An Unpopular Opinion about Le Verre à Vin

By Sophie Steiner, January 14, 2022

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This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think I’ll ever return to Le Verre à Vin

Let me preface with the fact that I do not and have never worked in the wine industry, so perhaps that sways my opinion. Those who fervently tout the sanctity that is Le Verre à Vin do tend to work in wine on a daily basis, and have lived in Shanghai since the good ol’ days (and by that I mean pre-2018: interpret as you will).

But I just don’t buy into the appeal. 

DSC00404.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's

To be fair, I’m more of a run-of-the-mill wine drinker. I’m not going to opt for the cheapest bottle because I have a functioning palate, a modest income and a lack of desire for a pounding hangover the next day, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I can’t taste the difference between a 2017 Bordeaux Cab Sav versus the same varietal harvested in 2015. 

Instead of spending my evenings diving into the intricacies of reductive winemaking and its impact on volatile sulfur compounds in a bottle of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, I’d rather just spend that same time drinking said white Burgundy. 

If this reflects your same feeling towards wine, you may find yourself in my neck of the woods when it comes to your stance on Le Verre à Vin. Maybe not. What do I know? I just eat and drink for a living. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Le Verre à Vin, one of the first wave wine bars of Shanghai, opened in 2015 as a sister restaurant to the already popular Le Vin. The original proprietor was none other than wine bar connoisseur Jeffrey Yao (Bar à Vin, Le Saleya Bar à Vin) – a beloved pillar within the Shanghai wine scene – but Jeffrey sold it in 2019 to MIG to focus on his newest project at the time, the now equally popular Bar à Vin.

READ MORE: Shanghai Restaurant Review: Bar à Vin

MIG still owns Le Verre à Vin today, along with a few Japanese izakayas, an omakase spot and a handful of other wine bars.

I never visited Le Verre à Vin when it was owned by Jeffrey, and, if I had, maybe my opinion of the place would be different. What makes his other spots so memorable extends far beyond the curated wine selection; it’s the welcoming atmosphere and personal connection, coupled with a decade’s worth of experience in the industry.

But this is exactly what is missing at Le Verre à Vin today: Personality. 

During my most recent visit, the meal started out rough. A 20-minute wait for a server, followed by another 20 minutes to receive a bottle of wine and four glasses. The place was about half full at the time, roughly 30 people, and the male to my right was offered to taste the poured wine, even though I ordered.

The saying is 'ladies first' for a reason, which should only be trumped by whoever places the wine order. In this case, I’m both. Yet the two men of the group were curiously served first.

Strike one.

DSC00409.jpgGarlic Shrimps (RMB68), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

After placing a food order, a waiter came back on three separate occasions to tell us dishes we had ordered were out of stock. It was 7pm on a Tuesday. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Of the dishes that did arrive, the taut exterior of the signature Fried Intestines (RMB68) give way to a springy interior – an ideal bar snack. Yet, pricing is on the higher end for the petite portion given the fact that large intestines are cheap and frying is even cheaper.  

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Stewed Clams with Nduja Salami (RMB98) are plump and burst into an oceanic wave across the tongue, but the thin broth tastes solely of lemongrass with zero of the promised spice and texture from the Nduja. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Slathered in a sticky, sweet BBQ sauce, the Slow Roasted Beef Ribs (RMB188) are fine, albeit noticeably dry with unrendered fat forming gelatinous edges instead of that melted jus we always hope for. 

The meat arrives sitting atop unsalted fries, an egregious error. Potatoes always need salt. No exceptions. 

This unforgivable mishap deserves a strike two. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Lastly, let’s talk about the Fried Octopus Leg (RMB88), which is not – in fact – fried, but instead seemingly poached? Or what else could make it so flabby. The rubbery outer layer is inedible, while the interior is slightly mushy, tasteless. It’s flanked by a gluey tartar sauce and pearled barley slathered in aioli. 

But that’s not the strangest part. 

The octopus leg is topped with a broken Pringle chip. One solitary – stale – chip. I’m all for using any kind of ingredient in an inventive way that adds a new dimension to a dish. I also have been known to crush my fair share of Pringles. In this case, the Pringle does not enhance the plate, nor do I want to consume a notably old chip on a soggy leg of an invertebrate. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Mediocre food aside, the wine list is good. And it’s priced well compared to the ever-growing Shanghai wine bar market. From a minimally educated wine drinker, I will give my meaningless stamp of approval on the wine. 

READ MOREA-Z Rating of Shanghai's Newest Wine Bars: Part I, Part II & Part III

The ambiance, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. I dig the funky hanging posters, but it feels more like what you would find at a neighborhood izakaya and sake spot rather than a French wine bar.

I’m down for purposeful fusion, but nothing else about the place relates to Japanese anything, and it touts itself just as a casual French wine bar, leaving me confused about the décor choice. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Beyond decoration, lighting is overly bright from hanging, exposed bulbs. Not the cool Edison kind that are meant to be uncovered, further adding to their hipster-chic aura, just routine lightbulbs your neighborhood shifu would help you install at home.

The music is abysmal, only audible when the majority of the place has cleared out. 

But all of that could still be chalked up to quaint and cute, with an air of longing for a bygone Shanghai past.

A lack of service, however, cannot. 

It was hard to get a server's attention throughout the entire night; empty, dirty serving plates were left on the table for 30 minutes at least; water was scarce, poured once during a 2+ hour meal, and only when asked for; and even ordering more food and drinks felt like we were inconveniencing the staff from doing something more important.

Could this have been because we were in the back room? Possibly. But that shouldn't be an excuse. Service shouldn't falter because of seating placement.

Strike three, and you're out.

But then – against the timeless wisdom of the 'three strikes and you're out' policy – I visited again.

Why? Because I fall on the spectrum of masochism? Maybe. But that’s beside the point. I just wanted to see if the previous visit was some one-off fluke. Friends have touted the service, saying they are remembered "like family," and treated as such.

But, to no avail: the second experience was just the first one again, deja vu.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Why did I not sample a wider variety of dishes, you ask? Half the menu was unavailable both times, and after adding a “but” to every dish description, I decided to save my days of overeating for something worth the calories.

Plain and simple, there’s a lot better out there now, even within the same price range and style of restaurant. 

Meaning a “glass of wine” in French, it’s obvious what the focus is at Le Verre à Vin. And the unicorn bottles, I will gladly admit, are lost on an recreational wine drinker like yours truly. 

But what is bringing your average diner in then? Nostalgia of what once was? That just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The venue is centrally located, it has a longstanding reputation and it has remained popular with regulars for years. I just don’t see myself ever becoming one of those regulars. 

See a listing for Le Verre à Vin. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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