For many in the West, 2016 will be remembered for Trump, Brexit, terrorism in Europe and an absurd number of pop culture deaths, from Bowie to Muhammad Ali. By comparison, China had an unusually quiet year. Nonetheless, there were still a few goings-on in the world's most populous country.
In our 2016 Year in Review series, we recap the best (and worst) of China's year in the worlds of technology, social media, sport, fashion, food, arts and more.
It's been a great year for eating and drinking here in Guangzhou. And because we always get a little nostalgic for all things food and drink at this time of year, here's a look back at the best new bars and restaurants that we reviewed in 2016. (If you have yet to try these places, we highly suggest you do. Just saying… these are some great restaurants.) In no particular order...
1. Aroma Bistro
Few restaurants in Guangzhou have mastered the elite and homely atmosphere as well as Aroma Bistro. With a low-lit interior comprised of angled and lacquered plywood panels, Aroma feels welcoming from the get-go, setting a mood that is, well, very bistro-like. Menu highlights include the seafood chowder (RMB42), roasted flounder fillet (RMB88) and the wagyu beef short rib (RMB198). For those inclined to turn the night into a date with wine and cocktails, Aroma has you covered with an impressive selection of imported wines, an eclectic range of cocktails and the standard beer offerings.
Who’s going: flounder fans, couples and Guangzhou gastronomy gurus
Good for: romantic evenings, special affairs
2. Veg Tables
Before you reduce Veg Tables to an overly perfumed vegan cafe for cleansing yoga buffs, know this: Chris Huang, winner of CCTV’s national cooking competition The Taste in 2014 (and one of our ‘Sexiest People in the PRD’ last year), is at the helm of the kitchen, crafting a new, tantalizingly delicious menu every two weeks. The result? Some of the most inspired and meticulously sourced food we’ve had the opportunity to try in Guangzhou. Take the roasted balsamic tomato and avocado on toast (RMB38) for instance: a spread of ripe fruits, arugula and walnuts on multigrain, this enhanced bruschetta epitomizes the farm-to-table concept, bringing the kind of garden-fresh flavors you only find at summer potlucks back home.
Who’s going: wellness instructors, local college students
Good for: responsibly sourced Western vegetarian food
Hosting an impressive 34 taps, only 22 of which were operational on our visit, Bravo has a beer for everyone, from the novice drinker to the seasoned beer bro. With half the beers on tap made in-house by proprietor Wayne Shen and brewmaster Rocky Wang (of Lazy Guys), many of the beers at this establishment can only be sampled there. Although we didn’t have the chance (or the constitution) to try all of Bravo’s signature suds, we made a considerable dent, and among our favorites were the Yuhuan Lychee Ale (RMB58), Song of Chu Single Hop IPA (RMB65), Strong Arm American Stout (RMB65) and, at the number-one spot, This is Not Bacon Rauchbier (RMB58).
Who’s going: ‘hopportunists,’ those that worship the craft
Good for: fancy bar food, bacon-flavored beer
Hidden away in a narrow passage on Miaoqian Xi Lu, this bar’s subtle entrance blends right in – look for a fridge and little curios like brass doorknockers and lucky cats. Featuring an artistic menu of nouveau signature cocktails, this bar is one of Guangzhou's hottest new hangouts. Hope & Sesame (RMB78) is the most celebrated drink; order it for a welcome surprise or try deciphering the secret recipe on the menu (if you know Morse code). For something out of the blue, sip on a Mr. Chang (RMB88), made with infused Scotch, homemade bitters, Xinjiang dates and goji berries.
Who’s going: covert alliances, highbrows, bootleggers
Good for: weeknight adventures, crafty concoctions
Chinese and expat clientele at Mammamia will find its food different – mamma-mia-this-pizza-is-so-good kind of different – because most ingredients and ovens in the kitchen are imported from Italy, no expense spared. Mozzarella is the trattoria’s secret weapon, made in-store with traditional techniques to guarantee its taste. It’s what makes the humble margherita pizza so popular among customers – that, and the abundance of tomato sauce.
Good for: a real taste of Napoli, a tomato-charged margherita
Who’s coming: the 1,000 Italians in Guangzhou, curious IFC office workers
If Tsingdao gets you tipsy, Tipsy will get you drunk – and not only because the craft beers sold at this niche pub average 6 percent, or because a tray of free samples winds its way around the room every half hour. No, Tipsy will have you drunk on life. Entry-level drinkers can opt for the always agreeable Hoegaarden on tap (RMB32/150ml, RMB40/330ml or RMB50/500ml) or Liefmans Fruitesse (RMB36/45/60). Then again, why go to a craft beer bar and order Liefmans? Hops fan or not, you’d be wrong not to try at least a sample of Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA (RMB40/50/65), which registers smooth and citrusy on the tongue even with its 70 IBU (International Bitterness Units). At 7.5 percent alcohol content, you’re also looking at a fast buzz.
Who’s going: Master Cicerones, those who mistake Tsingdao for water
Good for: broad selection of craft beers on tap, after-work drinks
Located at Parc Central, Grappa’s offers an easy-to-find entrance outside the mall directly below Apple’s suspended palace. This secret doorway is significant because it means patrons can stay, soaking up live classical music and Australian Shiraz, until 1am – long after the plaza closes. An undisputed favorite at Grappa's is the perfectly cooked, homemade pasta blackened with squid ink and topped with seasoned shrimp and cream sauce (RMB148). It is absolutely worth the price – if you’re lucky enough to see it prepared correctly, that is.
Price: RMB200 (not including wine)
Who’s going: tuhao with taste, Antonio Carluccio
Good for: homemade pasta, undisturbed fine dining
8. Red Chilli
Contrary to what its name might suggest, at Red Chilli you won't find many spicy explosions. Instead, expect gentler-on-the-tongue, Pan-Asian fusion with a heavier focus on Vietnamese and some Thai flavors thrown in. There are a few authentic gems buried, so do look closely. A satisfactory char-grilled pork neck (RMB58) appears on their list of appetizers. Thin and slightly chewy, the meat is basted and flavored with just enough depth. Given its penchant for reinventing the culinary wheel, the Thai prawn carpaccio with lime chilli relish (RMB98) is a must try.
Who’s going: fusionistas and pho-natics
Good for: gentler Vietnamese gastronomy, fresh produce
Located in Haizhu’s Icon Mall near Jiangnanxi station’s Exit B, this new eatery offers patrons the option of designing their own pizza complete with unlimited toppings (yes, you read that right – unlimited). When arriving at The Pizza Factory, you will have the option of selecting one of its specialty pizzas or, as we would recommend, building your own. Start by nailing down a size, 9-inch (RMB58), 12-inch (RMB78) or 14-inch (RMB98), before choosing your desired sauce (tomato, pesto or white) and cheese. Once you have the pie’s foundation, it’s up to you to decorate it with delectable toppings – of which there is no shortage. Once your toppings are selected, your pizza will be baked and ready to eat in just two minutes.
Who’s going: young Chinese couples
Good for: picky pizza lovers
10. Somewhere Else
From the team that brought you Social&Co comes a familiar but oh-so-original sequel serving quick, chunky lunches and long, lazy dinners. It’s a concept people have been asking for all along, and Aaron McKenzie – founder and owner of everyone’s favorite banoffee pie spot on Huajiu Lu – has been listening. Though not an Italian restaurant, Somewhere Else does a mean Bolognese (RMB48), homemade pesto with toasted pine nuts (RMB45) and, our personal favorite, homemade beef meatballs in tomato sauce (RMB55) served over your choice of spaghetti, penne or spirals. We’re told freshness and quality are a priority, so the tomatoes and olive oil are both imported, the ground beef is shipped in from Argentina and any cheese you see was pressed in Italy.
Who’s going: people who want to go Somewhere Else
Good for: great homely pastas, chunky salads, amazing daily cakes
For more 2016 Year in Review coverage, click here.