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[Radar]: Unico & Colagreco

Lots of happenings at Three on the Bund this month. Our first stop: "Latin Soul" tapas and fine dining with an Argentine accent...
2012-08-02 11:01:21
Area: Three on the Bund. We're on the second floor, Three's erstwhile multipurpose facility known as Space by Three. Sharing the building is a cast of Shanghai signature restaurants. You know the drill: New Heights, Jean Georges, Whampoa Club, HOW, and the recently opened Mercato.

What it is: The Shanghai home of Argentine chef and restaurateur Mauro Colagreco. At the age of 36, Colagreco already boasts an impressive resume, having served under a roster of French titans like Alain Ducasse, Bernard Loiseau and Alain Passard. By 2006, he had opened Mirazur, on the French Riviera, which earned its second Michelin star just this year.

His venture in Shanghai is a partnership with Marcelo Joulia, owner of the architecture firm Naco, and Olivier Chouvet, founder of the event planning firm Emotion. This is also a first for Three on the Bund. Previously, the company owned all of the restaurant properties on the premises while the likes of Jean Georges or David Laris were basically management consultants. Colagreco and Co. own this concept outright. Three on the Bund is just the landlord this time.

To run the kitchen, they have recruited Thibaut Pouplard, whose career up to this point has been solidly hotel-focused. His last 10 years alone have consisted of stints at various Intercontinental Hotel branches around the world, most recently in Sanya and Shenzhen. That's probably good training for this gig, because he's overseeing two relatively broad concepts.

First there is Unico, a cocktail and tapas lounge. The menu plays off of a theme of compass coordinates. Take S-46°W-68°, for instance. That's Patagonia, and it is expressed through flavors like "Fresh Crab Meat with Avocado and Grapefruit" or "Clams with Smoked Eggplant Caviar and Criolla Sauce." Or there is S-38°W-64°, the Pampas, which features dishes like "Fresh Oyster with Passion Fruit and Coriander."

Naturally, the cocktail list follows the same theme with selections from the Caribbean (that's S-21° W-77°, in case you were wondering) like el Presidente (Havana three-year rum, homemade sweet vermouth, and grapefruit bitters, with an orange twist), or their signature Cosmopolitan de Malbec, once again from Patagonia. It all comes courtesy of Inés de los Santos, a mixology maven from Argentina with a couple of cocktail books under her belt, and Héktor Monroy a well-decorated barman in his own right. You might recognize his name from his previous position at Chicha.

Just beyond the partition is Colagreco's self-titled dining room. Here the focus shifts more toward Europe. Presentations bright and colorful; he seems to have a penchant for fresh flowers as a garnish. Mirazur's Mediterranean seaside locale clearly has an influence on the menu with a tartare of shrimp, scallops and oysters or stuffed red mullet over a chickpea stew. Other Mediterranean notes shine through in more subtle ways, like a dollop of polenta with his crispy-skinned farm raised piglet. South America, of course, also plays prominently with a selection of grass-fed steaks imported from Argentina and Uruguay. All are cooked over apple wood on an Argentine grill. And you can smell it's seductive smoky aroma from the moment you step into the elevator on the first floor. Elsewhere his homages to Latin America are more subtle, like a ganache topped with maté tea ice cream. It's a uniquely sweet, slightly tannic taste that marries beautifully with dark chocolate. Be sure to order it.

Atmosphere: Obviously, it's a far cry from its previous incarnation. Space by Three was never much to write home about. Naco has totally overhauled the place. The entrance is decked out in a quirky wooden cabinet motif. The hostess stand is behind a glass case displaying produce. The dining room proper is covered in classic dark wood panels with herringbone hardwood floors and black and white tiles. The decor seems to suck up most forms of natural light, so they've splashed it up here and there with colorful leather furnishings. The little jungle alcove complete with a parrot brightens things up a touch too.

Damage: In Unico you can expect to pay anywhere between 38 and 168rmb for tapas-sized portions. Cocktails range from a standard 70 kuai to a whopping 2800 for a sidecar mixed with l'Or de Jean Martell cognac. In Colagreco, starters are 108 to 208. Mains are 188 to 578 (and that's for lobster, which is always expensive). Grilled items are 198 to 258 and you can get a tomahawk for two at 888. There are a couple of degustations available as well -- seven courses for 788, 10 courses for 988. Everything has a 10 percent service charge attached to it as well.

Who's going: This is a restaurant owned by three dudes with big Rolodexes. Expect members of Shanghai's communications, design and F&B communities to be the tip of the spear. After that, you're typical blend of well-heeled Shanghai socialites.