Suntory's First Flagship Restaurant: A Whisky Sanctuary

By Sophie Steiner, February 8, 2023

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Suntory: a world-renowned brand with nearly 125 years of history and 100 years of distilling whisky under their belt; the first single malt whisky distiller of Japan; the first vineyard owner in Japan; and, most notably, the brand eponymous with the drinker’s drink – the highball.

And now, Suntory has opened its very first flagship store – a high-end restaurant, cocktail lounge, whisky bar and terrace all in one – right here on the 5th and 6th floor of Shanghai’s own CITIC Pacific Plaza on Jiangning Lu. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The entrance is a living museum meets whisky sanctuary, lined by glowing bottles that showcase hallmarks throughout Suntory’s rich history, from a 1923 bottle of Yamazaki single malt whisky – distilled in Suntory’s first batch – to a 55-year aged Yamazaki that goes for a whopping RMB600,000 a bottle. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Moving into the dining room, floor-to-ceiling windows offer a sprawling view of Shanghai’s downtown, while a vaulted onyx ceiling guides the eye to the base-lit spiral staircase, flanked by shelves stacked with glowing bottles in various shades of amber to mimic the look of the Japanese distillery.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

There’s an open sushi kitchen, a cocktail bar, two small terraces and six private rooms in the back for those high-rollers who come to score a business deal with a side of Laphroaig 15 Year. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Upstairs is more intimate; proffering a serious, booze-forward menu, plus two (combinable) private rooms for 16-20 each and an expansive rooftop that will open in April. 

The Food

Executive Chef Junichi Honda studied under the master of Japanese cooking – Iron Man Michiba Rokusaburo. He was also appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan as an ambassador for the popularization of Japanese cuisine, the youngest among the 52 global chefs with this title.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Knowing this, we expected the menu to be chalk-full of the highest-grade premium sashimi, bubbling sukiyaki pots brimming with Wagyu, flame-licked cuts of the rarest imported seafood and tightly trundled sushi rolls teeming with the choicest slabs of tuna belly. 

And it's just that.

Plus more seafood.

And steak.

And formidable wine and cocktail pairings abound. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Starters roll out like Smoked Duck, Oyster & Spanish Mackerel (RMB58) sheathed in a Sakura wood smoke-filled cloche; a daily rotating selection of Omakase Sushi (RMB360 for 5 kinds, RMB580 for 8 kinds) – our plate saw a mountain of salmon, mackerel, sea bream, prawn and at least three different varieties of tuna belly; and Bowmore 12 year-drizzled Scotch Scented Smoked Oyster (RMB58/piece), caramelized on a flattop grill with garlic and pudgy cubes of pork and finished with shiso leaf, soy sauce and a hit of wood smoke to pair with the peaty dram. 

DSC06923.jpgTuna Roll with Pickled Vegetables (RMB128), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Next comes the grilled or simmered selection, with both sea and land offerings. Char-Grilled Red Rock Fish (RMB880) is the star of the show – a Japanese golden-hued white fish prized for its high fat content that lends itself to a nutty aroma and firm flesh.

Speared on a wooden skewer, the fish is served charred with a humble lemon wedge, the only accompaniment it truly needs. Eating it is a visceral business, done by cracking the flaky skin and picking out the tender meat with chopsticks.

Or, you can do as we chose to do – dive in with fingers, which must be licked cleaned, savoring the last of the fish’s oily suppleness.

(If only bibs and gloves were mercifully provided.)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Served atop a sweltering hot stone, the Australian Char-Grilled Sirloin (RMB360/120 grams) arrives seared yet ruddy and raw in the center. Diners can choose their own cooking temperature by keeping the succulent meat roasting for as long as they please. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A steaming pot of textbook Sukiyaki (RMB200) comes with chicken, thin slices of Australian Wagyu, tofu, noodles and a smattering of seasonal vegetables, plus the necessary raw egg for dipping.

Guests can cook it as they please, hotpot style, a favorite amongst our table and seemingly all the others. 

DSC06984.jpgChef Omakase Sushi (RMB138 for 6 pieces, RMB340 for 10 pieces), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A staple on both the lunch and dinner menu, the Lotus Leaf-Braised Unagi Okowa Rice (RMB128) is flawlessly steamed, the sticky sauce-coated eel melting into each individual rice kernel. 

DSC07022.JPGBlack Sesame Ice Cream (RMB38), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Presented in an egg shell, the Oeuf Pudding (RMB48/3 pieces) is finished with a spritz of Hibiki whisky – the first taste that hits your palate.

A sultry egg custard is sheathed by a warm, burnt caramel sauce, a lingering inky sweetness balanced by flame-licked fire undertones. 

There are also lunch sets with sushi, sashimi, rice or noodle bowls, roasted proteins and soup options that will set you back between RMB180-380 a pop. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Likewise, every night sees a pre-bookable chef’s omakase style menu, handwritten by the chef himself and evolving daily based on the freshest ingredients he has available. That ranges in price from RMB1,000-2,000 per person. 

The Drinks

The drinks run from the food pairable casual sippers on the 5th floor, to the stronger selections on the 6th, to the wine to the sake to – of course – the beyond extensive roster of Suntory and other imported whisky options by the glass or bottle.

Hell, the drinks deserve an entire article onto themselves. But, we’ll cram it all into one so you can file it more easily in your WeChat favorites. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The cocktail program is manned by none other than the most badass woman (and possibly Kill Bill-esque secret assassin), Rie Hidaka, who cut her teeth working at the London Edition and Ritz Carleton Tokyo. 

Precise and elegant is the most accurate way to describe both the drinks and their maker. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The 5th floor cocktails – of which there are five, simply named No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 – are demure with higher acidity, ideal for food pairing.

From the refreshingly sour No. 3 (RMB98) – with Suntory whisky, passion fruit puree, thyme and jasmine cordial – to the vinegar-forward No. 4 (RMB98) – a blend of Suntory whisky, hibiscus vinegar and Suntory sparkling grape – the drinks go down all too easily.

Post-dinner, move upstairs for bolder digestifs that pair well with an expensive Cuban cigar.

No Suntory menu would be complete without a lineup of highballs – the bartender’s beverage that put Suntory on the international map.

There are three highball cocktails, plus any whisky on the menu can be served with soda water, making it a highball.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The earthy Houji Tea Highball (RMB128) sees Suntory Chita whisky – the single grain line that Suntory boasts as the ‘best of Japanese whisky’ – mellowed by roasted green tea bitters and soda water. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Chita whisky, Gorna puree – a clarified sesame paste – Amaretto, milk and citric acid come together in the Gorna Milk Punch (RMB138), plus a curious lashing of Hijiki oil – a highly nutritious, wild Japanese seaweed used customarily in dashi broth. A sesame seed caramel crisp balances on top of an ice globe. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Fingerling limes allow drinkers to choose their own adventure when it comes to sour levels in the Shanghai Julep (RMB128) – a play on the classic Whisky Fizz. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

An innovative way to bring the hangover-curing Bloody Mary into the night, the Smoked Sam (RMB138) sees Bowmore 12 year stirred with a house-made clarified and spiced tomato juice, rimmed with chili crisp and salt.

Savory with a fiery finish, the drink is light yet full-flavored. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Of course, whisky is available by the glass, bottle, with soda or as a flight in oh-so-many varieties. 

There’s also the wine cellar – a spread of 250 predominantly cool-climate varietals that are sourced 100% from ASC Fine Wines, ranging in price from RMB450-38,000, but most in the RMB600 category.

You’ll also find a few bottles from Suntory’s own wineries – of which they own three in France, one in Germany, and one in Yamanashi Prefecture, just an hour outside of Tokyo. 

The Vibe 

The venue embodies Japanese identity; sleek, debonair elegance, streamlined service and premium quality in everything and anything that both directly and indirectly touches your lips.

It’s sexy, cozy, intimate and leads to whatever your next steps are – be it a date or a business deal. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

There’s a space for everything, really – from socializing to intimate conversation, from work meetings to playtime pleasure.

It’s a lot. But, just like we would expect from the culture of perfectionism, it’s all expertly thought through and executed, well... perfectly. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Price: RMB400-1,000+
Who’s Going: Suntory aficionados, Japanese food fiends, those with bank accounts that allow them to fly to Okinawa on a whim, the whisky connoisseurs of Shanghai (yes, Shanghai has a whisky club, and yes, we assume they will find themselves here on many a night)
Good For: Whiskey fueled business meetings, treating yourself, sealing the deal (interpret as you will...)

Suntory, #505, 1168 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Jiangning Lu 南京西路1168号505室,近江宁路.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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