On The Radar is a weekly SmartShanghai column where we profile 2-3 new venues that you might like to know about. Here are the facts and our first impressions.
What It Is: The first floor is Sober Cafe, a street-level diner/coffee shop with a terrace that does all-day breakfast from 8am-4pm, before shifting to a more cocktail-focused menu with small plates available from 4pm-1am. There’re several coffees available beyond your basics: Cappuccino’s 35rmb, Americano’s 25rmb, and they’ve got a good espresso martini available too. The breakfast menu features the like of Rice Benedict, a creamy dish with spam, avocado, rice and egg, and a Banh Mi that’s surprisingly good. The dishes’ll run you about 50-70rmb. It’s a little cramped, but the interior’s nice.
Upstairs is Sober Kitchen, a cozy eatery with high and low tables and a view of the street. It fills up quickly and has a nice atmosphere. The modern Chinese cuisine manifests in a short menu with some cold dishes, some hot dishes, a soup, two noodle dishes, and some meat and rice dishes. I tried the Lotus Chips (28rmb), which were crunchy and flavorful, and the Dan Dan Tacos (48rmb), which were also satisfying. The trick for the tacos is to spread the topping over the fried dumpling skin cracker like jam or caviar. I also had Ka’s Fried Chicken (88rmb), which were tasty in a comfort-food sort of way. Finally, the Seafood Crispy Noodle (168rmb) was a big nest of dry noodles in a creamy soup with some mussels and prawns. It's a bit of a pain to manipulate into your mouth; you have to break it up and leave the noodles to soak a bit first.
Sober Society is a cocktail bar that is not hidden. On your way to the restrooms from the restaurant, open the door on your left instead of going down to the right. Or just walk straight up the stairs from Sober Cafe. The space is dark, retro, and cozy, with a sectioned off booth area and plenty of space at the bar. The cocktail list has 12 options on offer, with most drinks going for 100rmb to 130rmb. The Grasshopper goes down like lightly chilled silk, and the Rokin’ Chair tastes like a sweet, thick whiskey sour.
Finally, there’s supposed to be a fourth, exclusive bar somewhere in the building. It’s called Tipsy. I didn’t find it, but beyond halfheartedly tugging on the plastic urinals in the corridor from Sober Kitchen, I didn’t try that hard.
First Impressions: It’s an interesting, ambitious idea. Shanghai has plenty of places that can't even manage to do one of these right, and Sober Company's trying to do three at once. This one's executed decently. The breakfast and the coffee downstairs was actually pretty good for an early lunch, despite a long wait for the food, which we’ll put down to early growing pains. Sober Kitchen’s cuisine seems enthusiastic about making some unconventional foods approachable. Sober Society was a bar with a solid team of mixologists behind it, and they delivered. The bar-inside-a-restaurant-over-a-cafe concept and the cocktail through-line, apart from being Shingo Gokan’s “thing,” gives it a kind of rolling experience. You could, with the right company or book, spend an entire day here, working your way up the stairs and back down after final call.
What it is: Pita is a medium-sized, healthy eats restaurant attached to La Bota's wine bar, opened by the same owner, Jared Bishop. Although it has been running just for a few weeks, the options you have here seem more plentiful than a lot of local cafes and eateries that target the same, health-conscious crowd.
Their menu covers popular categories such as smoothie bowls, salads, and juice blends, alongside a few more heartier items such as bagels and pita sandwiches with fillings like the carnitas eggs & bacon, classic ham & cheddar and smoked dill salmon. To vary your protein sources, even more, they also have several mains (42rmb) to choose from, including teriyaki chicken, stewed lamb shank, quinoa lentils falafel, and others.
For those who take their breakfast and lunch seriously, Pita offers all-day breakfast and fresh smoothie bowls (42rmb) from eight o'clock, and lunch sets that combine salad and a main for 58rmb to 88rmb. According to Bishop, most of their vegetables are sourced from local organic farms, and they also have a partnership with Shanghai-based meal delivery and fitness company RAWK. Dinner and more wine selections will be available soon as well.
First Impressions: It's hard to resist a colorful plate that comprises various nutritional foods -- excellent for gaining "likes" from your Instagram followers as well as your gut and brain. And Pita is pretty good at making them delicious, too. The food we tried was all fresh and flavorful, with ideas and executions that health-conscious restaurant chains or small cafes can't usually pull off. Good for casual business lunch if you end up somewhere near the Cool Docks. It's the kind of eatery that you wish you could see more of in Shanghai.
What is is: The interior’s kind of a tatty-looking beer shop that gets progressively cozier as you get further back inside. There’s a terrace with four to five tables that’d probably be pretty nice in summer. The front half of the store is dominated by unlit beer fridges and shelving full of booze -- also some sneakers, boots, and backpacks, because the owner used to sell that and he’s got some stock he needs to move.
The back is filled with couches and chairs that have seen better days, tables, and a kind of faux-pub interior. There’s also a fake fireplace.
The reason I went was because they said they had 1,200 beers in stock. Then when I got there they said it was 1,000 beers. I didn’t count or anything, but, purely eyeballing it, I'd say it’s closer to between 500-700 ish. They’ve got your Brewdog, your Flying Dog, your Dogfish Head, Brooklyn Brewery, Rogue, Delirium Tremens, Moa Brewing Co., Paulaner, Leffe, Beerlao, Newcastle Brown Ale, Vedett, Duvel, Hoegaarden, Kronenberg, Ballast Point, Red Brick, Scuttlebutt, Anchor Brewing, Black Market Brewing Co., Mad River Brewing Company, Poorter, Cornet, Allagash, Corsendon, Founders, New Holland Brewing, Great Divide, Epic. They’ve got Magners. They’ve got Four Loko. They’ve obviously got Goose.
Prices will run you anything from 30rmb for your Tsingtao-equivalents, through to 60-90 for various imports, up to some astronomical figures for some really esoteric stuff. The Schorschbock is a 57% beer that comes in a 40ml bottle and retails for a nifty 800rmb.
First Impressions: The beer market plus lounge area idea isn’t new, and this one’s not… bad, it's just put together badly. There are some attempt to organize the fridges and shelves, but mostly they just took all the beers and threw them up on the wall. Maybe separated them with a little tag that reads “the Kingdom of Belgium” or “the Republic of Germany.” It feels like a beer thrift-shop, but import beers are too pricey to let you comfortably hang out and just try out new stuff. One nice thing is that it's non-smoking except on the terrace. One unbelievably dumb thing is that there's no bathroom. You have to go outside and use a keycode to access a public restroom next door.
Unless you live nearby or are really, really excited about the possibility of discovering a new beer, we can’t say why you’d come here. It’s okay. They say they’ll probably start a beer delivery service soon, though. Maybe that'll go better.