When it comes to sushi, there are some things that are just worth splashing out on, if you’ll excuse the pun. But at the other end of the spectrum, the best quality sushi experiences are expensive enough to compete with round-trip tickets to Tokyo. That elusive middle ground of Japanese restaurant is what we look for, where it’s reassuringly expensive without causing sticker shock when you open the menu.
Situated inside the smart Shanghai Centre, we have reason to believe Charcoal could oblige us of our desire to throw several hundred yuan at raw fish. The restaurant serves almost exclusively surf and turf; luxuriantly fatty wagyu beef barbecue and raw sashimi by night, with casual set lunch versions of the two in rice bowls by day.
These start from just RMB68 for a Japanese-style fried chicken set, meander through marine territory with grilled rockfish, tilefish and a ‘supreme’ sashimi bowl (RMB88-188), and arrive at grilled beef and 21-day dry-aged Australian wagyu sirloin for RMB288. We call upon Charcoal’s sea urchin and salmon roe bowl (RMB218), which comes in a set with pickles, excellent, delicate steamed egg custard flavored with oyster, mushroom and gingko, miso soup and marinated mackerel.
And if we’re honest, there’s something about Japanese rice bowls that we prefer over sushi. For us, freely scarfing the fish and its accompanying carbohydrates at will is superior to having it meted out by the mouthful. Better still when you iconoclastically mix the whole lot together with chopsticks, which in this case causes creamy, briny sea urchin to melt and coat the rice, while bouncy pearls of salmon roe burst with bright saltiness under tooth.
Being quite literally a professional glutton, a further addition of fried chicken is in order, confusingly priced at RMB68 whether or not it is within a lunch set. Its ostentatious presentation is charmingly silly for soul food, which includes a dehydrated leaf, a pansy, peeled and halved limes, cherry tomatoes and a silver-lidded receptacle for its ginger and soy dip. The chicken itself is a fatty thigh cut with a thin batter, and while there is crunch, it’s really more of a meaty experience; take from that what you will.
Food Verdict: 2/3
Charcoal is a place for those who prefer comfort and privacy over a lively ambiance. Much of the seating is encased booths, perfect if, say, your conversation might turn to sensitive and salacious matters, or if you simply need to not see other humans for a two-hour period.
Servers are summoned by pressing a button on the table, and when they do come, it’s on the double and accompanied by smiles and questions about how we enjoyed our meal.
Total Verdict: 3.5/5
Price: RMB88-250 for lunch; RMB300-500 for dinner
Who’s going: it won’t matter as you’ll be sitting in a booth
Good for: sushi, wagyu beef barbecue, sake
See a listing for Charcoal
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