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[Radar]: Estado Puro

Spanish celebrity chef Paco Roncero teams up with Barbarossa and plants a flag in Xintiandi. A look inside his modern tapas chain.
Last updated: 2015-11-09
Area: Xintiandi, an area that hardly needs any introduction. This tourist magnet is home to many a high-traffic restaurant. Think: KABB, T8, Din Tai Fung, Simply Thai and that favorite haunt for pasty obese tourists from Europe, Paulaner.

What it is: A contemporary tapas restaurant with the name Paco Roncero on the masthead. "Roncero" is a name often mentioned in the same sentences as "Arduriz," "Arzak" or Adria. That last name in the bunch actually mentored him at el Bulli. He's a key proponent of this molecular gastronomy movement that's been so popular for the last decade and a half. His work at El Casino de Madrid has earned him some Michelin accolades.

More recently, Roncero opened a restaurant in Ibiza's Hard Rock Hotel this May called Sublimotion that bears an overwhelmingly striking resemblance to this place that opened in Shanghai just over two years ago.

Estado Puro is a casual tapas restaurant chain that he started in Madrid back in 2008. The operating team on the ground in Shanghai is the Barbarossa Group. Barbarossa's press release says that it's a "partnership."

As you'd expect, the menu skews modern. There are a lot of quotation marks around some seemingly quotidian food items, like "gazpacho"—this usually means lots of deconstructions and reinterpretations. I didn't try the "gazpacho," but you can see it in dishes like polpo alla gallega, a classic from Galicia made from octopus, sliced potatoes and paprika. Roncero's version turns the potatoes into foamy dip. Presentations tend to be simple and slick, like their "ali oli" potatoes — a row of potato cubes with small divots cut out of the tops to hold a small drizzle of garlicky aioli and a daub of herring roe. Some dishes are classics in form and function, like the Callos a la Madriñena, just a straight-up tripe stew with chorizo and chickpeas.

For dessert, it's chocolate laden sweets like filloas (basically, crepes) with chocolate sauce or hot chocolate coulant with pistachio ice cream. They also do "Crema Catalana." It has quotes, so it's probably an interpretation of some sort, too.

Atmosphere: Clean cut and corporate. They try to maintain an air of levity, however, with neatly painted Spanish idioms and their translations. The music is your garden variety of acid jazz and the occasional remix of singers like Alicia Keys and Bill Withers. Like most Xintiandi establishments on the ground floor, they offer an al fresco dining area, too. That should be pleasant enough for dinner. At lunch it'll be overrun with herds of coach tours all wearing the same hat following that retractable flag.

Damage: Prices are commensurate with the address. Tapas dishes range anywhere from 30rmb for bread with olive oil to 588rmb for Iberico ham. Most dishes, however, are in the 50-to-90rmb range. Drinks start in the upper 60s and top out north of 100rmb.

Who's Going: Once that new restaurant smell wears off, I'd guess tourists, primarily.

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