Shanghai Restaurant Review: First Round

By Cristina Ng, March 6, 2019

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The Place

If you live in Shanghai and like craft beer, you must have been to Boxing Cat Brewery. We have brewer Gary Heyne (in later years Michael J. Jordon), restaurateurs Lee Tseng and Kelley Lee to thank for spearheading the microbrew craze in China way back in 2008.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Now part of the massive AB InBev beer empire, the newest member of the family is First Round, which comes after the closure of 45 Degrees. Moving away from a straightforward grownup beer bar, this new concept is an automat for the Chinese millennial complete with touchscreen tables for movies and video games.  

In contrast to last century’s coin-operated counters where hot meals awaited behind sliding windows, you order food and draft beers via a WeChat mini-app. By scanning a QR code, patrons can also help themselves to bottles from smart fridges or freshly poured brews via reverse tap technology.

The Food

Beyond the high-tech trappings, there’s also some neat stuff going on in the kitchen. As you can imagine, a company this size uses tons of malted barley and grain in the brewing process, leaving behind remnants that are either used as livestock feed or thrown away. Chef Simon Sunwoo, however, is putting them to good use by drying, grinding and turning these into flatbread pizza dough.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

As for toppings, standards such as pepperoni or wild mushroom are available, but the Helles Fury Sichuan or TKOrean (all RMB45) are our favorites. The Sichuan number is topped with spicy hand-pulled pork, mala sauce, cheese, crispy Huang Feihong chili peanuts and cilantro, while the Korean one features beef, spinach and cheese with kimchi and gochujang-laced sauce. 

Image by Cristina Ng/That's 

Just make sure that you have a beer handy because these are boldly flavored. We suggest the easy-to-drink Contender (RMB40) extra pale ale.

This entire menu was clearly meant to go with beer, which counterbalances the heaviness of snacks like Sausages (all RMB22) and Wings (all RMB28). The Taiwanese sausage with sliced raw garlic is excellent with a cold TKO India Pale Ale (RMB30). Both wing options that we tried were a bit too salty, but the sticky sauce on the Korean-style variety was quite moreish. The ‘Fists of Fury’ wings, however, could use a bit more spice.

As at Boxing Cat, the Sweet Potato Fries (RMB25) come with a sprinkle of sugar, which was a little too sweet for us. 

Food Verdict: 2/3

The Vibe

First Round is cutting edge cool and should appeal to a neighborhood full of international students and young locals looking for a casual night out. Technophobes or the highly impatient might find First Round less than charming. In fact, on our visit, the mini-app wasn’t working, and we had to order the old fashioned way. Still, we can see ourselves putting up with the slight hassle for well-priced craft beer and snacks. 

Vibe Verdict: 1/2

Total Verdict: 3/5

Price: RMB100-300 per person
Who’s going: young expats and locals
Good for: groups, craft beer, flatbread

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

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See a listing for First Round. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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