1. The Apartment 2
What It Is: The suburban sequel to the popular Yongfu Lu club / lounge / hookup spot that's been running for six+ years. This one is more of a pub-style cafe, with more distinctly British styling and food. Located in the family-centric part of Minhang, they’ll probably cater to a more subdued crowd than downtown, although there's plenty of international school kids in the area. They're open from 11am-10pm on weekdays (school nights) and go until about 1am on the weekend.
Atmosphere: Located in a new plaza in Minhang that seems mostly devoid of people although poised to receive them, Apartment 2 feels like a component in the larger gamble that New Hongqiao will indeed become the shiny gem in the Westside that developers and city planners alike are promising. Seems like it's part of the foundation for big plans. The only people around the night I went, though, were a few locals loitering out front smoking cigarettes. We'll have to wait and see, although, apparently, they've already got a lunch crowd. The interior is sterile but functional, with some outdoor seating in the front and back. Incoherent electronic music was piping through the speakers last night. With the right suburban high school crowd, this place has the potential to rage.
Damage: Draft beers range from 35rmb for Tiger to 65rmb for Guinness; generic cocktails are all 48rmb; appetizers hover around 38-48rmb; and the signature burger is 68rmb.
First Impressions: They say they're targeting the international school crowd in the surrounding area, and whether that means the students or the parents I’m not exactly sure. With the legal drinking age being 18 here, I can see this as a pretty cool hangout spot for high schoolers with a decent allowance situation...
What It Is: Newly opened on June 13 just around the corner from The Bund, Sabor is from Madrid’s Diego Guerrero (El Club Allard, DSTAgE, El Refor), who has three Michelin stars to his name, as well as the prestigious title "International Olive Oil Spanish Ambassador". Management describes it as "haute cuisine" without the pretentiousness; dishes with soul, passion and love that are more than the sum of its parts. Sounds like fluff, but they’re actually not kidding. This is currently one of the best meals you can get in Shanghai on the creativity, technique, execution front. Not to mention value. Insane value.
Despite the Spanish chef, elements come from all over. Last night's visit involved an impeccable pigeon risotto, cooked slightly over-al dente intentionally, with the meat perfectly pink and moist. Seems they don’t adapt to over-cooking to appease Chinese palates. Stay this way, please.
Atmosphere: Remember a Spanish restaurant called La Pedrera? That's gone, and this has moved in the space. Decor looks like the team just re-purposed whatever was already there and added a healthy dose of kitsch. The "20s Art Deco" is debatable, and the "eras", colors and textures swerve all over the place. Those include leather booths, a jamon cart at the door, a flashy bar in the center of the room, and a solid "library" with titles like Danielle Steel's Sisters, The Walmart Way, and the classic Lloyd on Lloyd, with a blonde couple in matching mullets smiling on the cover.
The music selection was even more baffling; like, Fiona Apple, jazz standards, and Drake. I’m all for the 6god, but maybe not with my dessert. Overall, Sabor feels like a combination of a dark veneer smoking room, a Chinese nightclub, and a classed-up Red Lobster.
Damage: They have menus for 300rmb, 400rmb and 500rmb, with eight, nine, and eleven courses, respectively. They say the prices will remain after the initial opening period, which sounds unbelievable. Considering the amount of food, the liberal dashes of saffron, the complexity of the dishes, and surprisingly good service, I’m not sure how they can make money. But while it’s on, take advantage. Comparable places in the city (Jason Atherton and Paul Pairet's spots) are charging double if not 10x the prices here.
First Impressions: Don’t sleep on this one. Look past the decor and music and just enjoy the magic coming out of the kitchen. Take advantage of prices while they last, I don’t think they will. Also, no cards yet. The accountant came and collected WeChat funds from each of us at the end of the night.
What It Is: Açaí smoothie bowls. Maybe you've seen them on Pintrest or at some cafe in LA. You make a smoothie, put it in a bowl, then throw some "superfoods" on top: berries, chia seeds, agave syrup. Maybe some oats. Then you eat it with a spoon, like a frozen yogurt. Bowl'd is one of the first places to bring the trend to Shanghai, with a bright and cozy vegan cafe down a lane on Anfu Lu.
Atmosphere: Bright and modern. Time to WAKE UP and start your super day! Just a few tables and a bar inside, and a few seats outside. Maybe room for 12 people. They were playing that "Panda" song and some Drake and Rihanna on a recent Monday, but more than anything, you hear the blenders. Place seems popular with females.
Damage: Bowls start at 30rmb for a small and go up to 68rmb-70rmb for an XL. Most people can get by with a small, and definitely with a medium (46rmb-48rmb). You can add fruits for 5rmb, or items like bee pollen, Goji berries, and bran flakes for 3rmb.
First Impressions: Sure. Why not. The fruit tastes really fresh, the staff are friendly enough, and the place seems clean. Some will scoff and say they can make this at home for like 10rmb-20rmb, but not everyone has time for that. I wouldn't travel across town for Bowl'd, but if I was in the neighborhood and needed breakfast or lunch, definitely. Couldn't get a fapiao though.
What It Is: A nominally Swedish restaurant and bar that feels like the confused lovechild of Bar 88 and The Nest, just off The Bund on Guangdong Lu. During the day it's Bund dining and later at night (when I visited) they get into lounge territory. The menu features some Swedish food like meatballs, toast skagen, and lax plata, but also some randoms like foie gras mousse, and beef carpaccio.
Atmosphere: Puzzling. The press release promises to "immerse you into an ocean of pleasure". Well, when you enter the building, you pass through a room full of green laser beams. Not so pleasurable for the ol' corneas. During dinner, loud dance music ("put your hands up!" "you've got to show me love!") boomed through speakers that hang from pipes that nearly cover up the beautiful old ceiling. Half a dozen female employees were sitting idly at the bar in plain clothes, scrolling through their phones, as the Euros reflected brightly on a wall.
So much going on here: pineapples, Art Deco, lasers, leather couches, BIG logos on every chair, widescreen TVs, reflective surfaces, Scandinavian showroom furniture. This is what happens when you pick and choose design elements like toppings at Chipotle.
Damage: A dinner of four dishes and two drinks came out to a little over 400rmb. Appetizers are all under 100rmb. Beers start at 60rmb (didn't see any Swedish beer, just Hoegaarden and Leffe). Cocktails start around 80rmb.
First Impressions: Didn't feel any Stockholm syndrome. Did feel like leaving immediately after the meal because the music was so loud and the vibe was weird. Here we have a classic case of a venue trying to be too many things: a fine dining destination; a lounge; a Nordic concept restaurant (a common theme in Shanghai F&B circa 2016). On the positive side, the service is attentive and polite, and the food would be alright if it were served in a café, at half the price. Toast skagen had the most texture and flavor, but other fare like the meatballs were just bland. Didn't even finish a 88rmb negroni that tasted off. Feels like a place that wants to be The Nest, but lacks the software and hardware.