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The Commune Social

Apr 9, 2013
by Justin Fischer

Area: Jiangning Lu, just shy of a half block north of Kangding Lu. At the moment, this block is a bit of a ghost town when it comes to dining. Lots of residences, banks, pawn shops. Very few, if any, other restaurants. The nearest nightlife spot is Ibiza Club, and that's been in temporary closure limbo for God knows how long. But the surrounding areas of this otherwise quiet neighborhood have experienced a small spurt of gentrification with openings like Uva, Patachon and the latest branch of Kaiba. The folks behind The Commune Social are banking on this trend.

What it is: A tapas, dessert and cocktail bar by British celeb chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton. Shanghai is a benchmark in Atherton's career. Three years ago, with the ink barely dry on his letter of resignation from Gordon Ramsay's Maze, he began building his restaurant here with Table No. 1 in The Waterhouse Hotel. Since then, he's opened his Michelin-starred fine dining flagship Pollen St. Social in London's Mayfair district, a companion concept in Singapore simply called Pollen, a casual cafe by the name of Keong Saik Snacks and two tapas restaurants: Esquina in Singapore and 22 Ships in Hong Kong. Needless to say, the last three years have been pretty good for Atherton.

The concept here is cut from the same cloth as Esquina and 22 Ships: affordable tapas in a convivial setting. To man the kitchen, Atherton has tapped Table No. 1 head chef Scott Melvin. Their menu seems to draw inspiration from Atherton's frequent flyer miles account. Asia shines through in dishes like sea urchin on sourdough toast with pepper butter and a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves or scallop ceviche with a yuzu dressing. Sometimes it's something as simple and delicious as dusting fried calamari with ground Sichuan peppercorn. Spain plays in prominently as well. The menu is dotted liberally with ingredients like Iberico ham, chorizo and manchego cheese. He also offers a reverent nod to the culinary traditions of that other Eden, England. Think black pudding over an egg sunny side up, or roasted bone marrow and beef cheek with gentleman's relish, an old-school condiment made from prunes and anchovies. All of it is precise without being pretentious, fun without being frivolous.

After dinner, you relocate to the dessert bar, where Pastry Chef Kim Lyle, another Table No. 1 transplant, preps your sweets table side. She does lots of familiar faves with creative twists. Think peanut butter ice cream with blueberry sorbet -- a play off of good ol' PB and J. Or, there is my favorite: a meringue with cucumber sorbet and gin jelly. And there are some creative sorbet flavors, like basil. Delicious.

Cocktails come courtesy of Rashid Ghuloom, a recent recruit from Hakkasan in London. His mixes skew toward the sweet end of the spectrum with drinks like the "Au Pear" (Absolute Pear, poire william, apple, orgeat and lemon) or the "Green-Eyed Vesper" (gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc, cucumber and lime oils). Both are crowd-pleasers, no doubt. I, however, am more partial to the "Bet on Black" (Johnnie Walker, cola syrup, Campari and bitters).

Atmosphere: The overall feel is casual and fun. This is serious food, but as the paper napkin dispensers and place mats that double as menus will tell you, this restaurant doesn't take itself too seriously.

The layout is like a shotgun shack, with a small dining room linking the tapas and dessert bars together. A set of stairs that look like they belong in an Escher print take you to the cocktail lounge upstairs. Neri & Hu -- the design firm behind Mercato, Capo and Table No.1 -- have their fingerprints all over this. They've stripped out an old police precinct and rebuilt it in their own image. All of their trademark design cues are there: exposed concrete rafters, windows punched out of brick walls, floors of reclaimed wood, naked light bulbs dangling from the ceiling.

Damage: Most tapas dishes will set you back about 70 or 80rmb. On either side of that spectrum you'll find smaller bites for around 40 and grilled dishes or other premium items for 128 or 228. Desserts range around 60rmb, if memory serves me. Five to seven tapas items should be enough for two to share. A couple of desserts after that and you're in for about 600rmb. For cocktails, plan on spending 66 or 88 a pop. Most of the wines hover in the mid-hundreds range. All told, two could easily walk out deeply satisfied for under 1000rmb. That is quite reasonable, considering the quality.

Who's going: Lots of curious walk-ins, for starters. This is something that Table No. 1 has never enjoyed out in the boondocks Cool Docks. Aside from them, expect the place to be overrun with ravenous foodies from open to close. You can count on this place becoming popular in the coming months.
April 3

511 Jiangning Lu,
near Kangding Lu


Phone number:
6047 7638

Tue-Fri, 12-2.30pm
Sat-Sun, 12-3pm
Tue-Sat, 6-10.30pm

Closed Sunday evening and Monday

Sea Urchin, Pepper Butter on Ciabatta 58rmb

Tuna Tar-Tar "DIY" 78rmb

Fried Egg, Black Pudding, Capers and Anchovy 68rmb

Scallop Ceviche, Yuzu Dressing, Soy and Cucumber and Apple 78rmb

Miso Grilled Mackerel, Wasabi Avocado, Cucumber Chutney 78rmb

Char-Grilled Iberico Pork and Foie Gras Burgers, Avocado and Pickled Cucumber 98rmb

Baked Smoked Bone Marrow, Onion Jam and Sourdough, Gentleman's Relish Butter 98rmb

Suckling Pig, Roasted Pineapple with Spices, Peppers, Sherry Dressing 128rmb

Green-Eyed Vesper 88rmb

Au Pear 68rmb

Bet on Black 88rmb
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