Year of the Rat Recap: New Restaurant & Bar Openings – Part I

By Sophie Steiner, February 10, 2021

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And so we bid adieu to the Year of the Rat – a lemon of a 12 months that changed the course of history and life as we know it. Yet, the show must go on, and that means enjoying it in the way we know best – through good food and drink. Here is an A to Z recap of some of the major restaurants and bars that had the tenacity to open up in a city that was forced to shut down. See Part II here and Part III here.


Alimentari Grill

The latest installment of the Alimentari brand, Alimentari Grill threw open its doors in late summer as the first major opening in the now always renao Shankang Li. As the expat epicenter continues its move northwards to Jing’an, we are looking forward to more restaurant openings in the area.

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Like in other Alimentari stores around Shanghai, Alimentari Grill combines the best of a high-end grocery store with a kitchen. But this time, they really turn up the heat with a grill-focused menu – charcoal grill that is. 

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The real highlight of the this location is the expansive outdoor patio, and with heaters for winter, it’s the perfect late afternoon spot for a post-work or weekend libation. The grocery section is similar to other Alimentari venues, where guests can stock up on Italian dried goods, European wines, cold cuts, cheeses, olives in all varieties and other pickled goodies.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Alimentari Grill.


The Anchor & Clover Club

Fitting right in with the high-end vibe of the Bund Finance Center comes the elegant Manhattan bistro, The Anchor, and its sister lounge and R&B and hip hop bar, Clover Club

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Pulling inspiration from New York, where over 8,000 languages are spoken on any given day, Chef Conrad Van Den Heever combines flavors from his past and tastes from his present to create something innovative, modern and downright delicious. 

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Many of the dishes pay homage to his South African roots – not in their entirety – but through the use of a specific spice, an aspect of a traditional dish or inspiration from a childhood food-related memory. 

Coupling his impressive experience in London working as a chef at some of the top restaurants in the world and his love of Southeast Asian flavors, Chef Conrad is all about the creative fusion – in flavors, textures and overall presentation.

Read a full review here. See a listing forThe Anchor and Clover Club.


Azul

Late last summer saw the reincarnation of Azul in Shankang Li, and the team behind it hasn’t seemed to have slowed down since. Soon after opening for dinner, Azul launched a full brunch menu, which is now followed by a weekday lunch menu.

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With our prediction that Shankang Li will become the new ‘it’ spot already proving true, having more options for all hours of the day is only making us want to be there even more often than we already are. 

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Azul, as the flagship brand by Peruvian restaurateur Eduardo Vargas, has received a full makeover, from top to bottom in its new home on Kangding Lu. “The only thing we kept the same is the name and Eduardo’s flan,” says Azul’s new head chef Willmer Colmenares, previously of Char Bar & Grill.

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Whimsical would be the word to describe the dinner menu, and lunch and brunch maintain that same playfulness, only with a healthier twist.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Azul.


La Baracca

La Baracca, brought to us by The Camel Group, is an Italian osteria on the now cafe-filled Yongkang Lu. Just like your neighborhood European cafe they are offering up everything from grab-and-go pastries and Yunnan-sourced coffee beverages in the morning to a full menu of pizzas, charcuterie boards and antipastos for lunch and dinner. Then there's the stellar lineup of 16 spritzes to choose from for just RMB50, and an inviting, budget-friendly wine list. Hello round-the-clock Happy Hour.

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Image courtesy of Graeme Kennedy

The straightforward menu leans Italian/Italian-American with no major surprises, but we are never not in the mood for cheese and Italian meat atop carbs in all forms – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

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Unlike a few of the openings on Yongkang Lu, this is not the newest, trendiest concept restaurant begging KOLs to bang down the doors. In fact, it’s the opposite – an ideal neighborhood hangout in a street filling up with the chillest of cool hangouts.

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It’s not a one-time-stop-in-and-snap-photos-to-plaster-the-Instagram-feed-with, but rather, where we’d actually choose to meet up with a friend for drinks and charcuterie after work, or for a coffee and croissant on a lazy Sunday morning (that may or may not spill over into a spritz-filled afternoon).

Read a full review here. See a listing for La Baracca.


Bar À Vin

Bar à Vin opened quietly on Jiashan Lu in mid-January in a manner that mirrors its co-owner Jeffrey Yao’s demeanor: humble and unpretentious. Yet, in the short eight months that it’s been open, it has garnered quite the reputation amongst those in the wine industry, and a consistent following of regulars that keep the two-story dining area full every day of the week. 

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The space is so French. So very, very French. But not in the way we internationalized French food lovers think of it. Instead of the white tablecloths brimming with conventional favorites like Coq au Vin, Bœuf Bourguignon or Soupe à L’Oignon, the warmly lit, quaint space is cozy, with homely fare one would find at a ‘neighborhood’ wine bar in a small French countryside town. 

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Family-style comfort food is what you can expect to dine on at Bar à Vin, but to keep it interesting, Jeffrey adds his own twist, like rounding out a plate with Thai or North African spices to add an unexpected yet welcomed surprise.

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Similar to other French wine bistros, like Soif and Le Verre à Vin, there is no fixed wine menu. Just peruse the ever-rotating wine bottle selection, stacked like books in an old library along the wooden shelves that cover the entire northern wall on the first floor.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Bar à Vin.


Blaz

Blaz is breathing new life into the heritage villa on Donghu Lu that used to house the old elEFANTE. Simon Briens, co-founder of RAC, is in charge of all things wine, while Chris Zhu (formerly of Bird + Bitter) is pulling out the stops when it comes to food. The canteen and wine bar soft opened in late September, and has been nearly impossible to get a table ever since. 

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Known in the industry for his fusion techniques, Zhu combines Chinese ingredients with typically French dishes, making each bite that much more thought-provoking and engaging for his customers. Our number one tip for Blaz – bring your stretchy pants – you will want to try it all. 

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A lively atmosphere is set by the funky upbeat playlist, friendly service and enthusiastic clientele. The expansive patio shared with fellow villa dwellers Cellar to Table has warm, dim mood lighting, ideal for afternoon sitting and sipping.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Blaz.


The Boiling Crab

Opening in May, The Boiling Crab in Shanghai became the brand’s first location abroad, with another space in Australia set to open early next year. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

At The Boiling Crab, it’s all about digging in with your hands and getting messy – so messy that you can’t play on your phone, leaving you to – shock – actually interact with the people you came with. 

The focal point here is the fresh seafood, and enjoying it the way seafood should be enjoyed – smothered in tasty sauce, in an unpretentious setting and in good company. A cold beer or a refreshing cocktail from their full bar never hurts.

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A seafood boil is an American pastime, up there with BBQs, fish frys and potlucks. It’s a social gathering that involves shellfish as the central element, with the Louisiana Cajun tradition being the most well-recognized. 

Boiling Crab offers the most abundant kind of seafood boil, with every possible crustacean alternative, along with fried goodies like chicken wings, French fries (killer sweet potato and Cajun fries, ideal for sopping up that extra seafood sauce), spring rolls and a fried sole fish basket that puts most other Shanghai fish and chip options to shame. 

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The Boiling Crab is not reinventing the wheel. In fact, it’s doing the opposite. It’s taking a concept that has proven itself over and over again from the USA, picked it up, and dropped it right in the heart of American Town, aka Xintiandi, where it belongs.

Read a full review here. See a listing for The Boiling Crab.


Botanical Basket

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Co-owner Eric Almazov brought his passion for cocktail making to a new level by opening his own venue, Botanical Basket, on the bustling Wuding Lu in January. This gin-focused bar really took off as the weather warmed since the space fits roughly 20 people inside, but doubles in size with the added outdoor area. 

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While gin is the key focus – with over 100 gins readily available at any given time – many of the creative cocktails see other spirits, liqueurs and tinctures added, coupled with fat-washing techniques, infusions, sprays and funky garnishes.

Reasonably priced for what you get, most cocktails fall in the range of RMB68-78. Not finding what you want on the menu? Not a problem; the bar staff is fully trained and ready to make you a bespoke creation at any given moment.

See a listing for Botanical Basket.


Brewdog

After waiting nearly two years, Scottish craft beer company Brewdog finally opened in Shanghai, and it’s… sterile. Exactly what you’re not looking for out of a craft beer bar. With the explosion of legit craft beer bottle shops around the city, in the time it took Brewdog to get its shit together and actually open, it has rendered itself somewhat irrelevant. 

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The space is sizeable, but by breaking it up into three sections, it feels livelier than it actually is. The bar itself is off to the side – facing the mall entrance – making the main dining area the focal point. Weird choice as the reasonably priced beers (and regulation-size shuffle board tables!) are the main pull that will bring us back. 

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The food in general is fairly cookie cutter, mainly bar grub. You’re looking at lots of burgers, sandos, souped up salads, wings, loaded fries and desserts that will give you diabetes by just looking at them. Everything we ate was solid but not memorable.

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The main takeaway is actually the variety of vegan and vegetarian-friendly options they have. Shanghai has been quick to jump on the vegan bandwagon, but we’d estimate that at least 35%+ of the menu is vegan-friendly and actually tasty, which is not easy to come by in a city known for pork-stuffed soup dumplings.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Brewdog.


Bubba's Food Co.

Bubba’s Food Co., the first Texas-style BBQ joint in all of China, first opened back in 2006 all the way in Hongqiao. Since then, it moved around to a few different locations, like the Expo site and Cool Docks, but nothing has fit quite right until owner and pit master Ken Walker settled into his new digs in the backside of Shankang Li. 

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The menu is a labor of love, combining highlights from a number of Ken’s previous venues – there’s BBQ meat from the original Bubba’s, some tacos from La Mesa and Tex-Mex from Bordertown

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The venue is warm and welcoming, full of Southern hospitality, making you want to kick back and hang out for a while. Blind Melon, Shania Twain and other artists with a notable Southern twang blast from the speakers, and there’s a live music corner for regular music events. 

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Fitting roughly 60 people sitting (130 standing), Bubba’s is a stellar option for a meat-forward party with friends, co-workers or for networking events. But, let’s be honest, we aren’t coming here for the vibe – Ken could serve those smoked meats behind a dumpster on paper plates, and we would still be first in line every day.

Read a full review here. See a listing for Bubba’s Food Co.

Read our Year of the Rat Recap: New Restaurant & Bar Openings – Part II here and Part III here.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]


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