Tucked up a pedestrian food street/lane off Mengzi Lu, Area 501 is anything but shy. A spectacular wall fresco dazzles your eyes at the entrance and sets the expectation that the food, like the setting, will be bursting with a blaze of calypso-inspired colors. In Shanghai, this is a one-of-its-kind type of place – a casual dining fusion restaurant – and it’s exciting to see a venue like this spring into existence.
Since opening at the beginning of the year, the restaurant is starting to draw a loyal clientele with its menu, which is influenced by the Caribbean food of several cultures (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Belize, to name a few).
All of the favorites you would expect to see on the beaches of Jamaica or the Bahamas are there. Jerk chicken, of course, with fried plantain, rice and peas… but yes, we mentioned fusion. Owner Lilian G. Molina and her chefs have bravely opened their cultural apron-strings and tied them to Shanghai with a menu featuring jerk chicken fried wontons with a jerk-flavored soy sauce and vinegar.
The restaurant has mainly gin and rum-based cocktails. We began with the Panty Ripper 2.0 (RMB68) which, with aged dark rum, white rum and coconut syrup feels like a Pina Colada... with a serious kick. Gin lovers can opt for the Mabel’s Gin Gin (RMB68), which is gin and ginger with all spice. The owner’s own creation, it was delicate and subtle. There are also free flow options for brunch that start at RMB188 with an extra RMB88 for premium free flow that include cocktails.
The Panty Ripper 2.0
There were no named starters on the dinner menu at the time of our visit, but on the brunch menu you will find the above mentioned Jerk Chicken Fried Wontons (RMB78 for 8 pieces). One imagines that on a sunny afternoon, sat out on the outdoor tables, these and a cold beer would be enough on their own. For our dinner they made a wonderful starter together with the sweet and aromatic Coco Thyme and Rum Mussels (RMB 108) and the Caribbean Seafood Ceviche (RMB 78).
Jerk Chicken Fried Wontons
Coco Thyme and Rum Mussels
Caribbean Seafood Ceviche
For mains, the Jerk Chicken Roast (RMB78) was perfectly cooked with crispy skin and whole chicken legs and breast meat. If you need a spicier punch to satisfy your taste buds then ask for more of the salty jerk sauce that comes on the side.
Jerk Chicken Roast
The Caribbean Fish Stew (RMB78) was the other standout dish, with marinated white fish cooked in a coconut stew with herbs, spices and okra. Also recommended is the Stewed Oxtail (RMB88) with tender pieces of oxtail and beef chuck braised with butter beans in Caribbean spices.
Caribbean Fish Stew
We enjoyed these dishes with a side of Coconut White Rice (RMB28) and especially the Yuca con Mojo Criolla (RMB48), Cuban-style fried cassava yam with a lemon-garlic sauce. (When Usain Bolt won the Beijing Olympics 100 Meters, his father was interviewed afterwards and said it was down to Jamaican Yam powder.)
Area 501 also has a partnership with Vegans Shanghai, and so are also good non-meat options like Red Pea Soup (RMB68) and Spicy Chickpea Curry (RMB68). Even if you don’t like pudding, the Cassava Pone (RMB68) – served hot with coconut ice cream – would melt a pudding-hating heart. The toasted coconut flakes were a great contrast to the soft cake and the cassava has a stunning and unique flavor. Highly recommended.
Food Verdict: 2.5/3
Area 501, named for the country calling code for Belize where owner Lilian hails from, has a warm and open atmosphere which embodies the spirit of the Caribbean. The low lighting, colorful artwork and reggae music add to the chilled and mellow vibe and had us swaying most of the night – as did the rum cocktails and the complimentary jello shots at the end of the evening! Something a bit different, this is a great place for a party, to take a date, to have dinner with friends or even sit by yourself on an afternoon.
Vibe Verdict: 1.5/2
Total Verdict: 4/5
Who’s going: Jerk chicken-loving locals and expats
Good For: Lunch / brunch with free-flow deal of +RMB188 / dates / meals with friends
[All images by Kristin Nelson/That's]