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My name is Willy and I'm from Barcelona, Spain. I moved to Shanghai early 2007. Currently, I'm in between Shanghai and Bangkok. I'm a chef. In Shanghai, I opened my first restaurant, el Willy. I've been in the kitchen all of my life, since I was a kid, but in Shanghai is where I had the opportunity to open my own restaurant.
El Willy, it's a Spanish restaurant, you know. In Shanghai for 10 years already. We started in Donghu Lu — we were at that location for some years and then we moved to The Bund in 2012, and we've been there ever since. We do contemporary and traditional Spanish cooking — but with our fun and sexy style!
For dishes over the years, I think, we've had some classics there. We've had a few that have been there since the beginning, like the beef cheek, bananas and passion fruit, which has been with us since day one. Also we have the scallops tiradito which is with avocado and relish, which has also been there since day one also. Those are basically a part of the landscape of the restaurant. We also have the lobster juicy paella which is also from day one. In terms of more contemporary dishes, I love the chicano, the crispy pork skin with cauliflower and caviar. That's really, really nice. And then of course the famous, explosive smoked salmon, with sour cream and truffle honey. That's a good one!
Oh man. Shanghai restaurants, over the 10 years, it's changed a lot, you know! I doubt anywhere in the world has changed as fast in these last 10 years as Shanghai. When I came to Shanghai 11 years ago it was like... well, there were a lot of restaurants but not even one-third as many as there are now. It was also hard to find foreign-chef restaurants, but today the culinary scene is pretty much at the same level as an international capital.
I would say maybe we're not at the level of London or New York yet but we're almost there. It's getting very, very close. Super, super close.
So a really, really quick improvement. At the same time, I think with all the shopping malls, popping up like mushrooms in the city, there is an over-supply of restaurants. All these shopping malls are focusing more and more square-meters on F&B, to bring people in on top of people there for the retail and cosmetics, so now we have all these shopping malls with 30 or 40 restaurants in them each. That's a HUGE supply of restaurants in the city and I don't think the demand is there — or it's not growing as fast. So definitely, I think the market is over-supplied right now.
For Shanghai itself over 10 years? The first time I was here was in 2004 and then moved here in 2007. It was still a "developing" city, you know. Like still in the jungle, a little bit. Today, it feels like you are in a fully developed city like a Seoul or Hong Kong. Back then, it was like anything is possible because we're in the jungle but now, you know, we are in a mature city. And that's good and bad at the same time, of course.
For me, my favorite parts of Shanghai have always been what is remaining of the Old Shanghai. Like the old architecture of The Bund area, and of course Jing'an and Xuhui — I like that old, charming Shanghai. The little left that is remaining, that will always be my absolute favorite part. Unfortunately it keeps on getting erased and erased but that will always be favorite Shanghai.
My favorite places to eat and drink? Yeah, yeah of course. I really enjoy, of course, Chinese food. I go to Guyi a lot on Fumin Lu — that's an all-time classic. In terms of bars, I still like the classics like Constellation. What else do I enjoy...actually I don't go out that much anymore! What else do I enjoy recently. Well, I always go to Din Tai Fung. I guess I am a little bit stuck on the oldies, you know.
For the future for el Willy we are keeping on going and developing. We have also Tomatito and el Ocho, so we'll focus with three venues, and focus on expansion. We've been opening in the past year in the Philippines and in Vietnam. In addition to Hong Kong, where we've been for almost 10 years already. Basically, focusing in new markets. Manilla, Vietnam, and Taiwan, and then Malaysia and Indonesia, in the next years. So, basically, in Shanghai we'll keep what we have and keep it exciting. We're open to doing something else but not in a rush.
It was sad to close Elefante, especially at the Donghu location because that was where I started and spent a long period of time. And that's where the food started. It's sad to see it go, you know, but at the same time it's like a cycle. We're always looking to new opportunities. But defiantly it was sad.
Will I stay in Shanghai forever? Well I spend a lot of my time traveling, but yeah hopefully our restaurants are forever. It's a great place to be and I'm not in a rush to leave...
Jul 21, 2023
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