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.
Featuring this week, the big and ambitious new locations of a couple of not-new spots around town. That's the general thread here: smaller places that have become big. Cool Docks market restaurant Mercado de Waima has opened a three-story space called Mercado 505 on Wulumuqi Lu and famous Japanese coffee chain % Arabica, with outlets in Hong Kong, Dubai, Kuwait, and Shanghai already, among other places, has opened their largest venue in the world in the Rockbund area.
Quick Take: A giant new three-story space, replete with spacious patio, and a central location for the Spanish market restaurant.
What It Is:
Do you know Mercado de Waima? Probably not. It's tucked away in the Cool Docks in among some shipping warehouses, and quietly goes about the noble work of slinging quality imported meat and shellfish at cut-rate prices to a collection of regulars and restaurants around town. SmSh talked about it in a Radar post when it opened two years ago in the far-flung location. It's basically a Spanish-style deli / market that also doubles as a restaurant. But yeah, their main thing: imported meats, cheese, and seafoods at cheap prices. There's not really a menu per se. It's more like a deli market. You order your full blood M7 Chilean Wagyu beef, your jamón ibérico, your US Prime Angus, and whatever else by the 100-gram quantity, and they wrap it to take away or cook it for you in-house. In addition to said meaty mains, they're also doing a range of international seafood (sea snail from France, New Zealand scampi, Canadian spot prawns, oysters, oysters, oysters) by the piece and per 100grams as well. Likewise cheese. Likewise specialty items, like premium tinned goods and cooking supplies. It's sort of like the Spanish version of Alimentari but with a pronounced emphasis on Chilean beef -- striploin, chuck, rump cut, karubi -- which is a relatively newish development in the realm of red meat.
Mercado 505, occupying a prime location in among the hotels at Wulumuqi Lu and Huashan Lu, is the same market-to-table concept blown up to multiple floors of seating, a bar, and a big patio area.
The menu at Mercado 505 is still anchored around the market concept -- you're putting together starter courses from oysters, seafoods, cheeses, and tined goods, and then ordering a meaty steak or iberico ham main by the 100-gram quality.
Price examples: US Prime Angus T-Bone, 88rmb / 100grams; Pure Iberico Pork Meat Flank 78rmb / 100grams; M7 Chilean Wagyu Striploin 178rmb / 100grams. If it's a little daunting to order a main course by the 100 grams, they can consult with you your options. My American dining partner was lost -- he's used to steaks coming in ounces.
They've also got some more straightforward seasonal specials as well, serving as side courses: 505 Salad, 58rmb; Valencia Paella, 188rmb; white asparagus and parmesan, 78rmb.
If the Western restaurant trend in Shanghai now is for locally-based Shanghai famous chefs cooking little idiosyncratic fusion sharable plates, this is the complete opposite direction. You're looking at quality imported meats, cheese, and seafood, ordered and presented as is. There's a few flourishes on the "seasonal specials" chalkboard, but even these are coming from a very traditionalist sort of place. The paella... is a very well executed paella. The wagyu steak... is a big damn bloody, delicious wagyu steak on a slab. And that's all well and good. The quality of product is there and the prices are reasonable.
Mercado 505 only just soft opened, with a full-on launch planned for September, so it still needs a few weeks to really warm into the space, and flesh out more of a personality. It feels like a place opened by meat / seafood importers rather than as a purposed restaurant. But that's just tweaking some design elements -- lights, music, etc.
When we went on a Tuesday, they had a nice little patio going, buzzing with Spanish expats and curious diners. Service was excellent. It's a great location. The sangria's great too.
...And Also: Check Out The Biggest % Arabica in the World
A few months ago, internet famous Japanese import coffee brand % Arabica opened up their first China location in a dingy alleyway off Wukang Lu. I didn't like it much. It's a brand store that looks like a coffeeshop.
We thought we'd give it another try. Mistake. Their newest Rockbund location is the same thing. Coffee's fine, even decently priced for brand-conscious Japanese imports, which can run you nearly 100rmb for a cup. 50rmb for an iced Spanish Latte seems overpriced, but 40rmb for one of their numerous single origins is a-okay. Add 3rmb for soy milk, which fudges the latte art but saves the planet, probably.
The much bigger (apparently the biggest % Arabica in the world), tastefully-decked space is a joke. Two-thirds standing room with a metal beam straight down the middle. Either they expected it packed all of the time with people gawping at the big roasting machine behind the glass wall, buying 1,000rmb branded backpacks, or they don't want you there at all. Counter congestion is reduced by the staff (still polite young coffee-bros) pointing you left or right to your pick-up counter. The right counter is by the door, so people end up blocking the entrance anyway. The 10 minute waiting time for a shot of espresso and some milk exacerbates this. There're like 15 people behind that counter. What are they all doing there?
At least they've got nice seating outside on the Rockbund pedestrian street.
So yeah. % Arabica. Still a decent cup of coffee, still can't design a coffeeshop you'd actually want to sit in. Still recommend you get their coffee in a shop that actually wants you there.