Ottimo: Where Old World Wines Rub Elbows with Euro-Asian Fusion

By Sophie Steiner, February 5, 2021

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The Place 

Only morbid curiosity would bring one to Surpass Court on Yongjia Lu, a somewhat ‘cursed’ area where many a restaurant has gone to die. But in late December, co-owner of the auspiciously renao SOiF, Li Ze, decided to put an end to that streak by opening Ottimo

Meaning ‘excellent’ in Italian, Ottimo is a common phrase to say after finishing an exceptional meal, which is clearly the goal here. Head chef Orange (previously of The Nest) works in tandem with Yonex, (previously of Mercato and Jean Georges) – Shanghai’s premier wine and sake sommelier – to create memorable food & bev pairings for all guests, whether it be a wine-forward evening with nibbles or a full dinner. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The interior’s most prominent feature is its walk-in wine closet, presenting mostly Old World wines – many from Burgundy or Bordeaux, with a few Super Tuscans sprinkled in. Like SOiF, there is no wine list and the selection is constantly changing.

Unlike SOiF, the classic wines found here are geared towards the older, more developed palate – very few of those funky natural wines adorn these shelves. The sake selection is smaller yet equally well-curated. Bottles mainly range from RMB400-1,500, and wines by the glass, which rotate monthly, fall between RMB65-95. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

After Chinese New Year, the goal is to open for brunch on weekends and, down the line, lunch on weekdays, with exact timing and menu TBD. 

The Food

The food is mainly Italian braided together with French cuisine, seasonal Asian ingredients and a bias for assertive flavors. Approachable, casual and somewhat playful, the menu is not intimidating – be it a first date or a 101st date, selections are straightforward. 

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The first quarter of the menu is all oysters and fresh seafood. Oysters range in price from RMB38-88 per piece, with an alternating selection from New Zealand, France and Ireland, to name but a few. We went for the Ostre Rogal No. 2 from France (RMB68/piece), a briny, fresh morsel that would get even the Pope in the mood. 

 Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The six tender Tiger Prawn (RMB68) tails are best enjoyed smeared with the textbook cocktail sauce – that in no way skimps on the horseradish – served on the side. Served separated, the tiger prawn heads are fried in a light tempura batter and best enjoyed with a drizzle of fresh lemon to bring out the shrimp brain’s natural creaminess. 

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The Scallops Carpaccio (RMB88) sees chiffonade mint interlaced with crunchy pistachios and green chilies adorning delicately sliced scallops. The acidic hit from the sprinkle of lime juice coupled with the earthy nuts balance out the heavily aromatic fresh mint, resulting in a thoughtful bite. 

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A favorite from SOiF, the Sardines on Spicy Tomato Toast (RMB68) at Ottimo are an exact replica. Torched on one side, each piece of bread is dipped in spicy tomato sauce, leaving a dribble of ombré red that culminates in a charred, meaty sardine on top. 

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Moving on to the generous and skillfully cooked mains, the Ottimo Buco (RMB158) is a true standout. An Ottimo twist on the pun-worthy Italian dish osso bucco sees cross cuts of beef shank, onions and carrots braised into the heartiest of stews. Chewy, homemade gnocchi play well with bones still stuffed with unctuous marrow, asking to be sucked. 

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One of our favorite bites, the Firenace Sunchoke (RMB58) had us thinking we were eating perfectly grill-roasted fingerling potatoes, with their jackets of crispy baked skin, glistening with butter, a dollop of crème fraiche and shaved truffle.

What is a FIReNACE, you ask? Great question, we weren’t so sure ourselves but are now convinced our life is not complete without one. A FIReNACE is a charcoal and wood fire oven in one, imparting a uniquely smoky flavor and char that pervades everything cooked inside it. Ottimo grills many of the mains and sides in the FIReNACE, yet the flavor never gets boring.

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With broth the color of a brick, Andy’s Fish Stew (RMB178) soup base verges on a sauce for the entire turbot that fills the center of the bowl. The fish is then surrounded by an array of mussels, clams, acidic cherry tomatoes and acerbic caperberries. The bright lemon, delicate tomato broth and aromatic lemongrass represent a Mediterranean road trip of flavors. 

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Soak it all up with the freshly baked bread served gratis (alongside fermented chili compound butter and homemade pickled veggies) at the start of each meal. All of the breads are baked daily in-house except for the sourdough, which is sourced from the sourdough king of Shanghai, MBD

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Like a summer BBQ with a twist, the Baby Corn (RMB58) is grilled in the aforementioned FIReNACE, resulting in smoky, yet crunchy kernels, slathered in umami-rich miso butter. 

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A purist would admire the epic sear on the Tooth Fish (RMB168) exterior, but may be surprised by the choice of charred cabbage it rests on – an unconventional side and plating choice that proves to be both logical and downright delicious. A swirl of fresh herb pesto plus glistening beads of salmon roe send the dish whirling in a different direction, but one that we want to follow. 

Although we went a bit seafood heavy with our meal, Ottimo does offer five steak entrée options, ranging from M3 Minute Skirt Steak (RMB188/150 grams) to a behemoth M6 Wagyu Ribeye (RMB1,188/900 grams) that pairs perfectly with the incredible Syrah Grenache blend from the south of France they have on offer by the glass (RMB80).

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Dessert options are simple, choose between a salted caramel Crème Brûlée (RMB58) – that is as luscious on the bottom as the torched shell is shatteringly crisp on the top – or a Basque Burnt Cheese Cake (RMB178), which says it can feed 2-4 people, but despite a full meal, we could (and did) happily take down. The soufflé-like filling is hugged by the warm, rich caramelized crust. 

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Although wine is the main attraction at this *wine* bar, the cocktails are definitely not an afterthought. The Figgy Smalls (RMB85) is booze-forward, with raisin-sweetness balanced by tonka bean. The addition of PX Sherry, fig and chocolate bitters make for an aphrodisiac-fueled libation – the ideal segue into the next phase of the night. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Vibe

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Like its sister restaurant SOiF, Ottimo is humming with lively energy. The strategized flow of plates whizzing past, wine pouring into glasses and laughter emanating from various corners of the space is a choreographed dance, rather than chaotic shuffle.

The attentive service is noteworthy, considering nearly every one of the 90 seats available across the three separate ‘rooms’ in the restaurant were taken when we visited. In a word, our meal and overall experience at Ottimo was ‘Davvero ottimo.’

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Price: RMB300-500
Who’s Going: Wine industry-ers, wine snobs, well-off locals and expats, oyster-aholics
Good For: Splurge-worthy date nights, business dinners, tipsy bubbles and nibbles

See a listing for Ottimo. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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