Splurge-Worthy Sets: Charcoal Player, Sangou & Ginza Onodera

By Sophie Steiner, February 17, 2022

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If you're planning on splurging, Shanghai's got options. Lots of options. The city is your oyster – a foie gras, caviar and sea urchin topped oyster, served with a flute of champagne.

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So, be it a souped-up date night to impress, a special occasion celebration, or just a downright need to go all out, if you're looking to lavishly indulge in life's finer things, that just so happen to also be edible things, here are three food-centric, stellar options for putting that money to good use.

Check out Part I here and Part II here. 

Charcoal Player

A modern tribute to Sichuan cooking, Charcoal Player opened in TX Mall in December, presenting a refined taste of one of China’s most famed cuisines. Offering a 9-course set menu for RMB780, diners can expect color-coordinated plates, each highlighting distinct aspects of Sichuan cooking techniques and flavors. Think The Peacock Room or The Pine, only more contemporary. 

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Chef Junjie was born in Chengdu and grew up in Australia, combining experiences from both into his cooking style. The same restaurant group is also behind Yuzhilan, a Michelin-star and Black Pearl restaurant that focuses on traditional Sichuan cuisine. 

The intimate space is ideal for a date night, with crimson walls, black tablecloths, low lighting and colorful abstract art. The restaurant only allows only two seatings per day so the experience never feels rushed. 

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The current menu is a prelude of what’s to come, a smattering of cooking styles and ingredients from all over the province.

However, in March the menu will begin to focus on various regions of Sichuan, divided by altitude rather than geographical location. For example, first up will be the Mountain menu, followed in time by the River menu and eventually an Ocean menu. 

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Each dish is presented in a monochrome color palette, showcasing a traditional Chinese color – good fortune red, royal yellow, healing green, authority black, love purple, etc. 

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Because the menu involves a strong emphasis on fire (charcoal is in the name, after all), the starter presents a subtly sweetened white mushroom soup, a food that allows the body to jiang huo, or decrease internal heat, brought on by the warming dishes to come.

A key component of the menu is balance – a balance of yin and yang, a balance of light and dark, a balance of spice and sweet, a balance of soft and firm. 

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A nod to street chuar, smoked Red Capsicum is scorched and rung around charcoal-licked octopus, sprinkled with flecks of roasted foie gras. A lingering smokiness and spice is juxtaposed against the peppers’ natural sweetness. 

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Roasted Portabella and Maitake Mushrooms are anchored to the plate by a soft chestnut purée flecked with larou, or smoked pork. A smoky broth made from the Portabella mushrooms’ grill drippings from the first course delicately submerges all the ingredients, melding together the vegetables’ earthy flavors.

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Topped with oyster leaves, four-day marinated Norway Silver Cod rests on a velvety stew made from puréed highland potatoes, celtuce and clam. Crunchy Sichuanese pickled peppers (paojiao) are diced with Sichuan ham and green peas for a textural contrast that also packs a major heat punch. 

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A faintly sweet broth made from free-range chicken allows the Baby Chinese Cabbage to soften, capped by a sheathed fan of Hokkaido scallop. 

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Wood-fired roasted Bone Marrow arrives tableside, dusted with black Yunnan truffle and raw shavings of Australian grain-fed M5 fillet. A buttery spoonful slides down the bone into a heaping bowl of yangchun mian, commonly referred to as ‘plain noodles soup,’ a misnomer if ever we've heard one. 

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The slick marrow indulgently coats each individual strand, sticking to the Jerusalem artichoke and salty suandou – or pickled beans – sprinkled throughout, that help cut through the richness. 

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Rivaling it’s Mexican counterpart, the stewed Iberian Pork Shoulder is served like a Sichuan rendition of a birria taco, layered with creamy chicken liver, fiery devil chili sauce and red wine jus – all nestled inside a plush highland barley shell.  

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Exemplifying Sichuan’s signature guaiwei or ‘strange-flavor’ – a seasoning that incorporates a multitude of tastes (spicy, salty, sesame, sour and sweet) – is the Dry-Aged Pigeon.

Despite its distinct flavor profile, the marinated fowl is also presented with dots of homemade blueberry jam and a sprinkle of dehydrated beetroot powder, for added sweetness. 

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The show arrives and the party truly starts with the tableside grilled Wagyu Beef Tongue – thin shavings that are wrapped in tofu skin and charred to a crisp via torch, then served alongside sea urchin and garlic shoot topped Yang Zhi rice.

The chewy kernels are more akin to sticky rice, glistening with Fuzhi soy sauce. 

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Spice finds its way even into a sweet ending, speckled in Sweet Potato Ice Cream, yet cooled by coconut cream. 

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With a duo of sommeliers that trained in Italy, diners can also choose the wine pairing menu of RMB521 for five glass (a price that alludes to the Chinese words for ‘I love you’) or RMB380 for four, with selections mainly from Italy and France. 

See a listing for Charcoal Player.

Sangou

Recently opened in The Radisson Collection Hotel Yangtze ShanghaiSangou is a creative high-end Japanese restaurant focusing on omakase sushi, omakase tempura and yakitori. It offers an innovative dining experience with the concept of cuisine originating from Japanese tradition but not abiding by said tradition

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Incorporating the Five Phases, known as wuxing in Chinese, the space’s design showcases fire, water, wood, gold and earth throughout the three distinct rooms, a cohesive theme that ties the venue together. 

Gold-embossed décor is the feature of the omakase tempura room, a six-seater with sets for RMB2,280 a head. 

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Move next into the lively stone-centric yakitori room for RMB500 sets, where the leaping binchotan wood flames jump to the beat of DJ Wordy’s sound and light show that reflects off volcanic rock-like walls. 

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Meander through the wave and fish-accented hallway into the hinoki-wood, or Japanese cypress, decked out sushi omakase room that can accommodate up to 10 people at a time. Here, our meal focuses on the RMB1,880 splurge-worthy set. 

Each space is unique in its own way, offering something for different kinds of diners. Be it a business meeting, a friendly gathering or date night, the three spaces present a distinct vibe befitting any kind of outing

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The brightly lit sushi-centric wing of the restaurant sees an entire wall of live moss, evoking relaxing feelings of relaxing in nature, thus breaking through conceptions of what Japanese omakase should be in order to recreate classic dishes in a playful, inventive way. 

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A conventionally Shanghainese starter of Drunken Crab is glossed with sea urchin atop mountain yam, or shan yao, in two forms – julienned slivers and rolled into springy noodles. 

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The Appetizer Plate is enjoyed from light to dark, from delicate to heavy flavors, starting with a steamed shrimp atop sesame tofu curiously sauced with a porcini cream, rather than the customary Japanese soy sauce.

Next, steamed tamago egg is capped with dingxiangyu, a tiny white fish commonly used in Chinese cooking, followed by a dried persimmon and cheese wheel resting next to a wrapped eel roll.

Finally, a wonton-skin wrapper made from hawthorn jelly encircles mashed foie gras, flanked by sliced fig. 

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Instead of a dashi broth or miso soup, a creamier Cantonese style Crab Soup is studded with grainy clusters of crab roe, highlighting a spongy crab meatball.

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The most traditional of the courses, the sushi lineup, spans six plates, each made by hand by the seasoned sushi chefs Ben and John.

They begin with the Double Toro – aptly named for the duo of tuna belly – a thick scored and seared slab on the bottom and a fresh tartare on top. 

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Additional nigiri follow, with selections of Japanese Horse Mackerel, Flatfish, Huodianyu – a type of snapper – slathered in crab paste and scallop wings flecked with finger lemon. 

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But the star of the course – and quite possibly the entire meal – is the Bite of Happiness (一口幸福), torched Wagyu beef, a generous stack of sea urchin and truffle, all wrapped in a seaweed shell.

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Hailing from the yakitori room, the Abalone-Stuffed Chicken Wing is a signature of the grill, along with juicy beef tongue and charred tiger eel. 

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A sample of the tempura omakase set, the Spotted Garoupa Rolled with Sea Urchin is sheathed in effortlessly light, lace-like tempura, one that showcases the daily meticulous process used to develop that expertly textured batter. 

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Presented in a custom-made volcanic rock contraption, a dense wedge of Smoked Wagyu lays across a crunchy Wellington Pomfret, a contrast in textures that intrigues the senses. 

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Angel hair noodles are swapped out for the more commonly expected soba in the Okinawa Seafood Pasta, adorned with beads of roe that bring forth an added briny pop. 

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Imported from Japan, juicy sliced melon serves as a superlative rendition of the honeydew we are used to, served alongside Hokkaido Milk Custard with red bean. 

See a listing for Sangou.

Ginza Onodera

Ginza Onodera is a high-end Japanese restaurant on the Bund serving sushi, premium teppanyaki and tempura sets in an upscale setting. It is actually one of 10 locations in the group worldwide, with the initial five outposts in Ginza, one in New York, one in LA and two in Hawaii. 

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Over the last six years in Shanghai, the sushi set tends to draw in the biggest crowd, offering omakase ranging in price from RMB498-2,000. But we decided to check out the less explored Teppanyaki Lunch (RMB880), a grill-heavy meal featuring both surf n’ turf proteins. 

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The lunch begins with a double beef consommé Steam Egg crowned with sea urchin and scallions. The warming broth permeates the entire bowl, balanced by a buttery hit of seafood-rich umami – each bite a pudding-like morsel. 

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A cold Appetizer Plate highlights more balance between both land a sea, with marinated and sliced abalone, raw crab meat with wasabi and a seared Wagyu beef roll topped with dashi jelly. 

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The grill lights up for the Scallop with Tiger Prawn, perfectly seared on the flat top, seasoned delicately with salt and pepper.

The crustacean-mollusk duo can be enjoyed with anchovy mayo, ponzu dipping sauce or with just a gasp of lemon. Upgrade to Boston Lobster for an additional RMB400.

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Golden Eye Snapper is served as the fish of the day, one that rotates seasonally, showcasing the freshest catch. The crisp skin flecks and shatters in direct juxtaposition with the acidic tomato and octopus stew on which it sits. 

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A palate cleanser to prepare diners for the main event, the Fresh Vegetable Salad is served ‘up’ in a glass goblet rather than on a plate, with long spears of cucumber, carrot and okra atop a mixed medley of greens, drizzled with a sesame dressing. 

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A 200-gram portion of Sirloin Wagyu Steak is charred and smoky, the meaty licks of flavor accompanied by hand-ground wasabi and smoked sea salt flakes.

The steak’s fat pools across the plate, best enjoyed with the grilled pumpkin, squash and cabbage encircling it.  

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Fried with both raw and marinated garlic, the Garlic Rice is tossed with a flat-top griddle fried Japanese egg, mushrooms, green onions and beef, paired with miso soup and assorted Japanese pickles.

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Finally, the meal concludes with a trembly homemade Cheesecake on a biscuit crust, dribbled with berry syrup and mint. 

See a listing for Ginza Onodera.

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[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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