One of the city's most anticipated new food and beverage (and arts and design and gyms and coworking spaces and blah, blah, blah) hubs, Columbia Circle is finally starting to unveil its offerings. Tucked into a compound hemmed in by Yan'an and Panyu Lu, most of the restaurants, cafes, and lounges are at least partially open and serving, with the majority of them looking at grand openings towards the autumn.
Speaking generally, it's still very much a work in progress. The majority of the venues we visited are going to have to make good use of that soft opening grace period to make it worth it for the trek down. Still, it's a nice enough compound to take a stroll around, and if you're looking for something new to eat and drink, this is what's there right now. (We're setting aside the gyms, the bookstore, the design boutiques, the gallery, and all that.)
Question: Is it possible to gentrify something that was once the Columbia Country Club?
How's THAT for a paradox?
Currently Open or "Soft Open" or Whatever
One of the main design features of Columbia Circle is the swimming pool-that's-just-for-looks at the compound's center, bordered by loggia-style architecture on all sides. Very lux. Looks like something out of a movie. Like you could see Daniel Craig sauntering around this thing, wearing white cotton unbuttoned to his navel, J-Lo sunglasses, and that pouty aloof thing he does with his lips.
The majority of venues around there are now open, Pirata being the exception. They're still doing some construction work, and the homey Spanish eatery is anticipating another two weeks before their Columbia Circle expansion starts serving. Their Cuban / Mexican place next door however, Latin Woo is currently open Monday to Saturday from 11.30am to 5pm. Their third spot in the compound, Hulu Sushi, is starting to take reservations on June 25.
Moving along clockwise, next to them you've got zany ramen chain Sumo Cat Yakiniku, decked out in eye-ball searing purple a la Fuxing Park hip hop club circa 2005 or ASL circa now. They're open for business, selfies, and the business of selfies. It's yakiniku grilled meats, rather than their usual ramen thing, and already really popular with the kids.
Continuing clockwise on the other side is Miss Sth, an inscrutably named desserts cafe. Next to them is Brew Bear, who are amping their standard bottle shop model up for their Columbia Circle branch, brewing their own beer on site, as well as offering cheap bistro fare. Next to them is a Chinese restaurant called The Er, which is also open.
So that's the pool area.
Moving outside into the buildings around the complex, you've got Seesaw Coffee, currently open in a neat little parabola shaped room.
It's across from a bookstore and cafe called Dawn City Books, which is also open.
Three of the destination F&B outlets are soft open, so we'll get into those in more detail, mentioning again that none of these are "there" yet and you should probably wait a few more weeks before passing judgement. But they're open and charging money for food so... GAME ON.
Here's a truncated look inside:
What Is It: A hyped restaurant from a chef who came to Shanghai's attention via reality TV show. Kind of looks like a Wagas inside, with the harsh lighting doing harsh things to the pastel walls and Ikea-style furniture and table accoutrements. It's been open for a few months and offers a one-page menu with a bunch of black lines crossing out several of the items. Food is capital "b" Basic modern Mediterranean with sections of Apps, Meats, Pasta, Seafood, Vegetables, and Dessert, with 3-5 remaining options in each. They're serving some very entry level dishes -- Foie Gras, Burrata, Bolognaise, Confit Beef Cheek, Mixed Clams -- that we've seen all over the city before. (What? No Beef Tartar?) Tried to get the Spring Chicken and Cous Cous but were informed that it's small and takes a while to cook and maybe we'd like something else? Maybe just a few drinks, then, and we'll come back to food. Two unremarkable cocktails came out 30 minutes later in juice glasses.
Eh... maybe they need more time with this...
What Is It: Casual fine dining with a focus on grilled meat, Neapolitan style pizza, and cocktails, cocktails, cocktails from Sam Norris (Xime) working with Arthur Joseph, who's previously worked with Claude Bosi in London. Design centerpiece is the disco ball pizza oven, which actually works in both capacities. It is, admittedly, rather neat. That sort of encapsulates the direction of the place, which is causal dining into more of a Nest / Cannery style night out: dinner, bougie cocktails, and sticking around for a DJ lounge sort of vibe, and back again into late night food orders. They're serving a preview menu now of baller, expense account-draining steaks and affordable pizzas (88rmb-136rmb). Our early assessment: the pizza's decent. The cocktails are fine too but maybe a little dated. "Shanghai Lady", "Pink Memory", "My Passion"? In 2018?
Still, with music programming by the China Social Club and the F&B scene cache of the team behind it, this will be one to watch when they launch in earnest in a month or two.
What Is It:
From the team behind OHA Eatery and the original Blackbird, Blackbird 2.0 is a chic-looking cocktail bar and cafe on the ground-floor of a glass box. Chef Blake Thornley is serving up a double-page spread of snacks, mains and desserts. They look real pretty and usually hit the mark. Sophisticated brunch fare. They've even got this super dainty cutlery so you eat like a French aristocrat. Not a problem for the grilled prawns (165rmb) or the unreasonably tasty cheese cake (72rmb), but the burger (92rmb) requires more brutal manipulation. Incidentally, there's talk of a caviar burger joining the menu. No need, the existing one's great, eat that.
Cocktails (90-100rmb) are fairly inventive, refreshing and filled with homemade stuff. Some, like the ballsy Ocean Pulse (98rmb), with fresh oyster juice and coconut water, are more interesting than "good," exactly, but others, like the Broken Ruby (89rmb) are just a pleasant drink.
Nice place for an afternoon drink or a photogenic brunch. We'll see what the second and third floors bring when they open.
Still to Come...
We mentioned above, Pirata and their sushi concept Hulu Sushi are still on the way. Blackbird's upper floors Bar Black and Table Black are also still on the way. Circo, the new one from Popolo Group is looking at next month.