Food with Character in a Stylish Ambiance: Blackbird Nails It!

OHA Design, the design and architecture firm behind OHA Eatery and Bar No. 3, is bringing Blackbird back to life at new lifestyle hub Columbia Circle. As you enter and walk deeper into the Changning commercial complex, you’ll soon notice a stunning glass building.

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Blackbird’s sleek outdoor patio

Designed by acclaimed Dutch architect and Harvard professor Rem Koolhaas, Blackbird’s venue can accommodate an ambitious food and drinks program which develops into three different concepts over three floors: the ground floor is a cafe and cocktail bar, with a living-room style type of vibe; the second floor will host Bar Black and Table Black, a chef’s table with daily crafted menus and it’s own cocktail list; the third floor is a gorgeous rooftop which will be more casual, featuring a selection of beers, cocktails and a barbecue menu. Only the first floor is open at the moment.

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The first floor’s well-stocked bar

The food, cocktails and vibe are curated by the ambitious, young Executive Chef Blake Thornley. Blake is only 29 but has been in kitchens since the age of 11; “I wanted to buy me a surf board and my mom told me I needed to work and earn money to pay for it, so that’s how I started working in kitchens”. At the age of 13 he won the Young Chefs’ Competition organized by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs against chefs aged up to 27. After that he’s just been on the road cooking all over Asia, most recently in Indonesia for the past 9 years.

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The second floor’s open kitchen and communal table

Blake has therefore been professionally working in kitchens for over 15 years (which is more than half his current age). Let the thought sink, and you’ll get a grasp of the level of ambition sparked by the combination of young age and long working experience.

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Left: Blake Thornley, Right: Mimmo, bartender

Unsurprisingly,  the dishes he creates are complex concoctions of dozens of ingredients each, prepared with the use of high-tech machines I’m too simple to understand. The fact that the three floors at Blackbird will each have a completely different food and cocktail menu is also a bit over the top and crazy, but the chef doesn’t hide he in fact considers himself a bit insane.

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The second floor, a cute and stylish corner

All this premise is because I was actually fascinated by the overall experience and all the stories behind the re-opening of Blackbird. I didn’t get a chance to try their cocktails due to my alcohol-free July challenge, nevertheless the food was so good and comforting that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the experience at all.

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The spacious urban rooftop

Starting off at the bar counter, we were served several bar snacks. Among the vibrant selection of dishes, my favorites were the Salmon Tar Tar (RMB 58) over squid crackers, the Cuttlefish (RMB 83), a “fake” pad thai made with stir fried cuttlefish strips instead of noodles, and the Pepper Seared Tuna (RMB 92) with a delicately numbing flavor from the cracked Sichuan pepper crust.

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Cattlefish Pad Thai
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Salmon Tar Tar
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Pepper Seared Tuna

The most outstanding dish of the night was indeed among the bar snacks; the innovative and delicious Smoked Eel Liver Ears (RMB 52), a dense duck liver cream is paired with teriyaki style smoked eel, nestled within tapioca crackers and topped with fried pig ears. Never ending layers of complexity come together with a subtle spicy kick and a pleasant lingering bitterness from the liver.

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Smoked Eel Liver Ears

Amongst the mains, or as they call them “shareables”, my favorite was the Seared Salmon (RMB 165). The fish’s skin is seared to perfect crispiness and the tomato marmalade brings in a sweet and sour balance to the palate. A thin fennel julienne adds a touch of summer freshness and texture.

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Seared Salmon

Next up, the flavor-packed Roasted Lamb Loin (RMB 160), cooked to perfect medium-rare. The profile of the dish leans towards the sweeter side as dates, pumpkin and cocoa come together in harmony.

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Roasted Lamb Loin

My dessert snobbery was wiped by three gorgeously executed, complex, lip-smacking desserts. The New York Style Cheesecake (RMB 72) is a deconstructed essence of what the tart, tangy traditional American dessert is… with a fennel surprise!

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New York Style Cheesecake

The Kaffir Lime Strawberries (RMB 65) are refreshing and light, yet satisfying. The gingerbread and cream both add a spicy kick to the dish which allow an apparently simple dessert to reach the next level of deliciousness.

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Kaffir Lime Strawberries

My favorite dessert was hands down the Baked Dark Chocolate (RMB 69); different textures, temperatures and consistencies combine playfully in a way that all components in one spoonful merge to utmost tastebuds delight. It comes with a quenelle of smoked red wine ice-cream made with butter. Yes, butter instead of cream. And there it goes, straight to my list of best desserts in Shanghai!

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Baked Dark Chocolate

I’m looking forward to see how the Blackbird venture unfolds in the next few months when all three floors will be operational. Also, while I don’t think Shanghai really needs another brunch option, a brunch menu is coming soon. Blake has a pet peeve for eggs and can’t be anywhere near them “I f***ing hate f***ing eggs, the smell of eggs makes me gag!” he says, so it’ll be interesting to see what this menu will look like.

 

1262 Yan’an Xi Lu, Bldg 8, near Anxi Lu 
延安西路1262号8号楼, 近安西路
Telephone:1870 199 0479

 

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