Produced by SmartShanghai in Partnership with Azul Group
A Household Name Returns!
Eduardo Vargas has opened over twenty restaurants in Shanghai but apparently that’s not enough, because he’s at it AGAIN. He’s a household name for good reason. Remember those free-flow sangria and six-course brunches for 128rmb back when they were on Dongping lu? I do. And at their two flagships, Azul and Colca, you can dine real well for about 150-250rmb per person. Those are the kind of nice places that you can visit more than once a month.
Vargas’s Azul Group enjoys a solid reputation for great food and great value. Bhacus, on the other hand, departs from that old familiar model. You’re going to dish out 400-500rmb per person. Does Shanghai really need another expensive restaurant?
I have to admit that I was skeptical when I saw the menu prices. But Mr. Vargas is known for his palate. He, Chef Will Colmenares, and the other Azul group chefs did a fine job of creating a concept that elevates the group to a new level in dining, while maintaining the group's soul. Bhacus brings something unique and truly forward-thinking to Shanghai.
No Easy Categorization Here – This is Something Brand New
Alright, yeah yeah yeah, so what is Bhacus? Let’s call it a nation-agnostic casual fine-dining restaurant of original creations centered entirely around wood grills and Josper ovens. Yeah. Call it that. The place is named after the god of wine and orgies. Bhacus appreciates variety and a good time. Way before Craigslist. He mixes it up.
Black fermented garlic, truffled foie gras, and imported marbled beef from Australia are just a few motifs on the menu.
Bhacus is in that new development The Weave, over by Xujiahui Park on Jianguo Lu and Wuxing Lu . Same building as as the new modern Indian cuisine restaurant Anoki. You have to climb two flights of stairs bathed in red-tinted lights. It feels like you’re going someplace for revelry -- naughty all the way.
Once you enter the dining room, it’s all subdued, refined, not overstated, and certainly not pretentious. The space is centered around an open kitchen with Woodier grills that emanate warmth and hickory amber scents. This is a fine example of casual fine-dining.
Bhacus is not somewhere you go for a quickie. It’s a place to choose a bottle of wine (or three) from their large selection and stay for hours. The dishes will enamor your palate and the atmosphere is quiet enough that you can focus on whatever company you brought. Bright paintings with Latin flare add fun, while dim lighting and red-painted walls add sensuality (if you want). This place can equally set the mood for a Tinder/Grindr date, show your boss a good time, or signal to your clients that you mean business. Whomever you are wining and dining, they’ll leave impressed.
The Woodfire Grill Is the Centerpiece
Chef Colmenares told us that the inspiration comes from his tenure as Executive Chef at Char in the Indigo Hotel. Chopped hickory placed at the back of a constant flame eventually breaks down to hot embers that get swept under the metal grill. It’s a process. They also have Josper ovens, an invention from Spain that is part-grill and part-oven, popular for its ability to retain flavor and moisture in foods that often diminish with regular ovens. Sure, maybe you can source some of the ingredients they have, but it’s highly unlikely that you have cooking technology like this at home.
French, Latin American, and Japanese influences form the menu. And visually, you’ll see a lot of black. Charred meats rubbed with black garlic. Dusted charcoal on plates. Charcoal-infused sauces. Like I said, lots of black, but other colors appear throughout, so it’s not all one note. When we went, they fed us like rockstars. Follow on for some of the standout dishes.
First thing you want to order are the oyster bites. These bad puppies are freshly shucked, bathed in a yellow chili sauce, and topped with coriander, salmon eggs, and pickled ginger jelly. They might lead you to carnal thoughts. Luscious, succulent, and nicely balanced with different flavors, you definitely want to get these.
Another standout from the starters. This is M7 full-blooded Wagyu flank steak, quickly seared on the outside then chilled immediately and smoked with hickory chips. It’s cut very thin and comes with a little salad of spring onion, fried garlic-chips and shallots, accompanied by a smoked jalapeño sauce, and finished with a delicious lime sauce that is very much in the Nikkei tradition of Japanese cuisine. Whew.
Here we’ve got double images of foie gras. On one we’ve got a traditional grilled foie gras laid atop a sponge cake infused with Moscato wine. Somehow this half reminds me of Christmas, but so does the whole dish because the middle centerpiece binds everything together with a chilled foie gras ice cream. Sounds weird? Let me tell you, this is something that should be sold by the kilo. Why can’t I have a bowl of this while I’m watching The Rings of Power?
Seriously – it’s nice. You’ve got little dollops of apple purée and lemon purée, as well as grenadine-soaked cherries, which again, are something to get you in the mood. (How much wine have I had so far? …hmm).
The Portobello Mushrooms
If mushrooms aren’t your thing, these might convert you. These ones are meaty in texture, and juicy not wet if you get what I mean. Once you bite into them you’re gonna wanna order more. They wear a nice spice coat on the outside that recalls pepper and lime. It’s a very bright dish that pairs well with a white wine. They are grilled in the Josper and laid atop a cauliflower and almond puree. These are a little bit of a surprise because while they might not visually stun (I mean come on, they’re mushrooms), man do they pack the flavor.
Oh man. If you like the flavor of lobster, this Italian risotto with lobster delivers the full spectrum of satisfaction. They cooked the risotto slightly more towards a paella style but it’s soaked in a very rich lobster bisque. You can tell with every bite that you’re getting a significant amount of that lobster essence that they’ve extracted probably for hours and hours, and then it’s topped with a decent size lobster. If you’re sharing, you’re gonna have two good pieces to enjoy. Rounding out this crustacean ensemble are a few plump de-shelled shrimp dispersed throughout the risotto base.
Luxury Fried Rice?
The next dish I really enjoyed was the fried rice with Wagyu beef and truffle. Everyone around the table referred to this as luxury rice and -- yeah, it is pretty opulent. You’ve got salmon eggs for light and crispy saltiness and then you’ve got sliced chunks of Wagyu beef. Even though those are diced pretty small, the chef managed to cook the beef perfectly pink in the middle. You’ve also got truffle shavings and a base of sambal sauce interspersed throughout.
A rich dish? Definitely. And so good. If you’re hungry, this will definitely offset whatever salad you may have had for lunch. In many foie dishes, a dulling fatty richness often pervades everything, but in this case the salmon eggs cut through the fat with their bright briny overtones. Why isn’t my fiancé here so I can spoon feed this stuff to him? He deserrrrrves this.
A Wanghong Win and His Name Is Lamb
The Charcoal grilled lamb is… yeah… it’s a wanghong dish. Its visual flare comes from sitting in a glass enclosure filled with hickory smoke. Once you lift that glass, that comfortable winter wood cabin smell fills the room. The outside of the lamb looks completely charred, but that’s just the black garlic marinade.
This writer counts lamb as one of his least favorite red meats (it’s too gamey!), but this dish converted me. The cut comes from the saddle / loin, which doesn’t have those huge chunks of fat. And the grill renders the meat moist and without that overly earthy nuance that lamb has. The loin cuts are succulent and easily divisible by a knife.
One table guest summed it up perfectly: “The lamb feels and tastes clean in my mouth”.
I’ve never had lamb like this in my entire life. Added complexity comes from a Moroccan spice rub, and everything is layered upon a thin bed of smoked, pureed eggplant, accented by a harissa reduction, a light chili sauce of North African origins. Don’t worry -- it’s not spicy.
This is not the casual mid-market dining you might expect from Azul Group. You’re going to drop 400rmb–500rmb per person here. Is it worth it? If someone else is paying, absolutely. If you’re paying, then you’ve either done something to be worthy, or you are trying to seduce someone else. Either way, the answer is yes, you absolutely get what you pay for here.
Bhacus gently reminds us that despite the entire dining industry being beaten and battered this year, we have trailblazers who still say “fuck it” and open up their bold new vision anyway. That is the undistilled Shanghai spirit right there.
The Overall Experience
Bhacus is a fine addition to the city. My only complaint? It’s not in Didi yet.You can’t pigeonhole this spot. Bhacus isn’t “Western”, and it’s not Chinese. They have steaks and grills, but it’s not a steakhouse. Bhacus is something new, with techniques and flavors from all over the world. Maybe you’re wondering why they spelled the name Bhacus, instead of the dude’s actual name -- Bacchus. Well, someone up north already registered that name. Classic. But Bacchus would forgive the creative spelling when the food tastes this good.
For Reservations : Contact Jamie
For reservations, ccntact your man Jaime at the QR code above. Cin cin.
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