Scratching That Japanese Food Craving Itch at Junn Izakaya

By Sophie Steiner, March 28, 2023

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The Place 

To understand Junn Izakaya, we must first take a step back and understand its background. The venue is part of the Mr. Willis & Mi group – a veritable trio of restaurateurs and creatives behind Shanghai institutions like Mi Thai, Raku and Apollo.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

At first – in the space that is now home to Junn Izakaya – the group opened Agnes, a smoke and grill venue mixing together elements of the American South BBQ culture and Nordic tradition. 

READ MORE: American South BBQ Meets Nordic Flavors at Wukang Market’s Agnes

Despite how much we loved it, Agnes just didn’t fit the vibe of Wukang Market. It wasn't the trendy Something, nor the hip Mi Mian Hui Xin – other Wukang Market venues part of the same team. 

But Junn is the antidote to the chaos, a calm space in the center of the humming hubbub – a traditional Japanese izakaya. It’s a place you go to scratch an izakaya itch, if not necessarily explore unchartered territory.

There’s comfort in receiving the expected, especially in the world of constant “wow” that is Shanghai. And Junn is just that. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A dozen bar seats circle a central open kitchen, where sashimi is sliced to order and cocktails are shaken. 

Off to the side, there’s an enclosed binchotan grill where proteins are scorched and served, alongside a wine fridge and a dry-aging rack.

There’s 10 or so tables of varying sizes, some behind partial walls for more intimacy, others in the open, meant for being seen by the happening Wukang contingency. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

And beyond that, well, there is no beyond that – it’s exactly what you picture when you think of an izakaya. And if your mind draws a blank, here’s a little reminder: 

READ MORE: 7 Izakayas to Satisfy Your Yakitori Cravings in Shanghai

The Food

Grilled meat, fresh seafood, a handful of steaks and charred veggies cover the majority of the anticipated izakaya menu.

Whet your appetite with assorted Sashimi (RMB55-188/piece), deciding between fresh selections like Scallop (RMB58/piece), Spotted Mackerel (RMB108/2 pieces), Tuna Otoro (RMB188/2 pieces) and the like...

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

... plus a few rolls – most notably the Sea Urchin & Tuna Handroll (RMB88/piece) a classic combo for very good reason. 

Onto the meats. The focus is – no surprise here – chicken, with a smattering of conventional and rare parts to choose from.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Crisp Chicken Leg with Leek or Shiso (RMB28) delivers in juiciness, with a refreshingly herbaceous finish owed to the greenery...

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

... while the Chicken Meatball (RMB28) is pleasantly roasty; a nice cartilage crunch without overwhelming the meat’s firmness. 

DSC02284.jpgChicken Leg One Night Aged (RMB46), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A Shanghai twist on the customary izakaya food comes in the form of Chongming pigeon, available in three cuts – Leg (RMB58), Breast (RMB58) and Wing (RMB58). The rosy breast meat is plump and gamey, with just the right amount of scorched smokiness from the grill.

A squeeze of calamansi and a dusting of Japanese yuzu salt add the ideal balance of brightness and salinity. 

READ MORE: 6 Places for Pigeon – China's Tastiest Culinary Experiment

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Silver-hued Japanese Mackerel (RMB118) is speared and threaded along a wooden skewer, its skin crackling open to reveal oily, firm flesh that flakes off in buttery hunks. 

DSC02177.jpgZucchini with Mentaiko (RMB26) and Okra (RMB15), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

There are a few flashy Dianping snap-worthy dishes (as is pretty much a requirement these days) – namely the Wagyu and Sea Urchin Tartare (RMB62), a mix of luxury ingredients flecked with caviar atop a nori chip...

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

...and the Sea Urchin & Sashimi Rice Bowl (RMB115), a checkerboard of nine rotating kinds of the freshest seafood ‘catch of the day’ resting on a bed of short-grain Japanese sushi rice. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If you’re into that distinctly smoky, fishy aroma of bonito, then the Sautéed Vegetables with Sakura Shrimp (RMB58) are for you – shaved cabbage, carrots, peppers and river shrimp, topped with a heap of trembling bonito flakes.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The only slight disappointment was the Chocolate Mousse (RMB35), a simple cocoa-infused fluff sprinkled with honeycomb shards and shaved macadamia nut that was perfectly fine, but, compared to Craig Willis’ absolute standout pastries found at so many of his other venues, we were hoping for a little *something* more.

(Get it? Because he owns a restaurant called Something. *Wink*) 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

On the drink front, the main draw is a pretty extensive wine and bubbles list, spanning Spain to France, Chile to New Zealand, with wines by the glass starting at RMB80 and wine by the bottle in the RMB325-600 price window.

There’s also a handful of Japanese-inspired cocktails, like the Sake Sakura (RMB80), as well as highballs, plum wine, shochu and sake.  

DSC02159.jpgYuzu Sour (RMB80), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Place 

The man behind the magic, Craig Willis, is a serial restaurateur, the winner of the That’s Shanghai restaurant awards for two decades. He’s been around the block, to say the least – eaten it all, drank it all, seen it all. So Junn is really a passion project. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

He loves BBQ in all forms, and hopes to retire one day attaching a Xinjiang-style BBQ cart to the back of his Phoenix bicycle, hawking chuar skewers to Shanghai’s hungry late night masses.

This is just the Japanese restaurant version of serving up the same flame-licked meats he craves when he isn’t busy in one of his handful of other venues. 

Price: RMB350-550
Who’s Going: Japanese izakaya fiends; Craig Willis followers; the hipster Wukang Market contingency
Good For: Date nights; yakitori cravings; friendly catchups

Junn Izakaya, 98 Wukang Lu, by Wuyuan Lu 武康路98号, 近五原路.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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