Year of the Ox Recap: New Restaurant & Bar Openings – A-C

By Sophie Steiner, January 29, 2022

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And so we bid adieu to the Year of the Ox – a wild ride of high highs and low lows. Yet, the show must go on, and that means enjoying it in the way we know best – through good food and and plenty of drink. Here is an A to Z recap of some of the major restaurants and bars that had the tenacity to open as China's borders remained closed. See Part II herePart III here, Part IV here, Part V here and Part VI here.

Agnes

Agnes is a smoke and grill venue mixing together elements of the American South (think smoked brisket and roasted pork belly) and Nordic-inspired winter eats (pickles, slaw and soon-to-come smoked fish) with pretty much everything arriving between buns. Milkshakes, slushies and soft serve ice cream round out the sweeter half of the menu.

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The man behind the magic is none other than Craig Willis (he's always up to something) who is currently building himself nothing short of a Wukang Market Empire, despite claiming to be in early stages of retirement. With multiple restaurants simultaneously opening this year, we're gonna call it out as the most productive retirement on record. 

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Located on the first floor of Wukang Market, Chef Alexander Bitterling, who is shared with upstairs' Something, has created a menu that is as simple as can be – two sandwiches to choose from, a few small sides – like fries and slaw – plus sweets and sips. That’s it. Stellar lunch fare, done well. 

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Agnes

A.Mix Bistro&Bar

A.Mix Bistro&Bar opened above where Lost Bakery used to be on Julu Lu in More Than Eat. While you may not have heard of this one before, you’ve surely heard of the import shop Alex, a place to pick up everything the Avocado Lady has and then some, with stores sprinkled throughout downtown.

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Well, it’s the same owners – the Alex himself – who is now branching out his product sales into the culinary world. No surprise here: the food has a Western focus; they’ve already got that import hookup. 

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Chef Kenny Hong cut his teeth in Italy where he attended culinary school and launched his career. All proteins used by Chef Kenny are imported and available for purchase at Alex stores, along with the majority of ingredients that bring each of his plates to life.

It’s not exactly where we would take a date, but it would exceedingly improve a weekday lunch. 

Read a full review here. See a listing for A.Mix Bistro&Bar.

Atelier Izakaya

At Daniel An’s (Taste BudsAtelier by Taste BudsCocktail Palace by Taste Buds, etc.) Atelier Izakaya, industrial warehouse decor, exposed painted brick, rustic sliding barnyard doors and metallic aluminum chairs have replaced the now deceased Arch

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While other izakayas (*cough* Hundo *cough*) may take themselves a bit too seriously as an authentic Japanese izakaya, Atelier Izakaya is more hip and young, embracing its Japanese roots but still assuming a Chinese twist – like robatayaki-style yellow croaker, bone marrow with furikake and east China sea prawns – that makes the food more relatable to the Shanghai expat and hip local crowds. 

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Despite the open layout and size, Atelier Izakaya has a bar vibe that makes you crave another round of sake. Whether it’s the groovy 70s jams pumping out beats that are hard not to bump and grind to or the black paint coating most surfaces that make you feel like a heathen of the night, something about the space urges us to drink…heavily. Yet somehow food is still the focus.

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Atelier Izakaya.

Azul Italiano

Azul Italiano opened up not one but two locations this year. First above Colca on the North Bund and again in the Tian’an 1000 Trees mall along Suzhou Creek. 

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The goal is not to serve traditional Italian dishes, but rather use this carb-loving country’s cuisine as a jumping off point for taking creative liberties that appeal more to the Chinese palate.

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While you’ll find the usual Italian suspects on the menu – antipasta, pizza, pasta, etc. – many of them only share a connection to Italian dishes in name or general flavor profile, but the addition of seasonal ingredients or fusion elements connect it to the rest of the groups’ restaurants in regards to imaginative style and inventive presentation. 

Expect to find simple, honest dishes with a very beneficial price to quality ratio. 

Read a full review here and here. See listings for Azul Italiano.

La Barra

Continuing the upcycled wood trend from the rest of the Armada Group space (housing La Mezcaleria, Tacos El PaisaLoggia and Bonica), La Barra is modern, but with a lux lounge vibe: plush fabric couches, wicker chairs and tables of various heights and lengths to accommodate parties of all sizes.

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There is also a double bar situation, the second of which plays into the newest cocktail trend – a floating, eco-friendly bar. By floating, we mean that guests can come at it from all angles: there is no back. This is because there also are no bottles.

For simple mixers, like G&Ts and highballs, prices are kept affordable because of the use of ecoSPIRITS – a closed loop distribution system where high-end spirits are delivered to venues in large refillable containers, eliminating costs for bars and reducing packaging waste. A cost saving that also translates to better menu pricing. 

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On weekend evenings, the live DJs play anything from house to synthetic techno to trance. Weekdays see specials, like RMB168 for a dozen oysters on Mondays. Sunday is all about a very bubbles and oyster-heavy brunch.

Read a full review hereSee a listing for La Barra.

Bella Vita

The fourth (yup, you read that correctly: fourth) China outpost of Bella Vita opened in Hengshan Fang in mid-October as a split-level Italian bistro plus expansive, sunny 40-seater patio. 

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Think imported, high-end ingredients, homemade everything (pretty much a requirement for opening a successful Italian restaurant in Shanghai these days) and a lofty 70+ bottle Italian wine list spanning entry to expert palates (and price points to match). 

The conventional, pan-Italian menu is curated by chef Andrea Botti, digging deep into hyper-traditional, uber-authentic cooking. 

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Bella Vita lives by the motto, “enjoying Italian cuisine is more experiential, not intellectual.” Here, they want to keep it simple, giving their guests exactly what they expect, in a cozy, familiar setting fit for celebrating special occasions, going on a nice date or engaging in a business dinner. 

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Bella Vita Bistrò.

BISOU

BISOU, a casual yet sleek French restaurant, opened in Taikang Terrace this past April with a lot of warranted buzz. The venue is split into two, BISOU and BISOU Rouge Cellar, a casual wine bar plus cellar, located across from each other. 

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The space is marked by vaulted ceilings, a subdued, intimate dining room with an off-shooting airy terrace, comfy leather chairs and wooden furniture – ultimately resembling a hunting lodge rather than the timeless French bistro it is.

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Despite the classically French menu and extensive wine list, BISOU is laid back, deserving of its reputation for high value. It feels like dining in your friend’s living room... if your friend happened to have a beyond impressive wine cellar and a critically-acclaimed chef on hand.

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The food menu is designed by chef/partner Rembrandt Van Der Laan (previously of La Creperie), drawing on his experience working at both the Eiffel Tower restaurant and at Alain Ducasse’s 3-star Le Plaza Athénée.

Seven main courses and about as many appetizers and sides are scrawled in white letters on a chalkboard that is carried tableside for ordering convenience. Flavors are oh so French, making it easy to form a coherent meal, complimented by mostly Old World wines. 

Read a full review hereSee a listing for BISOU.

Black Rock

A transplant from London, Black Rock is a shining temple dedicated to all things whisky, scotch and bourbon. Sleek and sexy, the predominantly low-lit, onyx space is outfitted in a range of oak, leather and slate, designed to fit 60 patrons by none other than Shanghai-based interior design firm hcreates.

It is a whisky and cigar lover’s wet dream.

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The Shake team (Colin Tait and Danyi Gao) have taken the reins on this Black Rock project, organizing their library of over 180 whiskys from around the globe into six tasting categories – smoky, sweet, spice, fragrant, fruit and balance – making this spirit accessible to whisky nerds and noobs alike. 

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Beyond the in-table blended whisky and boulevardier, the menu also sees six upgraded highballs and six cocktails, broken into the same tasting categories as the whisky library. 

More like a wine bar, the experience is meant to be interactive – approach each cabinet, pick up a bottle, inspect the label, take a whiff and ultimately decide which fits your fancy. But the interaction goes beyond that. Currently, bottles are organized in their categories by Colin and his team – but the beauty of the whisky world is that it is open to interpretation and individual perception.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Black Rock

Bonica

After fast becoming one our favorite openings of last year, we happily returned time and again to dip our toe into Bonica – a Mediterranean grill (that just won the That's Shanghai 2021 Food & Drink Award for New Restaurant of the Year).

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The space is broken up into courtyard dining, a cocktail bar illuminated by hanging Edison bulbs at various heights, open-air seating at repurposed wood tables (overlooking the open kitchen led by Executive Chef Marco Chavez), a walk-in 360° wine cellar with over 220 bottles.

It’s a lot of dark wood, slate, granite and cool-toned fabrics, accented by sea-inspired illustrations, while plants abound – basically it’s straight out of a Restoration Hardware gallery. 

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The cuisine concept is heavy on Mediterranean-style grilled and roasted proteins, with meat, seafood and veggies aplenty, plus a curated wine list, cocktails and fantastically knowledgeable and focused staff, many of which cut their teeth at The Shanghai EDITION.

Because of the multi-level layout, the dynamic space is less pretentious; inviting, with an air of exclusivity that lures in an interesting cross-section of local and foreign guests to sip, chat and dine. Essentially, you come here to see and be seen.

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Bonica 

Borsh & Kompot

The newest Russian hangout, Borsh & Kompot, grew from a March 2021 meeting between Jenya Boyar – who was previously running a pop-up concept named after the Slavic fruity, non-alcoholic beverage Kompot – and Xenia Sidorenko, who followed her father’s universally-accepted advice “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” to perfect her borsh recipe.  

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And thus, Borsh & Kompot was born, two key elements that form the backbone of Slavic cuisine that are also commonly served together as part of a Russian canteen lunch set. Together, they embody Russian comfort eats and what Borsh & Kampot is all about – gathering friends together in a communal space to enjoy nostalgic, home-style Russian food. 

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The menu is all about honest, home-cooked Russian cuisine you’d be served by your babushka: dumplings, blinis, stews and cakes, plus an ever-growing array of house-infused vodkas, available by the glass or as a ‘vodka train.’ 

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Borsh & Kompot.

Carrot & Cleaver

Miss Green, a plant-based organization focused on sustainability and vegan-friendly options, was started by Vivian Chang – one of the pioneers of plant-based, conscious consumption options in Asia – seven years ago. 

Since its inception, the company has grown from a vegan blog to a full-on movement for healthier, more ethical, sustainable eating that now encompasses Carrot & Cleaver, a vegan-friendly, dog-friendly and mostly gluten-free grab-and-go and food delivery option through Elema in the Shanghai Centre. 

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The name Carrot & Cleaver comes from the concept of a vegan (carrot) takeaway butcher (cleaver). Working closely with Vivian, Chef Guillaume Comparat applies techniques learned through his fine dining background to create seasonal, resourceful and flavorful meals that won’t weigh you down in the middle of a workday nor negatively impact the globe. 

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Sustainability is a major focus of the concept, with zero waste as the goal. By crafting a closed loop process and fully utilizing all parts of an ingredient, this also pushes creativity to new limits – it’s no wonder the menu is kept small on purpose, but constantly rotating on a nearly weekly basis to keep it interesting for repeat customers by using only the most in-season produce.

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Carrot & Cleaver

Chaoyi Buer

Chaoyi Buer is a trendy, luxury space housing a café with imported beans and French pastries designed by an award-winning French chef, a florist shop and a retail pop-up space with rotating collaborative exhibitions and displays. 

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Attracting the hippest fashionistas, the 800-square meter space combines lifestyle, the arts, design and food in one place, with both indoor and outdoor seating options. 

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The current menu is all about the pastries, coffee and drinks, bringing the true flavor of the key ingredients to the forefront, with an emphasis on varying textural contrasts. Fresh fruits, light creams and homemade crumbles are the main forms of sweetness, as minimal added sugar ensures diners won’t experience the dreaded mid-day crash. 

The welcoming space serves as an ideal location for brunch, afternoon tea and exclusive, private parties, with custom-designed desserts, snacks and drinks into the night. 

Read a full review hereSee a listing for Chaoyi Buer


To read the full Year of the Ox New Restaurant & Bar Openings Recap click here or scan the QR code:

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