Kaisha's Pairing Set Playfully Melds Sicilian & Chinese Cuisines

By Sophie Steiner, January 21, 2022

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If you trip and fall in Shanghai, you’ll land at a wine or cocktail pairing dinner. Everyone has jumped on the set menu bandwagon.

That said, anyone with a little experience in F&B can throw a few nattys or Old World wines together with some equally frilly food and call it a pairing menu.

Add in a cocktail lineup sporting all the right buzz words – infused this and clarified that – and you’ll garner a WeChat following in a matter of minutes. 

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Yet, that’s not necessarily how it works. Like successful fusion – that word everyone became obsessed with in the 90s that just as quickly fell out of vogue in the 20-teens – the ingredients have to complement each other somehow, or create a contrast that acts to enhance the experience of each component, making the whole better than the sum of its parts.

That doesn’t necessarily happen all the time. 

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In fact, at many restaurants, a pairing menu will just group together some overly bold ingredients with punchy bevvies so that, by the third course, your palate is shot and you can’t really taste anything. 

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Kaisha proves to be an exception, with thoughtful pairings in their 8 Dish & 8 Cocktail Pairing Menu (RMB680/food, RMB300/cocktails), a series of dishes matched with libations that change every few weeks. Each dish is assembled in front of diners’ eyes for a tailored, full sensorial experience. 

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Drawing on his experience working on the Italian island, Chef Shunojo and Chef Kohei Yoshimura applies all Chinese ingredients to recreate characteristic Sicilian dishes, focusing entirely on seasonality of ingredients. 

Tomo Shinoda and Naoki Toyodome, the team behind Kaisha’s cocktails, then craft complimentary sips, restarting the process almost weekly to utilize only the freshest materials. 

“Wine pairings can be exceptional for balancing a dish, but with cocktails, you can control all elements – flavor, aroma, temperature, mouthfeel – building an inimitable experience for guests,” explains Shunojo. 

Here’s the kind of culinary journey you can expect...

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An amuse-bouche, the Panelle is a Sicilian street snack, commonly munched on while drinking. A chickpea fritter is crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside, and topped with Italian parsley, lemon and – for a Chinese palette twist – ginger. 

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The fennel bulb porridge-base, Siciliano (also known as vellutata di finocchio in Italy) sees sliced swordfish crowned with Ikura salmon roe and tobiko (flying fish roe), with fennel leaves and seeds as garnish.

A salt-heavy umami rich bomb of a soup, it is mellowed by the tart pairing of the warm Siciliana cocktail, made from Marsala wine, Aperol and lemon.

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Named for Italy’s dessert version of China’s almond tofu, the Bianco Mangiare is a savory alternative, adorned with sliced scallops. Black olives appear like cocoa nibs, while green olives take the place of pistachios, accented by shaved almonds and orange.

A drizzle of homemade chili oil brings a piquant pop that is balanced by the Douhua 2.0, an almond milk and amaretto drink, stirred with anisette and a hit of daily ground-fresh wasabi. 

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Our favorite pairing starts with what can only be described as a Thai Bloody Mary, known as the Oriental Sour, made from shochu, Thai red curry paste, coconut, lemon and Danish brand Empirical Spirits’ habanero-based liquor Fuck Trump and His Stupid Fucking Wall.

(Yes, that really is the name).

The nose is spice-forward, yet the flavor leans sour, enhancing the Cicala di Mare’s subtle broth. Laden with delicate mantis shrimp and springy water chestnut gnocchi, the broth is topped with purple potato crisps, a crunch that imitates the sound of the shrimp’s shell cracking as you eat it.

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An oceanic play on afternoon tea, the Afternoon ‘Sea is an array of nibbles arranged like a tea set, each one an experience in and of itself.

First there’s smoked bonito with sweet and sour purple onion jam, followed by sawara (Spanish mackerel) cooked in balsamic vinegar, so that it presents like chocolate cake, paired with a chili-salt coated strawberry.

A confit Japanese oyster is crowned with a lemon, panko and sautéed butter quenelle, posted up next to a ‘deconstructed cannoli’ with ricotta, sweet prawn, caviar and bright yuzu flecks.

Pacific saury, an autumnal swordfish, is confit with dried plum, while seared mackerel belly is paired with torched orange. 

As sashimi is served with a fresh squeeze of lemon, the Afternoon Sea comes with the Real Lemon Sour, a refreshing sipper similar to what you’d find at a neighborhood izakaya in Japan – simply vodka, lemon, soda and salt. 

DSC07403.jpgRosso – trippa and yellow eel in tomato sauce paired with Carolene Bunny, made from Shaoxing wine, carrot and orange, Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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The Chinese Carbonar (a spelling ‘error’ made on purpose) is Chef Shunojo’s version of Italian carbonara, a dish modestly made from four ingredients – bacon, egg, black pepper and cheese.

The plate arrives with thick pasta wheels resting on lentils, dressed with a furu sauce – a Chinese fermented soy ingredient with a pungent flavor that some equate to aged cheese – and soft-boiled egg doused in ketchup perched on xuecai

For more local flare, he uses Hainan black pepper, Shantong egg and Chinese larou (or cured meat) in place of bacon.

Dots of furu and egg yolk surround the plate, while the egg white is utilized instead in the Carbonara Bianco cocktail, combined with Oloroso sherry, butterscotch and more Hainan black pepper. 

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Served in a wine glass, Dewar’l is a mild libation, purely created to mimic a glass of wine that pairs so well with duck breast in the main course, Good Duck.

Dewar’s 15-year is blended with huangjiu, honey, rosemary and orange to allow the crispy duck breast to shine.

Dotted with persimmon sauce, caper berries and a variety of peppercorns, the duck rests on crushed peanuts – the common thread that connects all the other elements. 

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A scoop of apple pie ice cream, drizzled in apple jelly, diced apple, shards of caramelized sugar and cinnamon, sits next to kumquat and apple-laced baba au rhum stuffed with mascarpone cream as The Two Famous Stars.

Paired with a tea-like cup of rum, ginger, Qimen black tea and agave syrup, the temperature contrast offers a satisfying finish to this more than complete meal. 

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After working your way through the entire set, you feel like you've tasted your way down the Italian coast, with a Chinese spin, a filling amalgamation of bites that satiates without making diners feel overly heavy. There are only six bar seats available each day for the tasting menu, ones that give you a full view of the entire 'show,' like a chef's table. Our one piece of advice: make sure to book ahead, as the set menu must be prepared in advance. 

READ MORE: Kaisha: A Taste of Japanese Refinement with a Hidden Speakeasy


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

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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