Shanghai Restaurant Review: Cafe on Air

By Cristina Ng, September 30, 2019

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The Place

Cafe on Air, one of our favorite low-key coffee hangouts, now has a third location on Sinan Lu. The well-designed cafe follows the minimalistic model of the group’s two other coffee shops. This one has added their well-lit and functional design touches where Brian Tan’s Hof chocolate and cocktail lounge used to be – just next door to Cha’s Hong Kong-style cha canting.

The Food

First and foremost, Cafe on Air is devoted to coffee with food intended as a complement to complete the experience. Coffee starts at RMB28 for a single espresso and goes up to RMB38 for a mocha. In the middle of that price range are piccolos, flat whites, lattes and more. Each of their branches serves a different house bean that changes seasonally. At Sinan Lu, the current Ethiopian beans from April Coffee Roasters of Copenhagen are smooth with bright acidity.

In addition to specialty coffee, Cafe on Air has some nice food options. Seeking to add something unique for a venue this casual, the cornerstone of the menu is handmade pasta including lasagna and fettucine. They also have all-day brunch and some sweets.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's 

After much experimentation with recipes, their fresh pasta is made from a mix of locally made and Italian semolina. With a customer base that is 70-80% local, it is understandable that the noodles aren’t prepared too al dente, but they still have a decent bite. With king prawn, mussels, Hokkaido scallop and squid in a basil-tinged house tomato sauce, the Fettuccine Frutti di Mare (RMB108) makes for a satisfying lunch.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

The Spanish Omelet (RMB48) isn’t bad either. Olive, tomato, potato and mushroom are held together with lots of egg. Whole wheat bread is made in collaboration with a local bakery, and a side toast with butter and house-made berry jam is perhaps our favorite part of this plate.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's 

That same bread is used for the Espresso Toast (RMB58), which has espresso in the egg mixture as well as the accompanying maple syrup. 

Image by Cristina Ng/That's 

Puffy Baby Dutch Pancakes (RMB38) filled with baked apple are also worth a try.  

Food Verdict: 1.5/3

The Vibe

At Cafe on Air they call themselves coffee architects, which makes sense as most of the partners started their careers as architects. This background results in fully functional yet attractive spaces. Thanks to the light wood tones and calming shades of green, we are as likely to while away an afternoon working here as at their other two more established venues. 

Vibe Verdict: 2/2

Total Verdict: 3.5/5

Price: RMB50-120 per person
Who’s going: laptop warriors, local hipsters
Good for: work sessions, friendly catch-ups

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

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See a listing for Cafe on Air. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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