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Where We’re Eating: Bastard, Zup Pizza Bar, The Merchants

Three 'soft open' restaurants worth getting there early for: Bastard, Zup Pizza Bar, The Merchants
2022-09-02 12:00:00
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places we find interesting. Sometimes we stumble upon these places, and sometimes we are invited, but in both cases, we are never paid to write an opinion, rather, these are our honest first impressions, and not a formal review.

We're working with a real great roundup of interesting new restaurants this month. Despite the somewhat "special" situation for venues out there in pandemic prevention times, all three of these newly soft often places are already getting lots of attention and generating some real excitement in Shanghai's dining scene. When we visited this week, all three were serving full seatings of guests. Kinda forgot what that even looked like.

So, yeah, here's a preview of three new "soft open" restaurants, which means they're still in the process of tweaking menus, finishing off interiors, and getting service down before opening properly, variously, in the coming weeks. You can go now if you're super keen and can't wait, or hold off a few weeks and get the polished experience.


319 Jiaozhou Lu, near Wuding Lu View ListingTaxi Printout

Well, we like the name! We're guessing "bastard" is sort of referencing an unfaithfulness to tradition and inherited knowledge, maybe? Perhaps evoking the idea of a pronounced and resolute generational break. Or something. But yeah, good name for a restaurant.

Bastard serves fatherless contemporary Chinese cuisine. Or maybe contemporary Chinese cuisine that comes from several different fathers and you don't know which is which. The backstory is murky. On a one-page menu of sharing dishes, Dong Xi, Michael Janczewski (Juke), and Jiro H are drawing on several different genres of Chinese cusine, mixing them up together with a few pan-Asian-ish and Western elements and styles, for a wholly singular creative result.

So, it's small sharing plates and a for a meal for two, you'd be getting 2-3 of the cheaper ones at the top of the list and then 2-3 of the more expensive ones at the bottom of the list.

A few examples: "Sichuan Charcuterie Smokes & Stuffed Chicken Wing, Masterstock" - 78rmb; "Friend Tofu, Century Egg, Roasted Hunan Chilli" - 38rmb; "Honey & Yunnan Rose Glazed Iberico Charr Siu" - 128rmb.

The dining environment is a small one-room space, with just one communal dining area that seats around 20, a little bar space, and a kitchen. It's pretty small. The closeness of everyone together in one small room is reminiscent of a Beijing hutong restaurant. Couldn't take a picture of the interior because they had a full seating in just the one small room and we didn't want to be shoving a camera in peoples' faces. Style-wise, it's hip and industrial — exposed concrete and broken tiles — but a few bright colors and design flourishes give it a bit of warmth. Like the plum motif they've got going on.

Booze-wise, they're going hard on the natural wines, high balls, and infusions, as is the thing these days. We had a "Buddha's Ball" cocktail, which is infused shochu, black tea, and soda. Pretty righteous.

Respect also, to the bastardry they've also got going with the music playlist, too. Went from like Afrobeat to standard restaurant-wave nu disco to The Clash to some band covering "Love Buzz" to Siouxie Sioux to... Steppenwolf, "Born to Be Wild" — a track more Shanghai restaurants should bang out, for sure.

Why You Should Check It Out:

Because you're ahead of the curve?

If you're looking for a fresh, young, and interesting encounter with Chinese cuisine, this is the freshest, youngest, and interesting-est in the past little while. It's stylish. It's hip. But as we say, it's tiny. Call ahead for reservations. Budget-wise, maybe 500-600rmb for two.

Zup Pizza Bar

B205, 2/F, 291 Fumin Lu, near Xinle Lu View ListingTaxi Printout

If you're not too much of a purist, Shanghai is a city that's well served in terms of pizza restaurants. You've got your American chains, your different flavors and styles of Italy, your New York-style slices, and your classic, go-to, drunken 4am, pepperoni-and-shame Melrose pizza that you've been ordering for almost half your entire life now, which is the most amazing and depressing thing we'll be typing all week.

Introducing, then, a pizza innovation just when you thought there wasn't even room for one: Zup Pizza Bar, Shanghai's first (we think?) "tavern style" pizza bar. Invented in the same city as the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza and perhaps as an answer to the daunting and overwhelming prospect that deep dish pizza generally is, tavern style is thin crust pizza sliced into squares — really easy to eat, doesn't tire you out or put you in a food coma, and most importantly, goes really well with drinking a lot. Tavern pizza is also called "bar pizza" because it's pizza you get at a bar. It's true. It's pizza you get while you're drinking and compliments a drinking session with friends, rather than being the whole focal point of the evening.

When your round pizza is sliced into squares, make sure you search these little corner guys out. They're a real highlight.

On the pizza menu at Zup is pizza broken down into three sections: Reds (with red sauce), Whites (with garlic cream sauce), and Pinks (with vodka sauce), with good diversity of selection in each.

Pictured here is the vegan "Surfa Rossa" pizza (red sauce, shrooms, spinach, oregano - 98rmb) from the Reds section and "The Clemenza" (meatball, house ricotta, red onion, giardiniera, basil - 128rmb). Crispy, delish, and not too filling. The vegan pizza was so good we texted our vegan friend right away, like its existence was some important breaking news kinda shit.

Drinks are mercifully uncomplicated. A range of mixes and highballs in the 60-70rmb range. A selection of IPAs in the 45rmb-65rmb. That's all you need really. Thumbs up.

Opened above Funkadeli at the Fumin Lu nexus of the universe, Zup Pizza Bar comes from Wayne Hou (of pop-ups fame) and Lee Tseng (Boxing Cat Brewery, Liquid laundry). When we went, about four other restaurant owners were there trying out the product, which is a fortuitous omen indeed. Design-wise, it's a little basic — not much going on with the decor — but we imagine they'll work on that and tavern it up in the coming weeks leading to their proper opening. Food and drinks are great, so we'll see what they do with the space to make us want to spend 4 or 5 hours in there applying both to our faces.

Why You Should Check It Out:

The pizza's great without making a huge deal of it. The pizza knows I also probably want to drink like 10 to 15 high balls and it lets me do that. It works with me while we accomplish our goals. Thank you, pizza.

Expect a proper opening in the coming weeks with delivery following shortly after that. They're now accommodating walk-ins if you want to check it out early. Budget wise... couple hundred per person.

The Merchants

52 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Lu View ListingTaxi Printout

We didn't know anything about The Merchants before walking in the place and were kind of taken aback about how involved it is. And then though, ‘damn, probably should have brought more money.' And maybe not worn the Electric Wizard shirt. Assuming a posh and tasteful villa space on Yongfu Lu right across from the old The Shelter (aww), The Merchants is three venues in one: a cafe, a fire grill fine dining restaurant, and a cocktail / wine bar on the second floor. They're really making the most out of the fact that they didn't open up in a fancy mall somewhere with a beautiful ground floor view of a Spanish-ish colonial villa and a 150-year old tree in the back. The building used to serve as the writing department headquarters of the Shanghai Film Studio. The more you know.

The Merchants started out as a wine merchant in Beijing 10 years ago, before expanding into restaurants outright in the capital city in a prime location near the Forbidden City. This is their first Shanghai venue. Their angle in the kitchen is house smoked and dry-aged everything, in particular the dry aged chicken, which is one of the dishes they're known for. The majority of the dishes are prepared over a wood flame grill. Which is a fine thing indeed.

But also the seafood. Is well represented. Getting deeper into the menu, it's a range of meat dishes split evenly with seafood — lobster rolls, sea urchin toast, House smoked yellowfish tail, tuna belly carpaccio — and red a white meats of all permutations. Side dishes are variations on Chinese classics — cabbage, eggplant, roasted cauliflower. The meats overall are sourced from around China, including a pigeon dish with birds from Chongming Island, which give the whole thing a Chinese pride kind of thing. Like aBeijing-born pride in one's culture and culinary heritage, maybe.

The Merchants are also known for their wine list, of course, which features a very extensive by-the-glass selection of Chinese and Western wines. Really ideal if you want to try out a few different ones without having to splash out on a full bottle.

Eating is sharing style and the main dining area seats maybe 25, in a warm, classy, and comfortable environment, with a few private rooms upstairs. We went as the cafe was winding down for the day and the restaurant quickly filled up with industry folk and people already in on it — people who looked like they could afford it.

The cocktail bar upstairs is also nice with an award-winning team in from Shenzhen behind the drinks, taking it all very, very seriously, and making great cocktails.

Why You Should Check It Out:

If you've got the wallet and you're looking for something different and well executed, The Merchants is one to slot into your schedule. Service was excellent, watching them cook over the open flame was ASMR mesmerizing, and the food was top notch.

Budget: maybe 500-800rmb per person with wines...