Sage Gastro – Ex-Ultraviolet Chef Opens Global Bistro

By Sophie Steiner, December 4, 2023

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The Place

Suzhou Creek’s F&B scene is on the up and up with the much anticipated opening of Sage Gastro, the first venue by Singaporean-Japanese Chef Jun Nishiyama – whose impressive pedigree includes six years at Shanghai’s top-rated restaurant, Paul Pairet’s Ultraviolet.

Located right next to Cometa – and partnering with its owners Alan Grillo and Anqi Xu – Sage is a globally-influenced gastropub that offers a refined version of bistro fare, owed to Chef Jun's fine dining background. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

“I wanted to create something more modest and approachable,” says Chef Jun, while simultaneously scoring and searing an entire kingfish head, a meter-high flame leaping into the air mere inches from his forehead. “Simple, thoughtful food for everyday – yet that still makes the day special.”

This is where the name Sage comes from. Rather than referring to the aromatic herb, 'sage' in this case ties into the ethos of the venue – it's all about wisdom and simplicity.

Using his years' of experience and knowledge, Chef Jun pares down the fuss customarily associated with fine dining, instead delivering humble yet downright delicious morsels.

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

Walking into Sage feels like being welcomed into a friend’s home; it’s cozy and familiar. It actually feels like an apartment – the 'coat closet' is a neon-backlit wine cellar hidden behind an aluminum sliding door. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

Stepping down into the main 'living room' of sorts, there is space for 14 by means of mismatched chairs sitting opposite retro eggplant-hued banquette seating. 

The room itself is somewhat slapdashedly decorated, but in an endearing way: wine bottles and coffee table books line a floating shelf along an unfinished concrete wall mirrored by a functional dish cabinet; ferns of varying shapes and species are interspersed amongst one-off vases, ceramics and wooden display pieces – collectables seemingly from the ‘apartment’ owner’s travels.  

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

Move over to the open kitchen and dining room and you’ll find seating for another eight around a communal oval table, the prime spot for getting in on the kitchen action.

And the kitchen is worth scoping – streamlined and outfitted with the latest equipment. Essentially, what you’d assume to find in a fine dining kitchen, but made mini. 

From an ex-Ultraviolet chef, we’d expect nothing less.

The Food 

The first iteration of the menu is a condensed one – consisting of six starters, four mains, three desserts, and a few daily specials.

But this is just the beginning; the goal is to have the offerings center around a tasting menu that hones in on local, seasonal and organic produce, set to launch after Chinese New Year. A la carte options will still remain.  

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

As for the current a la carte menu, the Charred Hispi Cabbage (RMB98) is one of Chef Jun’s signatures. 

The nightmare of too much lockdown cabbage gave birth to the idea of this charred cruciferous vegetable, the burnt crisp of its spine juxtaposed against the caramelized edges.

A cue as to how it should be enjoyed, the cabbage is presented with a steak knife, plus a spoon for lapping up the velvety fermented baby portabella cream that it bathes in. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

A dish that has already garnered a cult following – we literally saw three separate people come in on a random Wednesday night just to order it – is the Thrice Fried Chicken (RMB88).

Frying the drumstick in three different methods and at three different temperatures results in a skin that puffs and crackles, shattering like glass when bitten into, revealing ultra-supple dark meat below. 

A tamarind glaze coupled with yuzu kosho – a Japanese seasoning made from fermented chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt – help to cut through the heft of quite possibly Shanghai’s best fried chicken. 

DSC02283.jpgGrilled Duck Hearts (RMB58) – burnt lemon powder, caramelized onion mustard. Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

With kingfish in season right now, it makes an appearance not once, but twice on the very selective menu. 

The fish itself is a type of mackerel, prized for its oily, supple flesh – the main reason it works so well in the Kingfish Crudo (RMB138).

Augmented by equally punchy acidic notes of tomato and pineapple water, piquant grated horseradish brings that final necessary nip of heat.

Herbaceous shiso pulls on both the fish’s natural sweetness while concurrently playing up the other aromatic ingredients. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

For its second appearance, the Grilled Kingfish Head (RMB168) is marinated in Japanese koji – a fermentation culture used in making sake, soy sauce, miso, and so much more – before being slathered in browned butter and grilled over open flames.

A lashing of chili and coriander oil, a sprinkle of burnt lemon, a bright bite of fresh herb and frisée salad all act as essential supporting actors for the main star of this seasonal special that – if you’re lucky – might just be added to the regular menu.

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

A deep dive into what a carbonara can be, the Cauliflower Mushroom (RMB108) stretches the definition that much further, while still ensuring that signature smarmy richness owed to the holy trinity of pancetta lardons, cured egg yolk, and cheese.

However, instead of slurping down noodles, it’s a springy, ruffle-edged mushroom that catches all that thick goo in its pleats, with toasted walnuts rounding out the spoonful in both textural crunch and a welcome bitterness. 

DSC02311.jpgShort Rib (RMB218) – burnt carrot purée, seaweed and Japanese grain vinegar. Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

Fire and ice, light and darkness, good and evil; two polar opposites are equally noted in the dessert offerings.

First a delicately sweet Macadamia Milk Ice Cream (RMB98) is capped by tart pickled apricot jam, studded with brown butter biscuits…

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

… while its antithesis – the P125 Chocolate (RMB98) – is bold in its bitterness, a standout as a chocolate sorbet.

Crunchy raspberry granita and earthy beetroot juice 'leaves' attempt to temper the chocolate, an impossible task as the cacao level is off the charts. 

DSC02267.jpgHouse Negroni (RMB98). Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Drinks span Wines by the Glass (RMB88), classic house Cocktails (RMB88-98), and craft Soft Drinks (RMB48) – like olive lemonade and ginger ale.

The Vibe 

Chef Jun’s humble attitude translates precisely onto the plate, and the fact that he makes it a point to hand-deliver most courses and talk diners through his thought process for creating said dish makes everything feel more familiar. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/Thats

The intimate space translates to sitting inches from the table next to you, making it all the easier to cheers, or – even better – befriend your neighbor, adding to the collective feel the team has worked hard to foment.

A feeling that carries through from the moment you walk through the door to the moment you walk out. 

Price: RMB300-500
Who’s Going: The F&B industry crowd, avid Ultraviolet fans curious to see what Chef Jun has been up to, Shanghai foodies
Good For: Cozy dates, open kitchen semi-private dining experiences, gastropub fare

Sage Gastro, 1407 Nan Suzhou Lu, by Chengdu Bei Lu, 南苏州路1407号, 近成都北路.

Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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