, zero personality, and the music was pop-rock, not hip-hop. Not a BALLER in sight.
But! That PongConnect table really has disrupted my pedestrian, analog vision of beerpong. I've never realized how much I needed my beerpong game to look and sound like a TRON cabinet. It's a shame the slapcup table isn't similarly tricked out, but if you're a pong enthusiast, a hardcore ponger, go check it out.
Quick Take: The Mainland's first physical location of a well-known Japanese coffee brand is so internet famous right now, it's basically impossible to recommend.
What It Is: Located in a garden shed in an alley down the back of Ferguson Lane, % Arabica would be charitably described as a "coffee shop," and uncharitably as "a terrible marketing stunt." Physically, it's an elongated take-away counter manned by a number of coffee-bros in glasses and expensive haircuts. There's a long wooden bench along the wall, and a couple seats at the far end of the bar. If there were any other seats, I couldn't see them behind the wall of people in the way. Yeah, it's pretty popular. At the moment, you have to wait in a line outside the shop, to join the line inside the shop, to stand in the line to get your coffee.
The company behind this traffic hazard, % Arabica, is a Japanese brand with overseas locations in Hong Kong, Dubai and Kuwait. Their beans are sold at coffeeshops around town, but this is their first physical location in Mainland China. They were so excited about it, they opened before getting their license. But they're back now, serving a condensed list of single-origin and blended coffees (including a Spanish Latte (40rmb), which has a shot of condensed milk sulking at the bottom) going for about 40-50rmb.
First Impressions: The coffee was fine. They use Meiji milk, roast their beans dark, and it's cheaper than expected for over-hyped Japanese coffee brands. But it could have unveiled the true face of God to me in its latte art, and it still would not have been a worthwhile experience. I waited for an hour in the rain for a cup of coffee because it's famous, because they did a terrible job designing their repurposed greenhouse for queues, and because I'm an idiot and this is what I do.
Considering they put their logo everywhere, including the floor tiles, they knew what kind of reception they were going to get. So why design it like a test-tube? Better question, what on earth is this place doing crammed into the corner of a back alley in Ferguson Lane when everybody and their dog is opening coffeeshops on the street or in spacious malls?
If you want to wait in line to take a picture with a logo, there's the Starbucks Roastery. If you're really excited about % Arabica coffee, get it at a coffeeshop that actually wants you in there.