A tavern-like entity on an otherwise 21st century stretch of Jing’an, Barbarian looks like it could moonlight as a movie set for Lord of The Rings. Rustic wooden tables populate the low-ceilinged first floor, from which chunky iron chain benches hang. Up one floor and a leafy, wooden-clad roof terrace awaits. You might be envisioning the horrors or a Renaissance-themed eatery, but Barbarian has a strange sort of charm to it, like you’ve stumbled into Bilbo Baggins’ homely local pub.
The menu is aptly matched to the décor. They don’t mess around with sous-vide this, steamed that, or any cooking methods really, other than an oven and a grill. Said grill churns out a menu of ultra simple dishes: grilled chicken leg, sausage platters, shrimps with garlic, and Mediterranean vegetables, priced from RMB55-88.
Don’t get us wrong; we’re not accusing Barbarian of under-reaching. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a restaurant shun superfluous flower petal garnishes in favor of honestly priced, easy food that they know the kitchen can consistently execute. The only thing to dislike are the enormous slabs of wood that they come served on, which clog up the table to the point that it resembles a hipster lumberjack yard.
But Barbarian isn’t completely primal, their house mixologist, Sasha Bondi, focuses his ability on cocktails with a high-stakes strategy that has potential for disaster. There’s no cocktail menu to speak of; instead you must convey your desired libation in terms of spirit base and flavor directly to the waitress, and Bondi's talents will produce you a one-of–a-kind drink for a flat price of RMB60.
It’s a ballsy strategy and a little confusing at first, but nevertheless the drinks that materialize were very good, utilizing fresh ingredients to achieve a pleasant equilibrium between deliciousness and fortitude.
Classic cocktails are a little shakier, namely an oddly flavored Old Fashioned, and if you decide the whole process is too new-fangled, tankards of beer and wine are there to placate you.
Food Verdict: 1.5/3
A creative cocktail tavern might sound like an oxymoron, but there’s definitely something about Barbarian’s simplicity and affordability that works. During the winter months when that lovely roof terrace is out of action, Barbarian serves its local neighborhood well. But when the weather warms up and everyone is overcome with the urge to imbibe outside, we won’t be surprised if it becomes a destination worth longer journeys.
Vibe Verdict: 2/2
Total Verdict: 3.5/5
Price: RMB60-200 per person
Who’s going: locals and expats
Good for: casual dates
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