Shanghai craft beer lovers can rejoice, as the spacious venue that was Stone Brewing Tap Room has reopened its doors on Yuyuan Lu under new ownership and the new name of Commune Reserve. Founded in Wuhan in 2016, Commune Reserve is a social dining bar brand with venues in 21 cities across China. However, the new owners have taken steps to preserve a connection with Stone Brewing, retaining its staff, concept and style. There are over 30 craft beers on the menu, but within that collection, 15-20 remain permanent Stone taps shipped from the US, and the Stone merchandise continues to be on display.
While the beer remains bold and cold (very cold, as they boast innovative flux capacitors that use nitrogen to cool certain beers), the food menu has more changes, offering diners a choice of a full-service brunch, lunch and dinner menu. For the first time, fries and ketchup are on the menu. There is also new crafted cocktail menu with the Commune take on classics like whisky sours and negronis.
Seeing as most diners at Commune Reserve will probably be drinking beer, the menu is an eclectic list of global comfort food favorites – chicken wings (Korean and Japanese), sticky ribs, pasta dishes and burgers. Salty, sweet umami flavors abound, complementing the house beverage of choice; beer holds a complexity of flavors, interacts with many food combinations and, of course, provides refreshment.
First up, Deviled Eggs (RMB68) – boiled eggs, caviar, prosciutto chips and microgreens. A wonderful treat, it is great to see this retro dish (one of the first learned at culinary school, but so rarely found on modern menus) so well executed. Balanced with greens and salty caviar, they are perfect for sharing with friends.
We found they went down well when paired with the Stone Ripper (RMB35 for 300ml), a San Diego pale ale, and also had to try a side of the French Fries (RMB45). The chips were medium cut, with the skins left on, perfectly cooked – gooey in the middle – and sprinkled with fresh green herbs. The accompanying five spices ketchup was delicious.
The next few dishes we tried came from the brunch menu, but are available at all times. We loved the Hangover Burger (RMB88); two fresh ground wagyu beef patties, pastrami, yellow cheddar, fried egg, crispy onion strings and spicy chili aioli all in a brioche bun. The combinations of ingredients worked well – salty pastrami, egg and burger contrasted with the subtle chili in the aioli. It is a big portion and would indeed be the cure for those hungry hangover mornings.
The NBeer Beijing Gose Modern (RMB40 for 300ml) was a good compliment – a light but delightfully tart Chinese Craft beer. The slightly sour notes of beer cut through the meat of the burger well.
The Yuyuan Lu Breakfast Sandwich (RMB58) is a bacon sandwich elevated to something more by the fillings of smashed avocado, fried egg, arugula, tomato and the fact the bacon is cured in miso-maple. The brioche bun it was served in was light, and the salty sweet maple syrupy bacon went well with the avocado, so that it needed no other condiment. Neither light nor heavy, just comforting: as decent as bacon sandwiches go.
We washed it down with No. 18 Film G Milk Stout (RMB45 for 300ml), which had a slightly sweet and creamy coffee flavor; a great pairing as the sandwich was light enough to allow the milk stout – normally what one might think of as a heavier beer – room to reel off its flavors without being overpowered.
The Chicken and Waffles (RMB98) sees a huge portion of buttermilk battered chicken served on top of a gigantic, round and deep waffle. An abundance of meat, batter, maple syrup and butter all melting together will satiate the fiercest Sunday morning appetites. There is also theater in the pouring of the syrup that, together with the size, makes you feel that it is designed for group appreciation and ordered to share.
The salty sweetness of this dish are a match made in heaven for any beer. We drank the Stone///Fear.Movie.Lions Double IPA (RMB30 for 300ml) and neither food nor beer was the single star; rather both supported each other in a claim for the limelight.
Desert and beer? You may not think it obvious, but it is something you should try and make up your own mind about. The Crème Brulee (RMB68) is served with fresh berries and cranberry chutney. A generous portion delivered a satisfying crunch as you broke the sugared caramel crust, the custard delicate, with most of the flavor coming from the chutney and berries.
We drank it with the Firestone Parabola (RMB98 for 300ml), a stout with big bourbon and vanilla flavors. One of the more expensive beers on the menu... but it fits with the feeling that you save the best to last.
Personally, we love dark beers the most – that ruby brown to black color in the dark malts often impart chocolate and caramel flavors. The great thing about Commune Reserve is that the beer comes in a number of different sizes, so if you are unsure you can order a sample or a smaller 150ml glass.
Finally, if there is dish that will bring us back then it is the Sticky Ribs (RMB98), glazed with ginger, soy, garlic and garnished with chili flakes and chives. Perfect for sharing, the meat falls off the bone, and is delicious with a nitro tap beer to cool your mouth after all that heat.
Food Verdict: 2.5/3
The minimally furnished – almost Spartan – venue with wooden floors and ceilings and bare concrete pillars challenges customers to come into the space and fill up the room with talking, laughing, drinking and eating, filling bare tables with glasses and plates of food and occupying sofa seats with bodies. Tables are arranged in what look like mini islands in a sea, so that despite how crowded it may get, you feel a bubble of privacy around you which creates the sensation that you are the only group of people in the room. Though the decor is sparse, this is a picturesque dining and drinking experience with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating. The vibe here is ‘grab a group of friends or your best pal and celebrate a wonderful day’ (or commiserate a terrible one) with the clinking of glasses and cheerful pick-you-up-food.
Vibe Verdict: 2/2
Total Verdict: 4.5/5
Price: RMB150-250 per person
Who’s going: Mixture of locals and expats, beer lovers, groups of friends
Good for: Boozy brunches, lunches, dinners, groups meals and beer drinking good times
[All images by Dean Clayden/That’s]