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The Brunch List: December 2015

SmartShanghai's monthly round up of brunches, the most important invention in human history. Lots of hearty plates for December.
Last updated: 2015-12-08
The Brunch List is our monthly column pinpointing great (and not so great) brunch spots around town. Everything below is all you need to know about where to get leisurely weekend eats.

Brunch: It's what's for brunch.

(Sorry, let's just get into it.)

Bull & Claw


Good For: Massive calorie consumption
Available: Sat-Sun: 11am–3pm

This publication's first appraisal of The Bull & Claw as a dinner destination was scathing. But for brunch it may well be worth a try. Can't get everything off Taobao, right?

Bull & Claw's brunch is a set-menu, offering a choice of one to three courses, priced 85 to 165rmb, respectively. If you go the three-course route, like we did, your first course is a beverage. (Hmm. Okay.) In that regard, you can go for a reasonably spicy Bloody Mary, or a Mimosa, or something sans booze, like a fruit smoothie. Course two is anything from simple fruit and yogurt to Mediterranean-Asian crossovers, like shiitake and feta fritters served over stewed chickpeas and smoked peppers.

Several course two options flout that standard linear meal configuration of savory-to-sweet. So you might start with an order of waffles, French toast, or their "Cookies and Milk," which we tried. It's three gooey chocolate cookies studded with white chocolate chips and a cool glass of bootleg Ovaltine -- they make their own. It's tasty, but an odd prelude to a rich and savory third course like an English Breakfast or Turkish Menemen (eggs, peppers, onions, tomatoes and simmered in a cast-iron pan).

Naturally, a couple of third course options are brunch staples, like the club sandwich or eggs Benedict tricked out with lobster meat. You'll pay an additional 80rmb for these, but you're in a restaurant themed around lobster. That's kind of the whole point of going here, isn't it? Dishes out a bit. For what it's worth, their Lobster Benedict is a solid effort. It's exactly as it should be: two real English muffins, two poached eggs, a generous helping of claw meat, and Hollandaise.

Then of course, those partial to the "Bull" portion of the theme can order a burger, a Wellington, or a rib eye for anywhere between 148 and 248rmb, a la carte. And if you're looking to get day drunk, there is an all-you-can-drink package for 128rmb, featuring beer, wine, and Prosecco.

-Justin Fischer



Good For: Groups with divergent tastes
Available: Mon-Friday, 8-10am; Sat & Sunday, 11am-3pm.

What is this new cube on the southern tip of Xintiandi -- is it a sports bar or an Italian restaurant? There’s tapas on the menu, but the specialty seems to be barbecued pork ribs. Why does the “Turkey Brunch” feature tortillas, chicken, tomatoes, avocado and lettuce, but apparently no turkey? Wait, what the hell -- they have a pizza with goose liver and black truffle, and another with marshmallows on it. This is the kind of scattergun, pan-global, fusion-from-hell menu that should make the hungry run for the hills.

But despite this all-pervasive lack of direction, if you stick to the simple stuff, the food isn’t half bad and the brunch menu has some good deals, starting at 28rmb for the TheME Bacon Breakfast (eggs, salad, bacon, toast, and fried tomatoes) and 38rmb for the Nutritious Breakfast (fruit, yogurt, and granola). Other options feature Spanish omelets, grilled salmon and eggs Benedict. It’s far from gourmet, but it’s simple enough stuff that doesn’t take any mastery to put together. The largest dish on the brunch menu is "Daddy’s Steak and Ribs" -- tenderloin, Iberian pork ribs, fries, sausage and salad -- but we went for the half rack of ribs with fries, which seems to be TheME’s signature dish.

The ribs were served on a slab of wood, glistening with barbecue sauce, sitting on a bed of fries with a rocket salad -- and they weren’t bad. Loads of fat and gristle, but hey, you’re gnawing on a pig’s rib cage, what do you expect. We added something from the tapas menu -- "Ravioli in Four Flavors" -- which were neither ravioli, nor did they come in four flavors. Instead, we got little ravioli-shaped parcels of pastry, filled with beef and cheese. The pastry was crunchy, a sign it had just been pulled out of the freezer.

Lesson learned: avoid TheME’s delusions of grandeur. Run, don’t walk, from the tuna and blue cheese pizza. But stick to the basic stuff, the eggs and the French fries and the ribs, and you’ll get a decent breakfast.

-Nick Taylor



Good For: Lazy weekend grazing
Available: Sat-Sunday, from 1pm

If you’ve never been to this long-standing Middle Eastern spot on Nanchang Lu, treat yourself and head over. It’s the place opposite YY's that always smells incredible. The menu runs the gamut of kebab platters, chicken and lamb chops, grilled meat balls, and pide -- “Turkish pizza” -- but there’s also a two-person breakfast -- the "Pasha ozel kahvalti", which comprises three kinds of soft cheese, olives, beef cuts, a Turkish vegetable omelet, eggs baked over beef sausage, cheese pide, boiled eggs, fresh tomato and cucumber, jam, honey, butter, and tea. It’s a mountain of food, and excellent for grazing over the paper in the picturesque second-floor dining room.

The breakfast is easily enough for two people, but there are so many beautiful dishes on the rest of the menu -- especially in the list of starters -- that it’s hard not to order more. We added mucver -- zucchini pancakes -- and muhammara, a red paste made from crushed walnuts, olive oil, red peppers, and pomegranate. With just a touch of sweetness from the pomegranate, plus the rounded, woody flavor of walnuts, that last dish was the highlight of the visit.

Pasha’s justifiably popular with regulars; many are families who seem to know the menu backwards. Booking is advisable -- all the other tables were reserved or occupied during our visit. This place has an excellent thing going. The breakfast is reason enough to revisit, but don’t stop there -- the rest of the menu is even better.

-Nick Taylor



Good For: Patient people with low expectations
Available: Sat–Sun: 11am–3pm

Gemma debuted its new weekend brunch at the beginning of November. On our visit it was, to use a technical, industry term, a bit of a shitshow. It seems they scheduled only one server on the floor, and we'd guess perhaps just as many cooks in the kitchen. And no one in the place appeared up to speed on the seven-item menu. We watched our poor, harried server take our order, make our coffees, and mix our Bloody Marys, while greeting and seating other parties. He was clearly overwhelmed, so much so that another party simply stormed off before even placing an order. They passed by us, grumbling about the service. They were right.

We stuck it out and waited -- the things we do for you guys -- only to be brought two painfully underwhelming egg dishes. One was a serving of eggs sunny side up with bacon and white toast topped with melted cheese. 78rmb for three slices of toast, bacon, and eggs that look like this.

The other was a club sandwich that was supposed to be stacked with Prague ham, spinach, cheese, and a fried egg. It arrived minus the egg, alongside a pile of cold French fries. The server, to his credit, graciously took the dish back, cross-referencing it with the menu to make sure the dish did, in fact, call for an egg. 15 minutes later, he returned with the same sandwich stuffed with a barely cooked egg, much of white still transparent. The fries were even colder. That also set us back 78rmb. It looked like this…

There was, however, one saving grace: Gemma's veal ossobuco, which isn't even on the brunch menu. They started serving it earlier this year in their upstairs osteria and it's one of the best items on the menu. They kitchen crew clearly have some practice on this. And let's face it. It's braised veal. It was probably prepared the day before and simply reheated by their Sunday kitchen staff (not a complaint, braised meat is usually better the next day anyway). Naturally, this dish will take a bigger bite out of your wallet than their new brunch offerings. We're talking somewhere well north of 100rmb.

It didn't make up for the overall poor experience, but it was at least comforting to know that Gemma hasn't entirely lost the plot. We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention that our server, in a gesture of apology, hooked us all up with a shot of limoncello at the end of our meal… At least we think it was a gesture of apology. Maybe they give everybody a shot of limoncello after a meal. Who knows?

Anyway, lesson learned: If you're in for brunch, maybe just order from the dinner menu until Gemma has ironed out some of the wrinkles.

-Justin Fischer

More Shanghai Brunch deals right here.