This year I’ve formally penned something in the region of 52 reviews of Shanghai’s new, renewed and most hopeful restaurants striving to make their mark on - or at least make a profit from - the world’s largest city.
The latter tells a revealing story. This has been the year I’ve noticed menu prices reaching a ‘how much!?’ level. A mediocre western meal costs 200-400/head. Rents are creeping up, food distributors are squeezing the supply chain and cheap wait-staff stick out like sore thumbs. But if the food is not good, it’s not worth buying. No wonder half of all new restaurants close within a year. My most sorely missed for 2012 has to be Avalon, now home to a good but faltering Bloc.
Sure, 15RMB lanZhou noodles or a basket of xiaolongbao are the first you’ll mention to support Shanghai’s food cost of living but be honest, they’re the last thing we think of after a long day. The first thing we think of is salad and a pizza.
Which is why 2012 belonged to the Italians. After Chinese, Japanese and Korean, there are more Italian restaurants in Shanghai than any other cuisine. There are more brick pizza ovens than apartments with actual ovens and I bet you’ve more olive oil in your cupboards than soy sauce.
This year has seen some big players like Sabatine and Bombana stroll into town with their strong sourcing, attention to service and executive chef capabilities. Could 2013 be the year that Michelin prepare some stars with China written on them? To be honest I don’t think we’re at that level yet. It will take international level creativity, service and probably local food to warrant a Michelin journey to the mainland.
Anyway, we don’t Michelin. Not yet. Leave us to find those diamonds in the mediocre rough. Here are my highlights of 2012.
This was a complete surprise. I wanted it to be average, or less, but the food here is remarkable alongside a considered attention to service. The story goes that I once had to skip a GMAT exam due to a long weekend in Istanbul but it was worth it because I discovered the Turkish Beyti, a kebab of minced and herbed lamb wrapped in flat bread and baked in a tomato sauce. Garlic’s Sarma Beyti is heaven.
This is the big one. Chef Umberto Bombana has set up on the rock bund and brought his kitchen, interior decorator and eye for luxury with him. It’s the best of the echelon Italians in town with five star service, finely crafted dishes and class dripping from the ceiling. Yes it’s expensive. Yes it’s worth it if you’re looking to drop the cash.
This Fuxing Lu courtyard owned by an Italian wine importer is the dream. It has bustling rustic charm, casual service and small plates of damn fine Italian snack food. Here is the best ciabatta in town. Washed down with a reasonably priced bottle of white it’s top choice for evening chills.