Batting (Almost) a Thousand at 'Speakeasy' Izakaya Kilo

By Sophie Steiner, April 7, 2023

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The Place 

Walking through the nondescript building entrance into Wuding Lu’s newest “speakeasy-style” izakaya Kilo, it must be how Jeff Bridges’ character felt when he was transported inside the software world of a mainframe computer in the movie Tron.

Reverberating with deep bass beats, it is shadowy and mostly onyx-hued, crisscrossed with glowing crimson lighting and a pattern of exactly 1,000 squares throughout – hence the name Kilo, meaning ‘one thousand’ in Greek. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The back wall hosts a full-length screen running across it displaying ever-moving digital art that projects until it’s late enough for KTV to start, while the main bar is lined with over a hundred perfectly symmetrical rectangles, each holding its own bottle.

It’s got a whole futuristic, metaverse-meets-underground-Berlin-nightclub vibe going on. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Jiangxi-born owner is a designer by trade, but branched out into F&B with his first venue, 极暮会席 – an omakase restaurant located less than 100 meters away.

Kilo is his more approachable, everyday izakaya, which hosts roughly 40 guests, plus an additional two VIP rooms, and a newly opened speakeasy whisky bar – Noki – upstairs. (Noki... no key... get it?)

The Food 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The menu is what you expect from an izakaya – primarily chicken with a smattering of beef, seafood and pigeon, plus veggies, snacks, sashimi and carbs.

Following that scripted izakaya meal pattern, we begin with Sashimi (RMB55-188), in a set of five kinds of seafood for RMB298, chosen daily by the chef based on freshness…

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

… followed by some righteous Salted Egg Yolk Edamame (RMB30) – creamy with flecks of grainy yolk. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Like all izakayas, there are the more common chicken parts – Thigh Meat with Leek (RMB16), Wing (RMB15), Chicken Oyster (RMB22) and, our personal favorite, Thigh Meat with Perilla & Plum Sauce (RMB22)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

…plus the more adventurous chicken giblets – Heart (RMB16), Gizzard (RMB16), Liver (RMB16), Ovary (RMB22) and a succulent Chicken Meatball (RMB18) with the exact meat-to-cartilage ratio we love to see, best enjoyed dunked in a runny egg yolk. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The restaurant’s signature dish, the Wagyu Mapo Tofu (RMB88), is a combination of two Chengdu staples – mapo tofu and dan dan mian – flecked with seared slices of smoked Wagyu beef.

The tofu is firm enough to pick up with chopsticks, yet supple enough to shmear across buttered toast, slathered in a lip-tingling, ground pork-laden mala sauce. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Grilled Eel (RMB58) arrives with skin so shatteringly crisp it had us thinking it was fried, seasoned humbly with flaky sea salt.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Crispy Chicken Skin (RMB30) sees flattened shreds of skin, dried and flash-fried into chip shards, drizzled with a soy vinaigrette above a crunchy onion salad.

A welcome alternative to the smoky skewered ruffles served elsewhere, these crisps could sway the pickiest of eaters. 

DSC06598.jpgSour and Spicy Sweet Shrimp (RMB58), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

DSC06657.jpgPigeon Breast(RMB30), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

And then come the theatrics, the buzz-words, the lux ingredients that all too often get thrown around haphazardly solely for the purpose of hiking up those tabs rather than adding nuanced flavor. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

First, the Smoked Tuna Tartare (RMB108) is unveiled dramatically, warming apple-wood smoke escaping a glass cloche to reveal... a bog standard mix of diced tuna, (heavy on the) avocado, shallots and – you guessed it – egregiously placed caviar and sea urchin that doesn't add much beyond the extra kuai to your bill.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Next, there's the Oyster (RMB138/2), a plate that requires no further introduction.

Oyster. Check. Caviar. Check. Sea Urchin. Check. Vinegar (in the form of jelly). Check. Calamansi citrus squeeze. Check. 

Remove those oddly placed fake flowers, and of course it’s a 10 – but are you noticing a trend here?

There are quite a few other plates in the same vein, ones we passed over in place of those that showcased kitchen skill over sourcing. 

(At least with the oyster, if you’re gonna get wet, you might as well go swimming... with caviar and sea urchin, that is). 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The exception are the Sea Urchin Wagyu Burgers (RMB108), that sport the same lavish ingredients, this time augmented by two mini meatball-thick Wagyu beef sliders.

Here though, the use is less superfluous and more complimentary, as the creamy sea urchin melts into the meat like a buttery sauce and the glistening beads of caviar pop with added briny salinity.

The addition of a fresh perilla leaf and a dot of sharp wasabi make these Japanese-inspired sliders equally addicting and indulgent. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

For a sweet finish, instead of the expected ice cream scoop or pudding, Kilo makes it flashy with the Caramel Flambé Pineapple (RMB28) – a type of kitsch that we can get behind.

A shot of rum is poured over a sugared quarter of sliced pineapple, before being engulfed in tableside fire – triggering a Maillard reaction of flame-licked fruit, sticky and caramelized. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As for the cocktails, many are sake-based, listed out by percent ABV, from 3-36%, featuring fresh fruits, imported spices, tinctures and various liqueurs to fit all flavor profiles. 

The Vibe 

In such a dark space, surrounded by sake bottles and a cocktail menu as long as the food one, it’s no surprise that Kilo leans a bit more party. Something about the vibe makes you want to drink.

A lot. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

And when you order that ideal sake bottle, your decision informed by the in-house sake sommelier, he presents it to you accompanied by a box of one-off glasses, so you can choose whichever fits your drinking mood the most. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

And now that Noki is open upstairs, you can float between the two – beginning with a few fingers of Japanese whisky upstairs, bouncing down for charred proteins, and seeping back up for a final round of sake before the karaoke takes over into the wee hours of the morning. 

Price: RMB200-400
Who’s Going: Japanese izakaya fiends; Tron fans; Jing’an dwellers
Good For: Date nights; yakitori cravings; sake-fueled catchups

Kilo, 2/F, 595 Wuding Lu, by Xikang Lu, 武定路595号2楼,近西康路. 

Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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