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The Brunch List: January 2016

This month: good value at Porcellino, divisive breakfasts at Taoyuan Village, and castle vibes at Villandry.
2016-01-12 18:34:09
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: Sometimes it's actually lunch. Other times, it's really just breakfast. But if you hit it just right...

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


Porcellino


[venue:11315]



Good for: Nice lunchy brunch and boozy, drawn out hullabaloos
Available: Sat-Sun, 11am-5pm

On weekends from 11am-5pm, Italian salumeria Porcellino in Jing'an offers a brunch menu that leans slightly towards the lunch end of the spectrum -- not much of a surprise from a restaurant known for good-value Italian staples and generous house pours. There’s also a 120rmb free-flow deal that covers prosecco, their take on a Bloody Mary, house wine, and Asahi. That’s a dangerous and/or delightful proposition given the offer’s six-hour window. We sampled their “Candied Tomato” Bloody Mary and it was satisfyingly boozy and spicy, though hard to detect much deviation from the standard.

The brunch menu starts at 48rmb, with a tasty house-made goblet of granola and fruit that had enough yogurt to make it more of an after-meal treat than a main attraction. From there, it runs from egg dishes all the way to an Australian beef tenderloin and grilled lamb chops served with potatoes and salad (168rmb and 148rmb).



Breakfast-leaning options range from French toast served with sausage or bacon, a veggie omelet with a side salad, and fresh Italian sausage paired with two any-style eggs. The eggs Florentine arrived perfectly poached served on ciabatta, with a light hollandaise that was almost zesty -- a nice change from the “more butter” mantra that powers many-a Shanghai spot. It’s offered with salmon, or our choice of slow-roasted porchetta, which added a welcome caloric balance to the otherwise (satisfyingly) light dish.



Coming from the “Signature Snacks" part of the full menu, La salamella was a smallish sausage ciabatta sandwich stuffed with cooked bell peppers and served with particularly well-cooked fries -- not something I’d normally call out, but… Shanghai fries, man, they’re a fickle bunch. More of a Tuesday-lunch than Sunday-brunch move, but hey, that’s on us.

The server-recommended standout of the meal was the namesake Porcellino meatball pasta (also available as a risotto), at the auspicious price of 88rmb. This is simplicity well-executed – perfectly cooked pasta, a sweetish tomato sauce with a zing of garlic and three well-sized meatballs crusted in parmigiano reggiano. A dish worthy of applause.



The high ceilings, ample natural light and the open kitchen make for a great setting; periodic waves of the kitchen’s goings-on made it easily the best-smelling brunch in recent memory. The setup inside, the nice outdoor patio during warmer months, and the free-flow deal with multiple booze options make Porcellino an ideal spot for larger gatherings with the revelry dial set somewhere between a two-cocktail brunch and Yongkang on the first warm Sunday of spring. With reasonable value, good food and warm, competent service, Porcellino is a good move for whiling away a few weekend hours with friends.

- James Weir

Full brunch listing


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Taoyuan Village (Hubin Dao)


[venue:12818]



Good For: Safe & sterile street food; cheaper eats and all-day breakfast in Xintiandi.
Available: All-day, everyday

Quickly expanding chain Taoyuan Village is a difficult one to assess. Its menu, inspired by breakfast foods popular throughout Taiwan, will likely elicit divergent opinions, depending on individual experience, affection, and exposure to Taiwanese breakfast staples.

Your foreigner friend who's been in China for 8 years will grumble: "this is the food of the working class -- just sterilized and fancified." Your Taiwanese friend would probably eye their shaobing youtiao, sigh, and empathize with your Mexican friends who hate Chipotle. Your friend with self-diagnosed IBS probably loves the place, but your ayi or Shanghainese friend's mother might try it and ask what all the fuss is about and why the prices are high.



Of course, no one is wrong. It is what you bring to it depending on who you are. It's easy to hate on Taoyuan Village (which does not exist in Taiwan) for trying to be ultra-trendy, thinking that its brand story and designer interiors justify charging 13rmb for your run-of-the-mill pork baozi or 8rmb for soy milk. Its proprietors clearly care about its looks, decking out its Xintiandi location with an anachronistic mishmash of style cues -- light, natural woods and mason jars set against... a bike, spray painted matte black and mounted on the wall? A shiny new Harley Davidson parked in front of the open kitchen? There's even an installation of angled wooden chairs running along the ceiling, a la Ai Weiwei. Altogether, it's like the Pinterest board of someone who just came into money that's come to life.

The food itself? The shaobing youtiao with egg (22rmb) has the full, toasted sesame flavor you'd expect, but it's too thin and crackly, with youtiao that's chewier than it is crispy. In Taiwan you'd be supplied with a few kinds of dipping or hot sauces, but Taoyuan Village only has la you (or spicy oil) -- so if the shaobing youtiao is too dry, then too bad. The danbing, offered with different toppings such as corn or chopped up pork cutlet, ranges from 25-32rmb and is a better bet.



The rouzao fantuan (16rmb, above), although un-traditional, also has potential. Think of it as a burrito, but with a pleasantly chewy glutinous rice exterior and -- with Taoyuan Village's version -- stuffed with deeply savory, braised minced pork (rouzao), crispy deep-fried youtiao bits, pickled radishes and an entire braised egg (lu dan). The baozi are forgettable, but if there's any part of the menu where the restaurant version would be just as good, if not better, than the street food variety -- it's the drinks. Try the mi jiang (10rmb), or xian dou jiang (12rmb) if you prefer something savory.

-SmSh Staff


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Villandry


[venue:9972]



Good For: Escaping modern life for castle vibes, long dates, and extended conversations over decent French food.
Available: Sat & Sun, 11.30am-3pm

On the quieter side of already low-key Nanchang Lu, just north of Fuxing Park, stands an imposing castle called the Shanghai Science Hall. This is the biggest French-style villa in Shanghai, with giant stained glass windows, a ballroom, an 800-capacity conference room, and drapes bigger than Rick Ross. Built in 1917, this was a French school before becoming a palace for science in 1958. At night, it feels like a level in Castlevania. The 6,000sqm venue also has a bar, an upscale Chinese restaurant, and a French fine-dining spot called Villandry. Heading the kitchen is Vincent Ren, who worked at the Michelin-starred Georges Blanc in France. Their brunch is solid and memorable but not intimidatingly fancy, though the quaint location provides much of the charm.



This meal commences with turbulence. Whoever picks up the phone says brunch ends at 3pm. We arrive at 2.10pm and girl at the door says brunch ended at 2pm and the chef already clocked out, then she just wanders off. So we enter the Villandry and the maître d' is like, "no problem." Classic. The vibe is low-lit, red, and palatial, if not slightly stuffy, with something like French hip-lounge on the stereo. Clearly this is more of a date spot or a place to take Western Mom, rather than, say, the dénouement of a three-day bender.

Brunch sets start at 280rmb for chicken or fish and go up to 598rmb for lobster. Sets include bread, salad, "oatmeal", a main, a dessert, and bottomless coffee, juice, milk, or tea. Those who imbibe this early can add free-flow beer / wine for 188rmb, or Moet for 488rmb. Staff appear promptly when needed (but couldn't find any ice water…) but don't hover or rush.



The flakey croissants and pain au chocolat are so good that this place should have a standalone bakery. Of the two salads, the one with pear, peppermint, and herbs was more layered and refreshing than the simple mix of arugula, prosciutto, and parmesan whose acidic dressing slightly overpowered the rest. Whatever they call "oatmeal" is not, but it's good. The "seafood oatmeal" is like a small bowl of chowder, with bits of crab and mussels, while the mixed fruit one is huge and looks more like a healthy complete breakfast.



Mains arrive with perfect timing and look dressed for the venue. A crispy, almost 50% fat cut of pork sits in a pool of slightly sweet, creamy sauce and paired with a small muffin topped with egg and a little blue flower. Good, but with a cut like this, better cooking methods could have drawn out more juice from the pork. Sea bass proved better. The fish skin looks a bit leathery but turns out to be the highlight of the dish, its barbecue flavor and crunchy texture mixing perfectly with the meaty bits.



Finally, dessert -- the only major misstep in this procession. Neither dish got finished. One was so bitter and drenched in liqueur it was a fire hazard, and the brownie was like the Nickleback of brownies -- light, bland, and soulless.

If you go for the chicken or fish, you're looking at around 300rmb for a solid, extended brunch experience. Again, the highlight of this place is the venue itself. In the warmer months (or now, if you really want) they serve brunch on the patio overlooking the lawn. On this occasion, a cute little drone hovered above a Western x Chinese wedding below. Just outside on Nanchang Lu there's several impressive displays that explain the mysteries of 3D-printing, black boxes, and GM foods. The Science Hall -- dropping knowledge while you digest.

-Ian Louisell

Full brunch listing

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For a complete list of brunches around Shanghai, check out our Brunch Deals page.

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