Craig Willis Is Always Up to Something – This Time on Wukang Lu

By Sophie Steiner, May 13, 2021

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The Place 

Something first soft opened in fall 2020 on Wukang Lu – a brunch café, wine and cocktail lounge and global cuisine-inspired restaurant housed in a 160-square meter space (that feels way bigger). Somehow, each concept works both on its own and as a collective – a textbook example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Although seating fits over 80 people, the dining area feels intimate because it's divided ergonomically into four sections – imploring aesthetically pleasing elements like a fish tank filled with succulents or an intricately carved table laden with a multi-tiered candle and floral display. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Each section has its own lighting elements – UFO lights in front of the repurposed shipping container-cum-open kitchen, globe lights highlighting worn Persian rugs and family beach photos in the main vaulted-ceiling ‘living room’ and low-hanging bulbs intertwined with a terrarium-esque display of suspended greenery in the southeast corner. 

Whereas the bar area feels more industrial, walking towards the sweeping balcony brings you into a world of boho chic, with ample lighting streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.  

The Food

Chef Alexander Bitterling (previously of Hunter Gatherer and Thought for Food) cut his teeth in Thailand, bringing forth flavors from southeast Asia to boldly combine with customarily European plates – resulting in a mixed bag of dishes he refers to as ‘destination cuisine.’  

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

From shatteringly crisp soy and ginger-glazed, Sichuan peppercorn-sprinkled Beef Jerky (RMB58) to spice blend-cured and dry-aged Duck Prosciutto (RMB52), crowned with salt and thyme-marinated grapes and a side of seven grain crisps, the meat snacks pair expertly with the extensive natural and organic-focused wine list. 

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Other can’t-miss finger foods include the Crispy Fontina Cheese (RMB48) – lightly battered Italian soft cheese, glistening with floral osmanthus honey and a smattering of pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika) – an equally sophisticated and naughty take on a mozzarella stick.

And then there is the Smoked Burrata Cheese (RMB138) – a plump globule, adorned with curling whorls of serrano ham that, when pierced, oozes milky dregs that dribble and mingle with the creamy bottom-layer coating of piquillo pepper purée.

DSC00021.jpgCrab Meat Buns (RMB78), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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We’ve had our fair share of tartares, but the campfire smoke pluming from the glass candy dish that houses Something’s Beef Tartare (RMB98) is more than a gimmicky attention grabber. The peaty char plays nicely with the beetroot’s earthy sweetness, one of the five rainbow stripes that embellish the chopped beef. A surprising introduction of kimchi adds a fermented, sour funk while salted egg yolk ties in a creamy element of fat we would ubiquitously see as the inclusion of mayonnaise. 

DSC09932.jpgSpiced Foie Gras (RMB128), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Whenever possible, Bitterling uses a Josper – a unique piece of kit that allows food to be barbequed over charcoal and baked at the same time – essentially, it is to proteins what the sixth gear is to a Ferrari. The Charred Octopus' (RMB118) springy snap and smoky sizzle is owed completely to that glorious Josper, further enhanced by the addition of grilled pineapple, green peppers and wakame seaweed. 

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Bathed in ponzu bisque, the Grilled Seabass Fillet (RMB158) embodies the ocean’s boldest flavors. Ripples of wakame encircle octopus tentacles, buttery mussels and crisp, bitter endive. 

DSC09981.jpgBlack Angus Short Rib (RMB258), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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While some of the vegetable sides really hit the mark – like a fluffy dollop of Sea Salt Sweet Potato Mash (RMB48) gilded with a golden-brown butter crumble – others fall flat. Charred Cauliflower (RMB48) is under-cooked and bland, with a perplexing puddle of yuzu-kosho and miso sauce on the side. Do we dip the florets like fries?  But fries have inherent flavor whereas the plain cauliflower adds minimal value other than a semi-tasteless vessel when it should be the leading role. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Although a step up in freshness, the Charcoal Broccolini (RMB52) is drowned in non-bonito tasting ‘bonito cream,’ and a lavish portion of unsuccessfully puffed quinoa granules that find their way annoyingly into your teeth’s tiniest crevices.

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The Crispy Asparagus (RMB56) is about as far away from the healthy vegetable that it begins its journey as. Breaded and deep-fried, the stalks are speckled with pickled radish and a salty duck egg salad of sorts, the micro-cilantro garnish being the only actual greenery on the plate. However, if a growing waistline doesn’t keep you up at night, chomp away. 

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The spring desserts are elegantly light, like the signature One Night in Bangkok (RMB62) –salted coconut cream syphoned into a trembly, cloud-like dome with a refreshing sphere of mango sorbet awaiting at the center. Puffed Thai purple rice below and crumbled pistachio on top add a contrasting crunch. 

DSC00038.jpgStrawberry Kiss (RMB60), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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More than a dozen refreshing cocktails are on offer, like the Figger (RMB78) – a sour sip of dry fig-infused vodka, applejack, lemon juice and strawberry jam – along with mocktails, smoothies, coffee beverages, tea and draft beer. The real pull is Something’s curated wine list, making it the ideal spot to get a cheeky glass in, regardless of the hour. 

The Vibe

This is one of three restaurants to open in the Wukang Lu wet market turned urban lifestyle space backed by Craig Willis (Mr. Willis, Henkes, BOR Eatery, Apollo and quite a few others) – the other two being Mi Mian Hui Xin – a Cantonese dim sum and diner – and Agnes – a Nordic-inspired American south BBQ joint. The multi-purpose space also houses happening boutiques and fashion displays; it oozes trendy coolness. 

After the longest soft opening of all time, service can still be a bit spotty, but that minor inconvenience won’t stop us from returning to that sun-soaked balcony for a coffee that rolls into wine. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Interestingly enough, Craig isn’t in the kitchen anymore. In fact, on the day we visited, he was head runner, dropping off dishes and chatting with regulars, his idea of ‘retirement.’ Yet, the venue still has that unmistakably Willis touch to it – hip design, worldly menu and humming ambiance. 

Price: RMB150-300
Who’s Going: Sun-worshipping brunch-goers, culinary photography enthusiasts, lovers of the Wukang ‘hood
Good For: Groups that can’t decide on one cuisine they want, wine-fueled date nights, coffee catch-ups


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

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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