Better-Than-Sex Wagyu & Uni Bowls at Daniel An's Atelier Izakaya

By Sophie Steiner, March 5, 2021

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The Place 

At Daniel An’s (Taste Buds, Atelier by Taste Buds, Cocktail Palace by Taste Buds, etc.) Atelier Izakaya, industrial warehouse decor, exposed painted brick, rustic sliding barnyard doors and metallic aluminum chairs have replaced the now deceased Arch. Although we still lament the loss of those pillowy blue cheese stuffed gnocchi paired with mad scientist-level rotovap creation libations from the location’s previous incarnation, the Shanghai trend gods have spoken, and the name of the game is izakaya. 

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Roughly 60 people fit in the main dining area – including two semi-private rooms and yakitori bar seating – and another 20 can saddle up at the mostly partitioned-off cocktail bar on the side that uncannily resembles Arch’s, if it fell into a Japanese wormhole. 

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As the weather warms, more outdoor seating will be added, saddled up to a wall-sized mural, with a full view of the yakitori grill.  

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While other izakayas (*cough* Hundo *cough*) may take themselves a bit too seriously as an authentic Japanese izakaya, Atelier Izakaya is more hip and young, embracing its Japanese roots but still assuming a Chinese twist – like robatayaki-style yellow croaker, bone marrow with furikake and east China sea prawns – that makes the food more relatable to the Shanghai expat and hip local crowds. 

The Food

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The Wagyu Uni Rice (RMB68) is a bowl of sex. We’ve got your attention now, and there, we’ve said it. Raw A5 Wagyu beef cubes and luscious slabs of sea urchin perch atop sushi rice like melting butter. 

Drag a chopstick across the onsen egg’s thin outer coating and watch the climactic explosion of warm, velvety yolk dribble down the side of the bowl. Briny pearls of bright orange salmon roe burst with each bite, cutting through the fatty richness, begging you to go in for another scoop…or shovelful. Do you need a cigarette yet? 

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If this isn’t a first date, roll up those sleeves and get after it with the Liquor Soaked Prawn (RMB48). Huadiao wine, sake, baijiu, Sansho (Japanese peppercorn) and preserved plum form an electric coating, leaving a current of flavors rippling across your tongue.

As the twang of booze subsides, the flavor takes on a new shape – fruity and floral, situated pleasantly in a space between sweet and tart. Our only gripe is that they are tough to peel – even using your hands – but some of the best food is eaten that way if you’re in casual company. 

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In Japan, amberjack, similar to yellowtail, is seen as an everyday piscine, but the Kanpachi Tartare (RMB48), is anything but that. Aromatic Thai micro-basil and cilantro bring out the natural sweetness in the symmetrical cubes of buttery fish. Glistening with a light ponzu-based eel sauce, we found ourselves bypassing chopsticks for a spoon to scoop more of one of our favorite bites of the night directly into the dome.

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While chawanmushi, or Japanese steamed egg custard, is customarily served with fish cakes, the Black Truffle Goose Liver Chawanmushi (RMB58) gets a Shanghai facelift with the addition of one of this city’s biggest obsessions – foie gras. The pudding-like, trembly eggs are softened with an earthy hit of shaved black truffle and lightly roasted asparagus, all cooked together with fastidious care. 

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The yakitori meats are well prepared, albeit a bit tranquil (there is nothing wrong with that; give the people what they want... and expect!) Grilled on bamboo skewers and served with fresh calamansi, any of the regular hitters will do – succulent Chicken Tenderloin (RMB12), fat-capped Chicken Oyster [Blade] (RMB18), meaty Chicken Breast (RMB18) or fragrant Plum Shiso Chicken Thigh (RMB18) – if you want to see a familiar landmark at the table. The meat is tender, the sauces are flavorful and the portion sizes match the price. 

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The Citronella Chicken Meat Balls (RMB18) are a noteworthy mention, succulent and juicy, draped in a sweet soy sauce. 

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We’ve indulged in our fair share of chicken wings, but the Chicken Wing Filled with Mentaiko (RMB22) sits in a realm of its own. Like a gift that keeps on giving, a dollop of spicy pollock roe beads – nestled inside firm yet juicy meat – is covered in a crisp layer of fat-dripping skin that leaves a glossy sheen on your fingertips, remnants of a bite gone too quickly.   

DSC07755.jpgThick Cut Beef Tongue (RMB98), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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We have grumbled about soggy skin before, and while the Chicken Skin (RMB10) here can’t necessarily be described as flabby, it also isn’t that shatteringly crisp bite we seek. This is quickly overlooked, however, by the juicy perfection that is the Chicken Bottom (RMB12). Not every bite can be a win, but considering that Atelier Izakaya is still in soft opening, our expectations were highly surpassed. 

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Flaky, soft eel, smothered in a sticky ponzu-based paste rests on the most delicately cooked onsen egg and Yue-Guang rice as the Grilled Eel Over Rice (RMB38). Nori shreds and furikake seasoning add salt, a sprinkle of sugar and umami savoriness to a dish that would be a shame to miss.  

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Like a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake, the Red Fruit Dessert (RMB48) offers three ice cream-size scoops of tangy cheese mousse studded with fresh strawberries and frozen raspberry drupelets, all topped with red fruit foam, and a dusting of vanilla cake crumbles. While we planned to skip the dessert and opt for another Wagyu Uni Rice, this treat was worth derailing our original tactic. 

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Our biggest complaint – cocktails don’t start until 9pm. When a venue falls under the same umbrella as other Daniel An cocktail powerhouses, We. Want. The. Booze. That is not to say that there aren’t other alcohol options – this is not Prohibition Era 1930s USA dustbowl. There’s beer (RMB45-55), wine (RMB60/glass), sake (RMB160/200ml) and highballs (RMB45-85), so why not just start serving the creative cocktails too? We know they are delicious, and we want them in our bellies. Just saying. 

The Vibe 

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Despite the open layout and size, Atelier Izakaya has a bar vibe that makes you crave another round of sake. Whether it’s the groovy 70s jams pumping out beats that are hard not to bump and grind to or the black paint coating most surfaces that make you feel like a heathen of the night, something about the space urges us to drink…heavily. Yet somehow food is still the focus.

We can see this place eventually going the Italo route – restaurant by day, with the potential to turn into a rowdy dance club at night. Daniel An venues are designed for boozing, after all – but now we can associate Japanese grilled meats and rice bowls with that. 

Price: RMB175-300
Who’s Going: Atelier fans, hip locals and expats craving all things Japan, date night drinkers
Good For: Yakitori cravings, group dinners, weekend date nights 


See a listing for Atelier Izakaya. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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