Shanghai Restaurant Review: French Natural Wine Bar Blaz

By Sophie Steiner, November 27, 2020

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The Place 

Blaz is breathing new life into the heritage villa on Donghu Lu that used to house the old elEFANTE. Simon Briens, co-founder of RAC, is in charge of all things wine, while Chris Zhu (formerly of Bird + Bitter) is pulling out the stops when it comes to food. The canteen and wine bar soft opened just a few weeks ago, yet it’s already nearly impossible to get a table. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Shanghai is crossing into double digits with venues touting themselves as “French wine bar – emphasis on natural wines,” so what about Blaz is making it stand out above the rest? Synergy. That corporate buzz word actually rings true when it comes to the continuity that flows between the curated wine list, the expertly executed dishes, the art deco design and the European café vibe that makes you feel like you’re traveling without having to take an actual flight. The devil is in the details, and Blaz nails those details. 

The Food 

The 80-square meter kitchen, along with a prep kitchen and separate storage room, make it possible to experiment, play with ingredients and “pump out the good stuff,” as Zhu puts it. Known in the industry for his fusion techniques, Zhu combines Chinese ingredients with typically French dishes, making each bite that much more thought-provoking and engaging for his customers. Our number one tip for Blaz – bring your stretchy pants – you will want to try it all. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Foie Gras (RMB148) is a rich canelé of mousse with a whipped butter-like texture. Paired with thick cut ribbons of cured duck breast that have been crusted in osmanthus, coriander seed and Sichuan peppercorn, the tangy apricot chutney served on the side cuts through the unctuous fattiness present in the rest of the dish.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Blaz's version of a Tartare (RMB128) is all about the thicker cubes of beef, cut rustically to showcase the gamier meat. Mixed with cubes of crispy sweet pear and smoky black garlic, the tartare is then studded with dots of bright yellow beef fat whipped with grape seed oil, chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorn for a creamier texture that just melts in your mouth. The homemade potato crisps that come alongside the meat add that necessary crunch while doubling as a scooping vessel for direct plate to mouth action. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The sweet, oily Mackerel (RMB48) is pickled with rice vinegar and served atop crispy toast shmeared with bright yuzu jam, a refreshing palate cleanser between courses that should definitely not be skipped. 

Vol au Vent (RMB128), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Pure gluttony comes in the form of the Croque Madame (RMB88), a brick of a sandwich with alternating layers of Parisian ham, gooey cheese and truffle bechamel, all nestled between too airily light pieces of toasted bread. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

By this point you will need to break up some of the richer menu items, and we suggest the Mizuna Leaves (RMB68), peppery greens coated in a creamy sesame dressing mixed with crunchy pickled lotus roots and savory black mushrooms.

Hasselback Potatoe with Crème Fraiche (RMB50), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Unlike most other dishes that share the same name, the Duck Confit (RMB128) is light and – surprisingly – refreshing, served with tart plum wine pickled cherry tomatoes, grapefruit pulp and an earthy osmanthus honey sauce. With layers of temperature, texture and flavor contrasts, we could see this being a hit on both a summer and a winter menu. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

To satisfy that signature French sweet tooth, the custardy Panna Cotta (RMB60) arrives tableside, silky smooth with a hint of lemon aroma coming from the addition of lemon verbena. Topped with an addictingly spicy ginger sorbet that contrasts the luscious layers underneath, the mild carrot granité ends up being forgotten, only necessary for the addition of color. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

On the other side of the temperature spectrum, the Riz au Lait (RMB65) rice pudding is served warm, yet equally thick and creamy as the panna cotta, with a molten salted butter caramel embodying the perfect balance of burnt dark sugar and warming honey sweetness. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Moving onto the wine – after all, this is a wine bar – Blaz offers roughly five rotating daily options by the glass from around the world. On the day we visited, we sampled a tart Australian Riesling, a fruity French Malbec and a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with notably higher acidity than expected. Wines by the bottle span from RMB300-2800, with most falling in the RMB500-700 range. 

Food Verdict: 2.75/3

The Vibe 

Although the service was attentive and welcoming, at times the knowledge, particularly relating to wine, seemed to be a bit rocky. We struggled with vague wine descriptions – especially for a venue presenting itself as a French wine bar. 

The apparent lack of an actual wine menu coupled with the fact that the server seemed to know only basic info – like place of origin, style of wine and a one or two generic descriptor adjectives (think ‘fruity’ or ‘spicy’) – made the attempt at wine pairing to match different courses less convenient and less clear for those of us with fairly basic wine knowledge. 

However, this could have been a one-off instance since we have heard of others having opposite experiences. Growing pains. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A lively atmosphere is set by the funky upbeat playlist, friendly service and enthusiastic clientele, even during soft opening, making it clear why this place is already packed. The expansive patio shared with fellow villa dwellers Cellar to Table has warm, dim mood lighting, ideal for afternoon sitting and sipping – too bad they missed the great fall weather. 

But, this just guarantees them a spot on the ‘go-to outdoor hangout’ list for spring. Hopefully by then Blaz will have expanded further into the weekday lunch and weekend brunch game Zhu mentioned he is currently playing around with. 

Vibe Verdict: 1.5/2

Total Verdict: 4.25/5

Price: 200-400RMB per person (including wine)
Who’s Going: Anyone and everyone who works in the wine industry, wine lovers, French food addicts
Good For: Date nights, wine explorations, foodie catch-up sessions

See a listing for Blaz. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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