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[On the Radar]: Sage Gastro, Mignon 9

We are a little behind on those two: Two new recommendations out there in restaurant land.
2023-11-18 12:00:00
Photos: Brandon McGhee
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places we find interesting. Sometimes we stumble upon these places, and sometimes we are invited, but in both cases, we are never paid to write an opinion, rather, these are our honest first impressions, and not a formal review.

Sage Gastro

First impressions are important. Mine started with Sage Gastro when phoning in a reservation. The young lady was extremely warm and engaging, conveyed a sense of professionalism reserved for much higher market establishments than the modest nondescript 22-person eatery along the Suzhou river warranted; she could well have worked reception at a Cheval Blanc property.

Taking a page(s) from Jeju Sagye, formerly Jeju Izakaya, there is no signage on the door. My Didi dropped me off in front of the affable multi-purpose product that is Cometa (same owners as Sage Gastro) and took me a few seconds to process where the actual entrance was. Look for the glass enclosed fern.

Warmly greeted upon entry, second impression was "is this it?". I think I spent more my sophomore year of college decorating my first apartment on a broke-ass student budget than the main seating area for 14 guests. Mismatched seats, barren walls, drop ceiling panels that have seen better days; certainly not indicative of an atmosphere that should command close to 500rmb a person for a dining experience.

But, and a huge but, look to the right of the cramped main dining space, you get to peer into what I can only describe as a full-fledged high-end western kitchen with all the latest induction cooktops, sous vide machine, and glistening stainless steel galore. It looked to me larger than the dining space by a fair margin. Lots of firepower for so few seats, akin to squirrel hunting with an elephant rifle. Essentially, this is the milieu of the joint: overwhelm the few seats with a professional kitchen that can churn out to a 60 top venue easily.

Chef Jun Nishiyama is from Singapore with Japanese roots, handsome and tatted up, taking center stage for plating service. The petite dining space also translates to a decent amount of interaction with the menu creator himself. Portions all hover on the smallish side, so order up if you're coming hungry.

The Dianping darling of Sage Gastro is the thrice fried chicken thigh, it is simply presented with some pickles and garnish. They will take it away for carving into bite sized slivers, and holy shit, it is delicious. The skin, presumably from the triple frying and no discernable breading, yielded a crust three millimeters thick and had a crunch like caramelized candy with the tender thigh. Must get.

Charred Hispi cabbage, fermented mushroom cream/parsley roasted buckwheat 98rmb

Something even non-vegans can get behind, wonderful charred crunch and harmoniously blended with the cream sauce; the fermented mushroom reduction in flavor was only slightly more than a whisper and didn't distract from the constitution of the crisp and tenderness of the grilled cabbage.

Soft shell crab, chili crab sauce/green papaya/passionfruit dressing 168rmb

On paper the soft shell crab seems to have some fussing, but in taste the organic flavor of the crustacean stood out mainly and the milky roe was a welcomed party favor. Again, a good play on delivering layers of flavor while letting the main ingredient stand out.

Cauliflower mushroom, Pancetta lardons/cured egg yolk/walnuts 108rmb

Pretty much a zero-carb version of a carbonara. The slivers of cauliflower had a satisfying bite and was an adequate replacement for pasta. Only hard thing for those on the keto-train is abstaining from soaking up the cream sauce with bread.

We also had two off menu items; both were solid. I suspect specials will be a normal rotational thing as the menu consists of just 6 starters and 4 mains, with three sweet items to boot.

Short rib with burnt carrot sauce, 218rmb

Grilled mackerel, picked radish/lemon zest 188rmb

House Negroni, 98rmb

Mignon 9

3 months into business, Mignon 9 is a popular casual French bistro serving a tight and curated lunch/dinner menu with a slightly more ambitious wine program. Nested on Wuyuan road, in the former Spicy Moment location, a couple hundred paces from the funk of Wulumuqi road, the space offers seating for 40 on the inside, with another 16 on the front patio; it borders on intimate, without feeling cramped.

Neutral tones dominate the design palate, tip toeing the line between classy and casual. The square and balanced nature to the space gives a sense of good fengshui throughout. Sitting on the front patio, taking in the old smells and shuffle of a proper Shanghai street cut with crisp October air, makes one glad you're not sitting inside yet another mall.

Smoked scallop, lemon & fennel dressing/pomelo/yuzu jelly 98rmb

Meal starts with adequately crusty bread, and stylistically seasoned smear of room temperature butter. The scallop starter was delicate in flavor paired with the yuzu fruit, but to some it might lean towards the bland side. The foie gras terrine with black berry port sauce had a slight minerally profile that lingers, but otherwise a serviceable dish.

Foie gras terrine with blackberry port sauce 138rmb

The Spring chicken stuffed with green peppercorn and garlic cloves is one of the showpieces at Mignon 9. Roasted in a Rational combi oven over a bed of rosemary, and split and portioned tableside after guests have taken their photos. The Sichuan green peppercorn dominates the aroma, but the mala flavor only ever so lightly kisses the tender flesh of the petite fowl. They've nailed this dish.

Spring chicken with Sichuan pepper 168rmb

M7 Wagyu flap/soy caramel/cashew nut/sesame/Er Jing Tiao chili/garlic puree 268rmb

The waitress cautioned that the wagyu flap steak is a bit spicy, as it incorporates dried red chili pepper on the nut heavy garnish. Alas, there was no discernable heat from the slightly chewy flap cooked to a standard medium rare.

Uni pot rice, seasonal Uni/salmon roe/dried duck breast/Thai rice/chives/pickled radish 288rmb

My personal favorite of the meal was the Uni pot rice, which arrives sizzling hot in a white Staub cast iron pot. Pretty to look at upon service, but the delight happens when the server scrapes the caramelized rice off the bottom and gives the entire pot a spirited tossing. The Uni disappears only to serve as a buttery flavor backbone, each bite consisting of the crispy bits of rice, the burst of the salmon roe, and a satisfying crunch from the pickled radish; every ingredient had a very necessary role. Not exactly French fare but who cares, it was very tasty.

Mascarpone ice cream, Shiso syrup/strawberry powder 68rmb, savory and pleasant

Bad cocktails: All was not fine and dandy. There are five cocktails on offer at 70rmb each. The French martini (vodka/Chambord/pineapple juice) had no balance, flavor profile was off-putting in a nonsensical way; seemed like someone just winged it for the first time. The whiskey sour did not fare much better. Tasted like leftover beer pong sludge shaken with a shot of cheap whiskey. Wine by the bottle or glass is a much safer option for now.

The wait staff had no idea on the meaning of the name of the venue; Chat GPT generated, perhaps. I like how chef Li Tianmu has curated a small menu where it's evident a lot of thought went into each dish. There is a private room for 8 in the back, with 3k minimum spend requirements, and very clean bathrooms. Lunch or dinner here will run 250-300rmb pp, one of the better values in this town. I would come back.