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 the only way anyone really knows that they're truly alive.
This month, we're looking at the new-new-new brunches available in the city: Creative dishes in a Mad Men-ish environment at Highline, sweet Sunday salvation at Shake's Gospel Brunch; classic British-ey-ness at Caxton; and the time I drank 14 Bloody Mary's at the Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria's new "Liquid Brunch".
I go to bat for you people.
Good for: A creative and classy brunch in an upscale, fashionable environment. Nice patio. Healthy items mixed in with greasier, more lip-smacking options.
Available: Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 3.30pm
Prices: A la carte menu with egg dishes at 88rmb-128rmb; sharing plates at 88rmb-128rmb; and mains 88rmb-148rmb. Pitcher cocktails (Pimm's, Bloody Mary) 298rmb; Mimosas 68rmb; juices and blends 48rmb-58rmb.
Highline's doing really well these days, I've heard through the grapevine. This past holiday weekend, they did something like 800 seats a day, each day, with the vast majority of their guests being Chinese diners. That's pretty crazy. Seems like the contemporary American concept is going over in Shanghai. I think Highline has managed to carve out a unique sort of identity against the backdrop of The Ascott -- something not a lot of hotel restaurants are able to do. Most restaurants in hotels are just these non-descript "really nice hotel restaurants" but with Highline, they've got a singular thing going with the Mad Men-in-California sort of look and feel to the place (season 6? season 7?), and the singular stuff on the menu from Chef Anna Bautista with Sean Jorgensen.
So anyways. The food. Reminds me of upscale, refined, Al's Diner sort of food, which makes sense, as there is some crossover in the creative department. The basics are all there -- healthy bowls, omelets, benedicts, sandwiches, burgers, salads, and toasts -- but it's classed up a bit and modernized with avocados, aoilis, cajun elements, asparagus, lentils, caramelized bananas, and whatever else. The result is a lot of hip and healthy items on the menu (see: "acai bowl" - banana, toasted almonds, house-made granola, berries") -- lots of opportunities for jaunty sharing plates (see: "spicy tuna & avocado toast") -- and then the requisite indulgent items, when, screw it, it all goes downhill for your diet (see: "sticky toffee buns").
They also have Oyster Rockefeller, which is **muah** a nice touch.
Good for: Great music, warm vibes, tasty food to match. Good for your heart. Good for your (immortal) soul. A huge line-up of Bloody Mary's.
Available: Sundays, 11am to 3pm
Prices: A la carte menu options. Sharing plates from 78rmb-128rmb; egg dishes 78rmb-148rmb; desserts 78rmb. Seven variations of Bloody Mary's 68rmb-78rmb.
Most of the time at brunch you want people to shut the hell up already. Shut the hell up, goddammit, and just eat. No talking, no music, no DJs, no funny business. No fluff. No guff.
Actually, maybe that's every meal, people should just shut the hell up already.
But the Gospel show Sunday brunch at live music-plus-dining-plus drinks venue Shake is great! Managed to catch pretty much the whole live performance show a few weeks back and found myself NOT in a murderous rage when it wrapped up at 3pm-ish on a sunny Sunday afternoon. On the contrary, it was indeed wonderful and you should check it out, even if gospel and / or Jesus really isn't your thing. The host and performer is the very big-hearted Latrice Bracks, out of the U.S.A. In two sets, she cycles through gospel standards with a few A-side soul numbers tossed in, singing on top of pre-recorded backing tracks, karaoke style. It would be nice if they got her some piano accompaniment but it's still a great show. Lots of sweet vibes and audience interaction, replete with plenty of clap-along gospel moments throughout the afternoon. Latrice came over to chat afterwards, saying that even though she herself is a religious woman, the performance is more about spreading a little general love out there in the world.
Felt bad I was wearing a shirt that had a zombie Pope on it -- yeah that's on me, I didn't realize -- but I don't think she noticed.
The menu is a list of deceptively simple, pan-Asian culinary comfort food delights from Chef Danyi Gao. These are all "Hangover Cures" from across the world, presented as meaty sharing dishes; one from basically every country in Asia: Korea (pork rib tacos); Vietnam (salad with roasted chicken legs); Filipino (sizzling pork belly with egg on rice); Malaysian (bak kuh teh with rice); Japanese (salmon seaweed ochazuke), and Singaporean (Kaya jam with slow cooked eggs), among others. Pretty well-traveled. Plenty of meat dishes to sop up last night's booze. In the modest "Eggs" section, you've got the "Lobster Eggs Benedict with Sauteed Spinach & Truffle Hollandaise", which is pretty rich and divine. Salvation guaranteed.
Shake Gospel Brunch: Go for the show; stay for the food. Or vice versa works too.
Last thing: They have a huge menu of Bloody Mary's that offers seven variations, which are basically differing in intensity of spice. The list culminates in the "Too Hot to Hold (Super Hot, like don't touch your eyes Hot)" - Ransom Dry Gin, Hot Monkey Vodka, Shake Sangrita Mix, Demon Chili, After Death Liquid Fire, Paprika, Lemon, Black Pepper, Tomato Juice.
Good for: Something to eat while the game is on. A bit of outdoor seating.
Available: Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 3pm
Prices: A la carte ordering. Mains 55rmb to 88rmb. ("Stack of Pancakes" 55rmb; "Tripple Crown Omelet with Three Eggs" 60rmb; "Full English Breakfast Platter" 88rmb.) Regular drinks menu with rotating specials. Add 15rmb to get a coffee with your main.
Caxton is that new sports bar on Dagu Lu. The inspiration for the name comes, partially, from Caxton Street in Brisbane, adjacent to a rugby ground and home to the famous Caxton Hotel. Rugby is this bar's thing. The screening of it, that is. They have six screens and two projectors, one in the front, so it is visible from their terrace, the other in the little quasi-VIP room at the back. Unless you're on the terrace facing outwards towards the street, you're looking at a TV, which is playing rugby. New games or repeats, I dunno.
It's a pretty simple concept: You can buy beer and watch rugby in this place. The end. Beers are the regulars: Carlsberg (35rmb), Tiger (40rmb), Stella Artois (55rmb), Hoegaarden (65rmb) and Guinness (65rmb), along with a pair of Boxing Cats and Brew Dogs.
And they serve brunch, which is the standard Western stuff. "Stack of Pancakes" 55rmb; "Tripple Crown Omelet with Three Eggs" 60rmb; "Full English Breakfast Platter" 88rmb. Add 15rmb to get a coffee with your main. Got the Full English. They forgot the all-important half-tomato, but otherwise it was pretty non-offensive. I didn't mind existing in the same time-space continuum with it. It was... beige? I guess?
So that's something for if you're in the area. Bit of outdoor seating too on sunny days.
4. Long Bar (Waldorf Astoria)
Good for: Drinking like it's Black Sunday.
Available: Saturdays, 3pm to 8pm
Prices: 588rmb + 15% surcharge
Long Bar is a very '30s-ish, jazzy, art deco lounge, replete with deep, serious leathers and deep, serious woods. With a capacity of 80 seats, the space is occupied by clusters of tables, and the centerpiece is their massive bar, which is indeed "long", and measures in at 34 meters. This bar is a recreation of the bar that used to be there when it was called "The Shanghai Club" in 1910. It was, at the time, the longest bar in South East Asia, but it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. They’ve recreated it from old photographs.
Every Saturday, they're serving a "Liquid Brunch", which is free-flow selected booze from 3pm to 8pm, along with an open oyster and seafood bar, cheese and charcuterie station, and a list of small, simple plates. They've added live jazz to taste.
For 588rmb plus 15%. That's... yeah, not cheap.
And right about in the range of the standard, lavish, five-star hotel buffet brunch spread that comes with free-flow champagne.
But this is the Waldorf Astoria. It bears the name of the richest guy to perish in the sinking of the Titanic. The New York venue has hosted presidents, royalty, czars, grand viziers, monarch, tycoons, moguls, magnates, captains of industry, statesmen, and celebrities -- Charlie Chaplin, Cole Porter, Ava Gardner, Edward G. Robinson, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Muhammad Ali, Judy Garland, and Liberace.
It's where Paris Hilton crew up. (Conrad Hilton bought it after WW II.) It's the world's most famous hotel.
So they're going to charge 588rmb for their free-flow booze brunch deal at their bar. (Plus 15%.)
The specialty boozes they've got that you can drink as much of as you want are three signature Bloody Mary's, made right in front of you by my man right here -- some sort of Bloody Mary savant trained by a cadre of monks in Shangri-la. He's no longer at the Waldorf though, because I kidnapped him and now he's chained to my refrigerator. Sorry Shanghai. He's that good. And now all mine. Best Bloody Mary's I've ever had.
In addition to those, they've got three barrel aged cocktails, including and excellently subtle Negroni, craft beers, a range of specially crafted shots, red and white wine, and whatever else. Lots of booze. No champagne though. Which feels like an oversight. Alas...
Food is not really "brunch" per se, but more to accompany the drinks. Oysters, crab legs, shrimp, charcuterie, and a menu that offers oxtail risotto, spicy chicken quesadilla, and spring rolls from the Berkel.
If you got 600-odd kuai to burn and an unholy thirst for Bloody Mary's, it's there for the taking. Just don't go in thinking you'll be getting a lavish meal.