Spanish x Japanese Lounge Sakaba Malabar Receives Chic Revamp

By Sophie Steiner, September 17, 2021

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Malabar shut its doors back in June after being open for nine years, but – don’t worry – it was just for a short stint of renovation and rebirth that has now bestowed upon us Sakaba Malabar.

While design and layout have been upgraded, Malabar's core energy still remains the same, housed in a chic lounge setting that converges around a communal, elliptically shaped bar crowned with hanging glassware.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The name Sakaba, loosely translating to “bar” in Japanese, represents said Japanese influence, while the beloved Spanish roots name of Malabar remains, converging in Sakaba Malabar to embody what the concept is all about – Japanese meets Spanish in food, beverage and social dining atmosphere.  

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Spanish tapas menu, developed by executive chef and co-owner Juan Campos (RAW Eateryand his sister, head chef Ana Campos, has a Japanese thread running through it, in the form of ingredients, flavor profile and inspiration. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Drinks, curated by Yao Lu (Union Trading Company), see bold Spanish tastes combined with high-quality Japanese ingredients, spanning everything from Sake Sangria (RMB58) to the Spanish Oloroso sherry-based Tochigi Cobbler (RMB88).

Tart, like the dessert it’s named after, the latter is made with fresh lemon, strawberry ‘ichigo’ jam and pineapple, bedazzled with a mix of powdered sugar-dusted fresh berries, a dried pineapple wheel and sprigs of mint.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Diving deeper into the menu, food arrives in sharing size ‘tapas’ portions, with punchy seafood and meat permutations like Bluefin Tuna Tartar (RMB168) paired with sake-soaked foie gras, cubed plum and glistening beads of sour teriyaki-soaked ikura.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Foie Gras Terrine (RMB108) is layered with a fatty slab of eel in the middle, flanked by two sheets of bruléed apple that shatter into crispy shards when pierced with a fork. A black-pepper flecked green apple jam adds acidity and a gasp of spice.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A molten whipped bechamel cream oozes out of the Leek Croquettes’ (RMB78) crackly coating, with the cooling sweetness of crab salad balanced by salty ribbons of Iberico bellota ham that form an appetizing summit. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The cooked a la minute Tortilla de Patatas (RMB58) involves olive oil fried potatoes, beaten with Japanese egg and baked into a fluffy yet thick pancake. A puddle of black garlic aioli coats a king mushroom take on the customarily baby eel-based Spanish dish angulas. The mushrooms are julienned into thin strips for a texture that mimics the eels, and are then cooked with garlic, chili, parsley and white wine. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A flavor explosion, the Josper Grilled Eggplant (RMB58) is presented studded with pickled okra, olives, pepitas and alternating dollops of eggplant hummus and sweet black garlic purée.

The eggplant itself is first marinated in koji salt, made from the white mold-inoculated grains that are used as a fermenting agent in soy, sake and miso for added umami richness, before being roasted.

Finally, the charred aubergine sits in a pool of honey miso yogurt.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Similar to the owners’ other venue RAW, the menu would be incomplete without a healthy assorted of Josper-roasted steaks, and the Chile M5 (RM178) is a standout. Served humbly with pickled piparra peppers, manchego foam and black ash salt, the juicy licks of beef flavor speak volumes. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If it’s an extra hit of carbs you crave, you can’t go wrong with the black garlic miso mayo smothered Fries (RMB28)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

While food has become a stronger focus compared to the previous rendition of Malabar, cocktails are still at the forefront, with inventive choices like the scotch and miso paste blended Miso Caliente (RMB88), a savory sipper that is garnished with a leaf of nori and bonito flakes. 

DSC09751.jpgTakeda Isabella (RMB88), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A clarified, cinnamon-scented Horchata Milk Punch (RMB88), with sherry brandy, almonds and anise, acts as a drinkable dessert or a sweeter pairing for nibbles.

The bevvies list will continue to expand in wine and sake selection, while the food menu will see new dishes added over time, rounding out a final menu with roughly 35 choices by grand opening. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The upscale décor, coupled with Japanese-inspired bites and drinks, plus laid-back, neighborhood hangout ambiance have turned this once post-work to late-night watering hole into an esteemed date night restaurant. 

See a listing for Sakaba Malabar. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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