Shanghai Restaurant Review: Nakama

By Cristina Ng, June 27, 2019

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The Place

It's been about six months since the unceremonious culling of venues located at 20 Donghu Lu. Among the villa’s Japanese residents, only Ochobo has found new life on Taiyuan Lu. In addition to bringing their kaiseki set menus to this sleepy corner of the former French Concession, the team added a downstairs spot devoted to the art of grilled meat, or yakiniku, featuring high-end dry-aged beef of the Australian and American variety. 

201906/DSC04291.jpgImage by Cristina Ng/That's

Heading into the cozy dining area through a small, Zen courtyard accented with bamboo plants and artfully arranged flowers sets the mood. Likewise, walking past the beef aging in their cabinet gives a tempting glimpse of what is to come. Reservations are a must, especially if you want a place at one of the 13 counter-side seats. 

The Food

Start out with ice-cold Suntory Highballs (RMB45) while you peruse the menu. Although beef is clearly the focus, the lengthy list of raw dishes, small bites, snacks and rice hits all the expected izakaya categories. While daily offerings can be risky – with less time to perfect – we went rogue and ordered White Asparagus with Sea Urchin (RMB78)

DSC04317.jpgImage by Cristina Ng/That's

Tender lily-hued spears of vegetable grilled and topped with the ‘foie gras of the sea’ is more than enough, but a confusing mustard béarnaise sauce appeared to have little purpose beyond overpowering the sea urchin. 

Moving on, they treat an Eel (RMB68) with much more respect. While you might be used to unagi lacquered in brown tare sauce, this fillet is prepared shirayaki-style. 

DSC04342.jpgImage by Crristina Ng/That's

This means the only seasoning is a sprinkle of salt, so the genuine flavor of the fluffy fish comes through. A dab of freshly grated wasabi on each bite is the final delicious touch. 

As for beef, we ordered the most expensive M9 Australian Waygu Ribeye (RMB350/100g) and more basic Skirt Steak (RMB118/100g) for comparison. Now we aren’t going to lie and pretend that aging beef of this caliber for 28 days doesn’t result in a mouthful of concentrated meat flavor with the subtle hint of buttered popcorn, because it absolutely does. But if that doesn’t fall into your budget on the regular, the harami comes from the diaphragm area of the cow for a naturally bold taste that is great with a bit of sweet seasoned soy. 

DSC04318.jpgImage by Cristina Ng/That's

Dry aging is expensive for a reason. As the meat decomposes and collagen breaks down, you lose lots of water. Then the outer layer needs to be shaved off before serving, making a pricey product even more so. For this reason, they can’t even sell the M9 ribeye in portions below 200 grams, or they risk wasting precious meat. 

They started the Donabe Clay Pot Rice with Beef Tongue and Foie Gras (RMB198/small, RMB388/large) the minute we ordered it and it was ready a little after we finished up our beef. We could taste each grain of well-cooked glossy rice amped up with decadent foie gras and beef tongue. Bordering on too rich for our taste, a massive dollop of briny salmon roe and some freshly sliced spring onions freshen things up.

Food Verdict: 2.5/3

The Vibe

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Sitting at the counter is great, but there is a danger with open kitchens. As we were the first group to arrive on a Saturday (and second to order), we expected to be served relatively quickly. With our direct view, we noticed that they were totally off their flow in terms of food preparation. In fact, the third group to arrive ordered way more than us and received the bulk of their food before we were halfway through our meal. This seems to be a consistent problem, as we overheard the woman next to us ask the server to send their meat out more quickly on this visit. It seems the pacing let them fill up before they received all their dishes.

Perhaps we all eat too quickly and have Nakama to thank for slowing things down and allowing us to savor their high-quality cuisine thoughtfully. Whether you have time to linger over a premium, meat-laden meal or want casual highballs and snacks, Nakama is an excellent option. Just be sure not to schedule a concert or play immediately after, which we foolishly did.

Vibe Verdict: 1.5/2

Total Verdict: 4/5

Price: RMB500-700 per person
Who’s going: mostly locals, lots of repeat customers 
Good for: treating yourself, drinks and snacks, dry aged beef

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

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