Scarpetta Reopens! Premium Italian Takes a Japanese Twist

By Sophie Steiner, October 11, 2023

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The Place 

After closing its doors for a three-month full refurb – demolishing the interior down to the studs, redesigning the menu, and launching a wholly new concept – Scarpetta reopened in August under the same name, but with a contemporary Japanese-themed feel. 

Image courtesy of Scarpetta

Image courtesy of Scarpetta

Owner John Liu has a strong affinity for Japanese culture, recognizing the similarities between Italian and Japanese cuisines – both of which are about simple cooking techniques, highlighting and honoring the best quality products, and elevated attention to detail.

And now he has chosen to share that affinity through the revamped Scarpetta.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

However, the name of the venue remains – as does its core ethos – the two going hand-in-hand.

Derived from the Italian phrase 'fare la scarpetta,' meaning to 'make the little shoe,' it is a concept familiar to anyone who has indulged in a delicious plate of saucy pasta – the shoe, in this case, being the requisite piece of bread used to mop up every last drop of goodness on the plate. 

And – whether a dish leans more Italian, Japanese, or somewhere in the middle – we can attest to the fact that diners here will be mopping their plate clean regardless of what is ordered. 

The Food 

As one of Shanghai’s longest standing premium casual dining spots (11 years of history!), Scarpetta still remains fundamentally Italian at its core, but with a Japanese twist.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Think 'umami' pizza with konbu, clams, whitebait, capers and olives; Sakura shrimp pasta with seaweed and spring onions; buttery uni alfredo; and fennel citrus salad with Taiwanese bottarga and Russian-imported sweet shrimp.

Only about 25% of the previous iteration’s classics remain, and dishes are paired with detail-focused décor elements – like chopsticks with quirky Daschund holders – that fit the cross-cultural Asian plates. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As referenced in the name itself, bread is a necessary part of any meal at Scarpetta, and it’s evident that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into the baked goods, from the House Focaccia (RMB48) to the pizza dough, from the crostinis to the cakes.

The aforementioned focaccia is served warm – a high hydration bread that translates to a fluffy center with a thin and crunchy crust. Less oily than some of its Italian counterparts, the pillowy dough is more appealing to a wider audience, finished with a dusting of rosemary. 

The six-slice portion is presented alongside a piquant nduja tomato aioli and a sesame shiso pesto, rather than the conventional basil and pine nuts variety. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

With glorious globules of cream-soaked burrata as the backdrop, the Burrata Three Ways (RMB178) is a playful amalgamation of flavors, each paying homage to the flavors of a distinct locale while simultaneously adding in a juxtaposing spin.

First up there’s the goma dare – or sesame sauce – drizzled version, adorned with a tomato relish, fresh tomatoes, ponzu vinegar jellies, shiso pesto, and a shredded ginger and shiso flower garnish. 

An umami bomb, the middle burrata is all about earthiness – truffle aioli, seaweed sauce, miso apricot jam and a crispy mushroom chip

While the final burrata is straightforward yet equally toothsome – a lashing of chili oil and sea salt, finished with a quenelle of tomato compote and a trio of mustard, cumin, and sesame seeds. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

An homage to delectable tripe dishes of Rome and Florence, the Spicy Trippa Stew (RMB158) is an unorthodox trippa alla romana (the springy strips of honeycomb tripe melting into a rich tomato-based sauce) meets a Florentine lampredotto in accoutrement.

The key side elements – toasted crostini bread and a salsa verde of sorts – augment the innards. 

For a Japanese element, homemade nama (fresh) shichimi spice and yuzu are added into the braising liquid, while the powdered form is sprinkled on the buttery toast, adding a nip of heat.

Said salsa verde also scores a Japanese roster of ingredients – a pesto blended from parsley, anchovies, garlic, chili and yuzu. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Raw Russian sweet shrimp are the star of the Fennel & Karasumi Salad (RMB188), a combination of elevated sweet, sour and bitter elements that make up this customarily Sicilian salad.

Pink grapefruit and orange segments, crunchy fennel bulb, spears of mountain yam, and lily bulb are amplified by Taiwanese salted millet roe (karasumi), all dribbled with a tangy citrus vinaigrette and fresh mint.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Grassy and herbaceous Japanese sencha tea tempers the clarified tomato consommé’s sweet tartness in the sophisticated Tomato & Green Tea Soup (RMB88).

Rounded by nutty and toasted genmai unpolished brown rice, the preparation process is like that of a mixologist – blending the ideal ratio of bitterness from the two types of green tea broth and savory dashi, coupled with peeled tomatoes and freshly torn basil added à la minute as the 'cocktail’s' garnish. The basil’s herbal qualities bloom depth into each spoonful. 

While the venue hugs the line of fine dining, it does still offer a smattering of luxury-focused pizzas – ones that don't follow a particular 'style,' but rather are a mix of kinds from Italy and California.

The crust is noticeably crispy, airy and light, made from a 48-hour fermented dough that translates to easier digestibility. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The (previously referenced) Umami Pizza (RMB268) is unlike any other on the Scarpetta menu (or any other menu around town, for that matter), the flavor profile being a curious combination of a marinara pizza base with heavy oregano and chunks of garlic, puttanesca pasta (olives, capers, tomatoes, herbs and – in this case – baby whitebait fish) and a dribble of homemade sesame oil for an added hit of intensely savory aroma.

Finally, butterfly wing-like wisps of white konbu flutter back at diners, encouraging them in for another slice. 

Aside from the four pizzas on the menu, there are also a handful of rotating daily specials, plus – for those in the know – a secret pizza menu with favorites from before, like Foie Gras and Porcini Pizza, Four Cheese with Dried Fruit and Nuts, and a new take on the Vongole Clam Pizza

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Served in an aonori seaweed and scallion soup, the Spring Onion Seaweed Tagliatelle (RMB188) mimics a Kyoto nori seaweed udon dish, but with undertones of both Chinese and Italian elements.

Taking it a step further, the Fujian-sourced dried Sakura shrimp add a layer of oceanic umami, all swimming together in an Italian nonna-style brodo, or broth.

DSC06786.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's

A restaurant signature, the Sanhuang Chicken on Toast (RMB258) has received a facelift – the lusciously fatty yellow chicken is brined and slow-roasted to reveal puckering, taught skin that tears open with each bite, unleashing an onslaught of Shanghai’s most succulent of fowl. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Amping up the poultry undertones, the meat sits in a smarmy herb and melted chicken fat jus that sops up into a thick-cut slice of crispy toast, playing further into the scarpetta name.

A fiery diavolo sauce is served on the side, perfect for slathering across more of the juicy meat. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Desserts showcase a few Italian staples – a Patron Tiramisu (RMB88) and a Kanazawa Caramel Budino (RMB88), but the newbies are less sweet and Japanese flavor-forward.

Case in point, the Kyoto Matcha Mochi (RMB88) sees a housemade mochi wrapper filled with kuromame black beans – whole beans mixed with mirin, brown sugar, dashi broth and soy – piped with a robustly bitter matcha ganache that slickly lines the palate. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

On the other side of the spectrum, the Popcorn Ice Cream (RMB88) centers around condensed fresh corn flavored ice cream encircled by a moat of dehydrated popcorn powder, pierced by a shard of black pepper candy. 

The Vibe 

Mirroring the menu update, the layout sees a distinctly Japanese influence. 

Image courtesy of Scarpetta

Image courtesy of Scarpetta

Expect subtle nods to modern, wabi-sabi Japanese design aesthetic – the world view of perfection through imperfection – as well as miegakure – the idea of hide and reveal used in Japanese gardens and architecture... like a crack through the newly placed wall to ‘catch a glimpse’ of their pizza oven behind it, instead of it being fully out in the open; or rectangular slit windows to peer through rather than the previous dome-shaped ones. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image courtesy of Scarpetta

The place is an updated (read: upgraded) version of itself to fit the contemporary Shanghai diner, yet still maintains the same high-end feel and price point, just with overhauled offerings.  

Price: RMB600-800
Who’s Going: Coquille and Scarpetta die-hard fans, well-to-do Chinese, expats in the know
Good For: Creative plays on Italian and Japanese cuisine, curious foodie outings, date nights

Scarpetta, 33 Mengzi Lu, by Xujiahui Lu, 蒙自路33号, 近徐家汇路.

Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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