Shanghai’s Spanish dining scene is an incestuous affair. Loco, the new kid on the southernmost block of Wulumuqi Lu, offers largely the same safe blend of tapas and drinks in a comfortable environment that put its popular siblings on the map.
Helmed by the owners of Lola and the former chef of Malabar, there is pedigree coursing through Loco’s veins. With this in mind we find the small pintxos and tapas selection to be slightly underwhelming. A smooth and excellent slice of potato tortilla (RMB30) is served alongside a piquant garlic sauce, which is appetizing, but then features again in three other dishes. It smothers the otherwise bland flamenquín, a pepper-stuffed pork roll (RMB85) and is present ever so slightly differently on the costly and predictable smoked salmon toast (RMB50).
A truly curious “broken egg and baby squid” mini casserole (RMB75) feels like the only value item on the menu. It’s a shame that it’s such a mismatched combination of squid, prawn, egg and potato in a super-heavy broth.
Delicious, though, are the mini Iberico Jamon croquetas (RMB85), so good on their own we didn’t dare to ask for a sauce to enhance them. A tremendously oversized and thirst quenching grapefruit gin and tonic (RMB70) did the job instead. Loco’s gin collection is second to none in Shanghai, though we never ended up staying around for a second round at their slightly too-stark bar up front.
The truth is that Spanish cuisine is not standalone. It is part of a ritual. Drinks, food, conversation and revelry all combine into the daily celebration that is the Spanish meal. For one of those lively nights with good company and less importance on the individual components, Loco will shine.