Cometa: Italian Comforts & Shanghainese Classics

By Sophie Steiner, October 17, 2023

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The Place 

Coming from an architecture and design background respectively, Milan-native Alan Grillo and his Shanghainese wife Anqi Xu opened Cometa as a passion project in October 2021 – an aperitivo bistro where cross-cultural cuisine bridges Italian comfort food and Shanghainese classics. 

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Image courtesy of Cometa

The venue also acts as a boutique clothing shop showcasing the duo’s designer pieces, brand collaborations and one-of-a-kind apparel made from reused vintage Chinese and Italian fabrics.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The roster of food and drink is all about the memories – whether it’s nostalgic dishes recreated from childhood, or cocktails conjured from shared experiences throughout their relationship, each mouthful is meant to connect with diners on both sensorial and emotional levels.

Expect old school, “nonna-meets-ayi style” cooking, essentially traditional recipes that share similarities between both cuisines.

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Image courtesy of Cometa

Named for the word 'comet' in Italian – an orbiting object that absorbs energy and emits light without having the overwhelming gravitational pull that a star has – Cometa is all about absorbing inspiration from the owners’ experiences and sharing that passion through the food and drinks on offer.

The goal is not to be Shanghai’s hottest – or flashiest – venue, but rather to “fly under the radar” as an everyday neighborhood hangout. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Food & Drinks

The menu highlights Italian base recipes with Chinese ingredients, executed by head Shanghainese chef Kael Mu.

Afternoon snacks are mainly fried nibbles – what you want to prep your tummy for dinner as you ease into evening, drink in hand – while dinner sees more substantial recipes plus a seasonal blackboard menu. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Begin with the Cold Cuts Board (RMB148), Beretta-sourced mortadella, salami, and prosciutto, paired with homemade pickles, olives, and a crispy scallion oil pancake, as opposed to the more conventional bread or biscuit. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Pair it with a Select Spritz (RMB68) – Venice’s alternative to Aperol – or the Moscow-Milan (RMB68) – a Moscow mule with a splash of Amaretto – and you may as well be reclining next to Rome’s Tiber River instead of Suzhou Creek. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The perfect fusion of Chinese and Italian takes edible form as the Parmigiana Spring Rolls (RMB48) – eggplant parmesan wrapped inside a spring roll shell, deep fried and finished with a dusting of freshly shaved parmesan.

The crackly coating gives way to a lusciously saucy center, conjoining two of the world’s tastiest soul foods. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

An avalanche of melted cheese is blanketed snugly inside two pieces of toasted bread as the Mozzarella in Carrozza (RMB78) – cascading onto the plate in gooey globules when sliced open.

Fried to a crisp golden brown, Rome’s answer to the Croque Monsieur swaps out the ham for pungent anchovies, the umami onslaught tempered by the cheese’s indulgent heft. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A play on the Chinese zui xia– or Drunk Shrimp (RMB88) – a carpaccio of prawns swims in a moat of Chinese huangjiu – yellow wine – it’s sweet and funky notes augmented by a lashing of lemon and calamansi, while caper berries add a briny pop, and pink peppercorns tie in a textural crunch. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Squid ink is what affords the Spicy Black Chicken Popcorn (RMB68) its onyx hue – juicy morsels of battered and fried chicken, dusted with Sichuan peppercorn. 

DSC06394.jpgBaked Gnocchi (RMB78), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A divisive dish, the Roman-style Butter and Anchovy Pasta (RMB128) is a plate of contrasts – expertly al dente homemade chittara strands slathered in a smarmy butter and anchovy reduction, flanked by juxtaposing refreshingly supple cubes of ginger and dill-marinated tuna tartare.

The brightness of the fish counterbalances the pasta’s richness, forcing diners to lick the plate clean. This is the way.  

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A cold salad centering around Salted Pork and Beef Jelly (RMB58) finds its way into both Italian and Chinese palates.

Known as nervetti in Italy, shuijing yaorou (水晶肴肉) in China, or terrine in France, pork and beef soft parts are boiled together into a gelatin-like consistency using Shanghainese marination flavors and Italian techniques.

Cut into cubes, the terrine is plated atop a cannellini bean and parsley pesto salad – a salsa verde of sorts, customarily dribbled on Florentine lampredotto (another tripe-based dish).

Although it reads heavy, the result is clean flavors accented by greens and herbs. 

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Almond Granita with Coffee (RMB58), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

There’s also a weekend brunch menu that leans more Italian, with sharing plates like “eggs in purgatory” (a meat-forward alternative to shakshouka), a focaccia sandwich with sausage and peppers, as well as a baccalá mantecato presented with youtiao in place of bread. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The cocktails seem unassuming at first, but they actually pull from Alan and Anqi’s wedding party at Senator Saloon– each drink crafted by head bartender Andy to represent a different memory from their relationship.

From a Phu Quoc Espresso Martini (RMB78) served in a condensed milk-dribbled glass, to the ginger, lemongrass, Thai basil and mint-infused Young Tom ‘Sup (RMB78), every libation recalls special memories to be triggered through taste. 

There is no wine list – just a roughly 40 bottle display shelf along the back aluminum corrugated wall where diners can grab their own bottle and sit where they choose.

Of course, many of the wines hail from Italy to match what’s on the plate, but there’s also a selection of Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and French wines, mostly ranging between RMB350-500 per bottle.

Wine by the glass goes for a pocket-friendly RMB68 (or RMB220 for the whole bottle). 

The Vibe 

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Image courtesy of Cometa

Eclectically fitted out with mementos from travels and quirky, one-off pieces, eccentric design elements are scattered throughout, each with their own story, encouraging patrons to look closer.

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Image courtesy of Cometa

Think patterned cushions of mixed Chinese vintage fabrics, handmade napkins in varying designs, wire lamps that used to provide light to Chinese fishing boats, and Chinese countryside straw-made rain jackets.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The modest 40-person venue offers both indoor and outdoor seating, with large bay windows that open to let in the Suzhou Creek breeze.

The view of the river and some afternoon sun make for an ideal spot for sipping an aperitivo, coupled with a cheese board, and dog-friendly vibes. 

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Image courtesy of Cometa

Price: RMB150-400
Who’s Going: Trendy locals and expats alike, curious Suzhou Creek passers-by, the Italian community
Good For: Afternoon aperitivo, tasteful Italian and Shanghainese “fusion,” grandma-style comfort eats

Cometa, 1405 Nan Suzhou Lu, by Chengdu Bei Lu, 南苏州路1405号, 近成都北路.


Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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