For many in the West, 2016 will be remembered for Trump, Brexit, terrorism in Europe and an absurd number of pop culture deaths, from Bowie to Muhammad Ali. By comparison, China had an unusually quiet year. Nonetheless, there were still a few goings-on in the world's most populous country.
In our 2016 Year in Review series, we recap the best (and worst) of China's year in the worlds of technology, social media, sport, fashion, food, arts and more.
It's been a great year for eating and drinking here in Shenzhen. And because we always get a little nostalgic for all things food and drink at this time of year, here's a look back at the best new bars and restaurants that we reviewed in 2016. (If you have yet to try these places, we highly suggest you do. Just saying… these are some great restaurants.) In no particular order...
Magma is deep in the guts of northern Baishizhou and directly across from Bionic Brew’s latest incarnation. Magma may not have made waves in the food and beverage world of Shenzhen, but its impact on the social scene is much larger than its humble station. Located in a square surrounded by restaurants, its innards are lit by dimmed LED bulbs that hang over a bar, beer fridge and low stage. The bar is a hangout for artsy folk and the Italian co-owners stacked the wine list with eight favorites from the motherland: a range of whites, reds, sparkling wines and a rose (RMB35-50/glass). Each is listed with the names of a vineyard we’ve never heard of – but we’re promised they’re good.
Price: RMB100 for a healthy buzz
Who’s going: artsy folk and Bionic Brew wanderers
Good for: wine and cocktails, creative vibe, meeting people
You may know Baia Restaurant Bar and Grill. Italian wine and food lovers rave about it. Its Coco Park offspring, Baia Burger Concept, shares its dedication to quality and name but takes you down a very different gastronomic path – the road to craft burgers, beers and juices. The menu, predominantly burgers, offers amazing choices. The eight basics feature 180 grams of the finest Australian Wagyu and offer an assortment of unique toppings, including pesto, caramelized onions, buffalo mozzarella, baby spinach and truffle sauce.
Price: Approx. RMB200
Who’s going: burger people, meat lovers
Good for: craft burgers, pre-movie dinners
An authentic German restaurant specializing in schweinshaxe (known to English speakers as pork knuckle), Haxnbauer offers Shenzheners a relatively authentic journey into German cuisine. Go with a group of friends and indulge in the ‘feast platter’ (RMB758), which includes enough Haxnbauer pork knuckle, sausages and a roasted lamb shank for five people! Naturally, German beer is also readily available at this new eatery.
Who’s going: meat eaters, pork connoisseurs, beer enthusiasts
Good for: schweinshaxe, kartoffelsalat, other unpronounceable German dishes
There are just 22 seats in this venue, which focuses on creative, Japanese-inspired drinks and convenient eats. While Malt is primarily a bar, the (still evolving) food options are designed to allow patrons the choice of staying put for dinner, rather than undergoing the hassle of changing locales. Seasonal oysters from different regions tempt the gourmand, served with whisky foam to balance the tastes and enhance the flavors. Golden L’Etoile (RMB138/oyster) come with natural gold foil, and the classic Gillardeau No. 2 (RMB88/oyster) also feature.
Price: RMB200 plus 10 percent service charge and six percent VAT
Who’s going: wealthy showoffs, sake lovers, hotel guests
Good for: marriage proposals, drinks with a view, Japanese flair
This Italian restaurant is run by the same parent company as next-door Shark, a glitzy grill and wine bar, but Azzurro is trying to cast a wider net by being more ‘humble,’ we are told. Most of the 30 Italian wines are sold by the bottle with a fruity pinot nero costing RMB398. Classic cocktails are available (think RMB68 mojito) and Taps will soon provide craft beer. The headliner of our visit was the dumplings stuffed with ham and ricotta cheese (RMB138), served in an onion sauce, with green peas and paper-thin mushroom slices.
Price: RMB600 for two
Who’s going: Fans of Shark, people who want good service
Good for: Family night, second dates
B.Park Cuisine serves healthy food, leading the restaurant to adopt mostly vegetarian dishes, which are sold in sets costing from RMB300 to more than RMB400. The dishes are served in limited portions, meaning the meal packs a variety without filling you up too early. Set B (RB350) features eight distinct dishes, including a main dish of black fried fungus (RMB138), served in the shape of a tiger’s paw. The soft texture belies its rich notes. Dessert changes daily, but always eschews sugar for honey.
Who’s going: pop-art buffs, artsy eaters
Good for: garden dining, healthy food
La Pizza... and More is an Italian joint hidden at the end of a street in the Shixia neighborhood. With six tables inside and five out, the restaurant is full when we visit it, despite its removed location. The diavola pizza (RMB68), which translates to ‘devil’s pizza,’ is a pie seemingly possessed with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Don’t ask for a small or large pizza. They come in one size: the right one to fill you up. La Pizza... and More’s grilled section also offers up a few surprises, with the fillet tagliata with arugula and Parmesan cheese (RMB178) being the obvious standout. Glasses of house wine go for RMB20, while more expensive vino from the Lamborghini winery are sold by the bottle.
Price: RMB60-80 per person
Who’s going: Italians, Chinese foodies, residents living nearby
Good for: curing homesickness, limoncello, cakes, and homemade dishes
Unlike most new spots that initially make an impact with their menu, L’étoile has lit up the Shenzhen food scene with its events, which have seen some of the highest quality imported ingredients ever served in the city. Even the bread is imported from France and while a 10-hour bread flight verges on the absurd, it shows the seriousness (or perhaps severity) with which food is treated. Chefs rotate and dishes change according to the night, but from what we’ve seen the sky-high quality never wavers. On the heavy side, the goose foie gras (RMB188) is served on a sweet baked apple, balancing the liver’s rich taste. Mild-flavored codfish and spring vegetables (RMB248) doubles down on freshness with a green vegetable sauce. The main dish is a 120-gram beef tenderloin and potato tartlet (RMB358). The juicy steak alone is reason to plan another visit.
Who’s going: moneyed couples, French foodies
Good for: impressing a date, proposing, a four-hour French vacation
9. Whiskey Life
Likely costing more than Whisky Life’s eight months of renovation, the bar boasts a selection of whisky focused on aged single malts. They range from RMB60 glasses of 12-year-old Glenfiddich to the Laphroaig, which, aged 32 years, is older than the average Shenzhener and is sold by the bottle for RMB14,800. The evolving menu lists the usual cocktails – Singapore sling, mojito (both RMB68) and bloody mary (RMB78). The mint julep (RMB68) has a manly kick from a 12-year-old Balvenie whisky. There are also private rooms for high rollers that splash out a minimum RMB3,000 and seat mostly Japanese who make use of the carpeted, cigar friendly spaces about four times a week. Although pricey, there is no doubt this is Shenzhen’s elite whiskey hangout.
Price: Approx. RMB300 for a quality buzz
Who’s going: whisky pros, Japanese businessmen
Good for: whisky tasting, important negotiations
Season is one of a bevy of fresh watering holes unleashed on Shenzhen with the opening of the KK One shopping mall. With less-than-ideal exterior seats, it shines inside where a retro, cozy interior greets the eye. The bar has a humble assortment of six beers on draft and a beer-tasting combo (RMB50) that gives us healthy swigs of five of them. Vedette Extra Blond and Vedette Extra White neatly fill the light-beer niche, while the Boulevard Pale Ale sets itself apart with a creamy mouthfeel and nutty undertones. Liefmans Fruitesse is the girls go-to for its mix of fruity flavors. Beer buffs will cheer the FireStone Walker Union Jack IPA, an intensely bitter libation with a nutty, chocolate aftertaste.
Who’s going: beer aficionados, KK One shoppers
Good for: craft beer, live music, chatting with friends
For more 2016 Year in Review coverage, click here.