Cantonese Cuisine-Inspired Cocktails at Nanchang Lu Bar Paal

By Sophie Steiner, April 14, 2023

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The Place

With nearly 30 years of combined bar experience between the two, Paal co-owners Crawford Su and Aya Guan are no strangers to China’s bar scene.

The duo met in Guangdong, where they both grew up and started their drinks industry careers. Separately, they moved to Shanghai, with Crawford joining the Speak Low team in 2014, before jumping over to Flask, and Aya having a stint at Union Training Co. followed by also posting up shop at Flask. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

But, the two had dreams of owning their own bar since the good ol’ days and finally put pen to paper in 2021. As two pals wanting to create a laid-back, just-hanging-in-your-friend’s-living-room vibe, the name Paal stuck, opening in January 2022 on Nanchang Lu. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Why the double ‘a,’ you ask? Because their parent company name is Asian Aliens – they are both super into the idea of extraterrestrials and outer space, so much so that they incorporated it into the name of their bar.

Closet nerds.

Our people.

And why the parent company? Because Paal is just the beginning. They are hoping to open a second – completely separate – concept bar in Jing’an later this year. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Cantonese flavors weave their way through the menu’s nine cocktails on offer at Paal, drawing on the two owners’ favorite dishes and regional ingredients from their hometown of Jiangmen – sweet and sour pork, salted egg yolk zongzi, and aged tangerine peel are currently making an appearance, with drinks set to rotate every few months. 

The Drinks

Like the décor design and menu layout, 99% of what you perceive in the glass in real time has been carefully curated on an Advanced Chemistry level, employing tools like a sous vide machine, hot plates, clarification gear and a rotovap – kit that plays with the senses so your eyes see one thing but your tongue tastes something completely different. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Jackfruit (RMB98), pineapple and tomato are infused into rum, before being imbued with the treacly undertones of a condensed milk wash, mellowed by the nuanced sweet spice of Tonka bean. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A final spritz of white wine vinegar brings the gulaorou (or sweet and sour pork) flavor profile together – an ingenious tribute to this comforting, homestyle dish... in crystalline clear and clarified, sippable form. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Showcasing 5-year aged Dried Tangerine (RMB98) sourced from Jiangmen, coupled with regional glutinous rice Pu’er tea, this ginger beer-topped, gin-based bevvie is China’s ode to a Moscow Mule, demurely aromatic with a subtly bitter tea-lined finish. 

Magnolia, Coffee, Bael Fruit, Fermented Grape, Juniper (RMB98), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Peaty, smoke-scented Caol Ila 12-year malt whisky is blended to order with a hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream, malt powder, maple syrup-infused butter and – the key ingredient – homemade Salted Egg Yolk (RMB98) for a thick milkshake-y mouthful of… Guangdong zongzi

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Encapsulating the honeyed sweetness juxtaposed against the umami richness of this streetside staple – especially those filled with a crumbly egg yolk and smoky pork – each ingredient is exacting, precise and a winkingly clever interpretation that exemplifies how the whole can be oh-so-much greater than the sum of its parts. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

“A dirty martini and a gin fizz walk into a Chinese bar…” sounds more like the setup for a pun-filled dad joke punchline rather than the setup for a cocktail, but the Bitter Gourd (RMB98) proves us wrong. 

Jiangmen bitter melon is infused into gin balanced by floral jasmine. A salty olive brine lurks beneath, hitting the tongue first, immediately calmed by a curiously chosen clarified Guangming yogurt drink, that – admittedly – somehow works.

Topped with soda, the result is refreshingly refined, an all-too-easy-to-drink libation that has found its way onto the menu just in time for spring. 

The Vibe 

Back to the whole living room feel; the space seats 20, mostly encircling a center 'bar' that is more of a kitchen counter with an inlaid sink.

If we had to guess when walking in, we would think it’s a high-end glassware shop – with Nordic-esque functional design, dark wood, gray slate, dimmed track lighting that causes most of the alcohol bottles to be in shadows, and a few small décor touches... a candle holder here, a silver teapot there. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The menu doesn’t give anything away either, as no spirits are mentioned – just flavor cues like juniper or sugarcane – with drinks presented ostensibly simplistic: clean and restrained.

It all feels overtly unelaborate, a poster child for minimalism. Yet, so much thought has gone on behind the scenes – thought that can be experienced through all five senses with each beverage served.  

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Price: RMB98/drink
Who’s Going: Hip locals; cocktail connoisseurs; the Xuhui expat contingency
Good For: Casual dates; noteworthy drinks; ingredient exploration

Paal, 94 Nanchang Lu, by Nanbei Gaojia Lu, 南昌路94号, 近南北高架路.

Read more Shanghai Bar Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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