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Nestled in the shiny new Kerry complex, Auto Bistro's wide, pristine dining room is attractive in a mass-design way. That sea of ceiling lamps probably took an afternoon to factory produce and somebody should really have sat in one of the Vitra-style chairs before pressing the duplicate button. The communal looking benches are only slightly more comfortable.

Yet a broadsheet menu centers the options that any Mediterranean-loving heart desires. Bruschetta, fresh salads, wrapped kebabs and home made pastas. There’s even a separate drinks menu from their juice bar, Punk Juice, around the corner. This could be heaven.

It’s oh so close. The deep fried calamari is effortlessly delicious (RMB68). The lamb kebab (since taken off the menu) beautifully folds grilled meat with crisp leaves and tzatziki inside a fresh spinach laffa bread (RMB68). Supremely tender is a sliced tenderloin steak with Parmesan and rocket (RMB168).

It’s all so fresh and yet so simple, which is Auto Bistro’s distinction, and at the same time what makes it a culinary apparition. A shortcoming of creativity in the kitchen shows in the creamy, gruesome, pea-festooned spinach and ricotta ravioli (RMB88) and a bland lasagna (RMB85).

It all works together to lull us into a sense of style and consideration, yet did anybody working there really know what Tarator is? Why are permanent items written on the chalkboard as if they’re today’s specials? Those chairs really are too uncomfortable.

In the end, our qualms lie not with the restaurant itself but what it represents of the Shanghai dining scene. At what point in the history of decent cuisine in Shanghai did remembering who ordered what become a mark of distinction? We’ve been conditioned into believing that an above average plate of food in a slightly designed space with passable service, as it is here at Auto Bistro, is a noteworthy affair.

  • Auto Bistro
  • 021 6252-1507

  • North Block, Jing An Kerry Center, 1515 Nanjing Xi Lu [map]

  • Mediterranean
  • ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
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