A project from serial restaurateur Kelley Lee, Boxing Cat is an American-style brew pub featuring Pilsners, lagers, stouts and a rotating cast of others. This one, their first in downtown Shanghai, opened in 2008. The menu features southern 'Merican comfort food with Southwest accents. There is also and a pair of small outdoor terraces and they have a fireplace.
Over the past two weeks I have had two overseas visitors in town, one from Australia, the other from Germany, both of whom like their beers and pub grub, they had heard of the recent refurbishments undertaken by one of Shanghai’s long-standing brewpubs, Boxing Cat Brewery along Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu. Now I recall when Boxing Cat Brewery first opened back in 2008, serving artisanal beers and your staple all-American style of food, with service to match.
Sadly, other than the TKO IPA draught beers, the food on these visits to the refurbished Boxing Cat Brewery, which were exactly a week apart on damp Wednesday evenings, left a lot to be desired, in fact nowhere as good as in prior years, the service was very hit and miss, more like missing in action most of the time.
As I said the beers are decent and the TKO IPA draught from what I understand is their current top seller, so can’t go wrong there.
The food ordered with the Australian visitor
Artisan Sausage Plate: a selection of house sausages, Porter mustard, house pickles, and sauerkraut, house baguette. This was a disappointing dish, no evidence of sauerkraut, the house baguette was thinly sliced, from what appeared to be from a left-over house baguette and toasted.
The Haymaker BBQ House Smoked Ribs: With a splodge of whipped mashed potato on the side. The meat fell off the bone here, and an okay dish.
Thick cut fries: the oil in which the fries were cooked was on its last legs.
The dishes ordered with the German visitor
Artisan Sausage Plate: a selection of house sausages, Porter mustard, house pickles, and sauerkraut, house baguette. I am a terrible glutton for punishment, ordered the same dish as the previous week seeing that my guest, being a German was happy to see this on the menu, nothing changed here, again no evidence of sauerkraut, the house baguette was thinly sliced, from what again appeared to be from a left-over house baguette and toasted, not something I have seen in Bavaria when eating German sausages in Nurnberg’s famed Bratwurst houses.
Contender BBQ Ribs: Passion fruit & Pineapple BBQ sauce, this dish started to hit the right spot, but really an overabundance of topping, that consisted of a mix of diced fruits, flat leaf parsley and sesame seeds, a little too sweet.
Split Decision Fried Chicken: half a crispy chicken, with a bowl of Mac & Cheese, along with sautéed greens (aka the ubiquitous Kale) and bacon. The actual Fried Chicken itself was moist, with a crunchy batter. In my opinion though, the dish was inadequately seasoned, frankly hardly any flavour whatsoever, perhaps the kitchen did not have the combination for the secret spices of this Southern-style fried chicken dish that it should resemble. The Mac & Cheese was not bad, pretty basic, a crisp topping of cheese, sort of here’s one I made earlier and shoved under a grill.
So an overall recap from both of the dining experiences on the food, other than the Fries, Chicken, macaroni cheese dish, and kale. The dishes were mostly tepid, the oil in which the fries were cooked was on its last legs, the wonderful pungent smell of old cooking oil is not what I would expect from Boxing Cat Brewery, one can smell the oil lingering in the air, and thereafter on your clothes.
The Terrace area is dimly lit, thank heavens for Boxing Cat coasters, they help to steady a wobbly table, the cutlery is served in what looks to a tin flower pot, not an issue with that, but please offer some serviettes and not pokey little cocktail napkins, and at least offer a wet towel if you serve ribs or fried chicken, you don’t need to be running up the stairs to wash your hands every time you have a meal of ribs and southern fried chicken.
One needs to be prepared to wait for food, then the bill. Unfortunately, the food doesn’t make up for the slow or shoddy service, but what was I thinking, after all, it’s a sports bar with mediocre food. The prices are ok, with an average spend of 250RMB per person, however, there are other Brew Pubs in Shanghai with much better food, where you can actually see what you are eating, oh and service which is on the ball.
Boxing Cat Brewery took a lot of flak after its recent redesign and menu update. The common consensus seemed that the decor went downhill, the food quality went downhill, and that acquisition by InBev had robbed the Shanghai food and bev community of a beloved old standby. I suppose no one was surprised when Boxing Cat closed again earlier this month (April 2019) for another round of renovations.
All of that history is a mystery to me, because I visited Boxing Cat was early this month, a few days after their re-opening, and I thought it was pretty darn good.
My Contender pale ale was crisp, light, a little bit floral and very refreshing. I'm not usually one to have a beer with lunch on the weekend (unless I plan to take an afternoon nap) but it seemed like it wouldn't be right to go to a brewpub and not try one of their beers, and I'm glad I did.
To go with the beer, we got the ½ fried chicken with mac n cheese and collard greens, along with a plate of nachos and sweet potato fries. All the items mentioned above were very tasty and hit the spot, if that spot is called "shameless American bar junk food". The fried chicken was well seasoned with no trace of old oil taste (probably thanks to the recent re-open). The skin was fully crisped, with no soggy or fatty bits and the meat was still juicy on the inside. There was a very slight pop of sourness under the skin layer, which I suppose is from the buttermilk in the breading process. I've never tasted it so distinctly before, but I liked it.
The mac n cheese was perfect, exactly how I want my creamy mac and cheese to be. The parmesan layer on the top was optimally crispy, while the cheesy goop underneath featured three more cheeses (cheddar, gruyere and something else delicious). It's not health food...it's not trying to be anything than a rich, indulgent snack, and it does that gloriously.
The nachos looked like a smaller serving, but the abundance of toppings made the plate much fuller than it appeared at first. I really enjoy when a restaurant doesn’t make you pay +10 RMB for sour cream, +15 RMB for guacamole, etc... Just put it all on there and give the people what they want!
The sweet potato fries were awesome! Just the right amount of seasoning, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. This is my new standard for sweet potato fries. Not that I’ve had a lot of them, but this is now my standard.
The slight bitterness of the collard greens was a nice contrast to the richness of the fried chicken and the mac n cheese.
Service was pretty spaced out and not really on the ball, but I'm used to that in Shanghai, so I didn't take a star off for it. Others may feel differently.
I can't compare Boxing Cat to what it used to be before InBev acquisition, or prior to its recent re-renovation, but I sure enjoyed my meal there this time. Lunch for two with one beer came out to just about 250 RMB and I think I'll be back.
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