Best New Restaurants of 2018 (So Far!)

This year has definitely been a success in terms of great new restaurant openings. Among Asia’s prominent F&B hubs, Shanghai has been taking it to the next level as the influence of Michelin Guide and The World’s 50 Best lists is growing in Mainland China. More and more chefs are aiming to being recognized by these institutions of gourmet dining. It may be a lot of pressure for them, but definitely lucky for us, the costumers!

Here’s a round up of my favorite spots that have opened in Shanghai this year, in no particular order. Please note that many of the dishes I’ve tried may not be available anymore (high menu rotation is definitely a trend this year!), but I hope you’ll still get an idea of the quality of these newly opened gems.

 

1. Bespoke at the St. Regis Hotel

The St. Regis hospitality game is strong, unsurprisingly. While I’ve been invited to many a few excellent tastings where I’ve enjoyed the service and the hospitality, Bespoke has been one of my favorite experiences so far. The merit goes to the generous and entertaining Mr Derrick Lin, Food and Beverage Director at the St. Regis and trained sommelier, who curated and keenly introduced an incredible wine and cocktail pairing program and popped opened quite a few rare bottles throughout the tasting.

The food is the creation of Chef Cesar Perez de Anda, formerly of Elefante. Having worked at Noma (Copenhagen) and Aska (New York), two prominent Nordic cuisine establishment, he’s inevitably an expert at bringing in all the natural freshness of seasonal ingredients while still signing off each dish with pronounced mediterranean flavors. The menu rotates frequently to showcase the best of seasonal produce, inviting people to come back for more and often.

Here’s some of the outstanding dishes:

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Delicate but flavorful scampi tartare
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Bee wax cured mackerel with wakame, packed with umami
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Strong Mediterranean flair in this ‘nduja Octopus
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Avocado Ice-cream with beetroot

1008 Beijing Xi Lu, St Regis Hotel, 2/F, near Shimen Er Lu 
北京西路1008号上海静安瑞吉酒店2楼, 近石门二路


2. Oxalis at the Waterhouse

A new casual-upscale French bistro at The Waterhouse at South Bund, Oxalis is replacing Table n. 1 (RIP). With minimal changes to the venue layout, this remains among my favorite restaurant environments in Shanghai, especially in the daylight. One of the new features of the restaurant is the worshiping of Laguiole legendary knives: each guest can choose among a selection of different knives to use throughout the dinner. In a town where IKEA is considered standard of home and restaurant furniture quality, this is a welcome breeze of sophistication.

The food is gorgeously executed by Chef Jonas Noël. Originally from Alsace in France, he honors his roots by featuring perfectly executed dishes that mix in traditional French cooking techniques with Nordic and Asian influences acquired through years of international training and traveling.

Here’s my favorite menu items:

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Chickpea fries with raw scallop tartare
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Mackerel fish with Cheroula sauce
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Bread crusted cod fish fillet
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Such majestic pavlova!

1-3 Maojiayuan Lu, The Waterhouse, near Waima Lu 
毛家园路1-3号上海水舍酒店, 近外马路


3. Botanik

While this restaurant is still just running a pop-up format on the rooftop above The Plump Oyster, it definitely deserves a spot in the list of best dining experiences of 2018.

The chef Elijah Holland, who worked with René Redzepi’s at Noma as Head Forager and as chef for the R&D unit, is the mastermind behind this little urban rooftop garden. Here he grows hundreds of edible plants from all over the world which he then uses in his dishes. Botanik celebrates the uniqueness of local produce and enhances its flavor by crafting interesting botanical combinations. All this is available just for a very limited number of people each time they’re open.

The dreamy and highly instagrammable environment features pastel colors, unspoiled wooden surfaces and lots of green. Apparently 99% of decor at Botanik has been purchased on Taobao and they’ve designed the space themselves, without the help of professionals, which they’re very proud about.

You can expect the cocktail and food menu to change at every pop-up. Here’s some gorgeous dishes from my latest visit.

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Lavander & Butterfly Pea Focaccia
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Manuka Smoked Sand Gobi Fish
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Freshwater Scampi with Beef Fat
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Ricotta Whey Sorbet with Granola and Botanicals

Lane 171, Jianguo Zhong Lu, Tianzifang, 3/F, Room 301, near Ruijin Er Lu
 建国中路171号田子坊3喽301室, 近瑞金二路

For dates and reservations send an email to: Elijah.holland@outlook.com


4. Bird + Bitter.

Opened back in February by Camden Hauge and replacing Fat Mama, this dual concept features a wine bar with casual-chic bites and, next-door, a coffee shop which turns into a cocktail bar at night. The environment at both places is casual, the decor is curated but simple, bright and airy. 

The capable hands in Bird’s kitchen belong to Chef Chris Zhu, who has created a small and intriguing menu which he updates regularly with new inventions. Each day you can also find new special dishes of the day written on the chalk board. Surely you won’t be finding the same dishes at Bird now, but here were my favorite from the time of my visit back in March. 

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Hard shell lamb tacos
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Duck confit with pumpkin purée
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Savory ricotta dessert, right up my alley.

One of the highlights is definitely the affordable wine list, I found an amazingly dry and refreshing champagne-method French bubbly for 60 RMB a glass, really good deal. Price would be around 350-400 RMB per person for a couple of glasses of wine and enough dishes to leave with a satisfied belly. 

50 Wuyuan Lu, near Changshu Lu 
五原路50号, 近常熟路


5. The Pine at Ruijin Intercontinental Hotel. 

Fine dining concept by masters of gorgeous venues Light & Salt, The Pine is the new addition to their family and the location and setting are exceeding all expectations. The restaurant is nestled in the middle of the Ruijin Intercontinental Hotel park, in between grass, pine trees (duh) and the quietest coppered trails. It reminds me of Italy’s countryside type of places, when you drive long distances through hilly roads to get to a very secluded and exclusive agriturismo of sort. The menu is crafted by the lovely Johnston Teo, formerly of Odette and Iggy’s in Singapore. The tasting menus range between 400 RMB for the four-course lunch and  1200 RMB for the eight-course dinner.

While the menu has largely changed since my visit, you’ll still find the delicious lobster rice, which was a real hit among our table of foodies. Check out the highlights below:

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Bamboo clam with artichoke and black truffle
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Cucumber galore!
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45° slow cooked trout with carrot coconut curry
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Lobster rice, everyone’s favorite

118 Ruijin Er Lu, Ruijin Hotel, Bldg 11, near Fuxing Zhong Lu
瑞金二路118号瑞金宾馆11号楼, 近复兴中路


6. Together by Bina Yu

This is one of the most acclaimed recent openings. Several foodies agree, probably it’s the best opening of 2018 so far, at least one that got everyone excited and going back for more. Bina Yu is the talented chef who used to be behind the now defunct modern Korean restaurant Chi-Q at Three on the Bund. She’s now joining forces with the Singaporean boutique hotel brand Unlisted Collection along with Neri and Hu (also behind the likes of Commune Social and Oxalis) to design the concept of Together, where she’s leveraging her Classic French cooking techniques to create pan-Asian cuisine menu. 

Supporting Bina Yu’s savory dishes, there’s Shanghai beloved pastry chef Kim Melvin, who takes care of spiking up your blood’s glucose levels with delicious desserts.

The menu is succinct yet the options are varied and cater to different tastes. The flavors of most dishes are bold, abundantly seasoned and with an unequivocal research of the mythical umami. Overall everything tastes comforting and homey in a way, a feeling that is enhanced by generous sharing portions.

Here’s some of the hits!

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Crab and sea urchin jello
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Amazing salmon fillet with mentaiko topping
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Black sesame cake with matcha frosting
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Brownie – gooey AF

546 Yuyuan Lu, Bldg 10, near Zhenning Lu 
愚园路546号10号楼, 近镇宁路


7. Blackbird

[Read the full review here]

OHA Design (the lifestyle and architecture firm behind OHA Eatery and Bar N. 3), is bringing Blackbird back to life at new F&B hub Columbia Circle. The three-story venue can accommodate an ambitious food and drinks program: the ground floor is cafe and cocktail bar, with a living-room style type of vibe; the second floor will host Black Table, a chef’s table concept; the third floor is a gorgeous rooftop which will be more casual with a selection of beers, cocktails and an upcoming barbecue menu. Only the first floor is open at the moment.

The food, cocktails and vibe are curated by the ambitious, young Head Chef Blake Thornley. 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.

Here’s my favorite dishes on the current menu:

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Cuttlefish Pad Thai
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Eel Liver Ears with duck liver and smoked eel
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Seared salmon with tomato marmalade
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Delicious baked chocolate with red wine ice-cream

1262 Yan’an Xi Lu, Bldg 8, near Anxi Lu
 延安西路1262号8号楼, 近安西路


8. Bonus – Aji Restaurant Macau

While we’re grieving the premature loss of Shanghai Nikkei restaurant EKEKO (which was actually included in this list before being suddenly shut down), I’d like to give some space to one of my absolute favorite restaurant experiences ever. I traveled to Macao in April mainly to taste Aji restaurant at the MGM Hotel in Cotai after hearing great feedback from my Very Important Foodie (VIF) friends who were invited to Asia 50 Best Restaurant awards ceremony right before my visit.

Their food is up there among the best I’ve ever had and I’d be surprised if this restaurant doesn’t end up in Asia 50 Best list and Michelin guide soon. The outstanding dishes were the ceviche, the 52 hours slow cooked brisket with rice and potato (and tons of butter and cheese) naan, their Peruvian chocolate dessert was to die for and the ponzu injected quail eggs are one of the most delicious and interesting foods I’ve tried in my 28 years of life. Their Pisco cocktail list had me drink 4 different ones.

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Ceviche with fried octopus
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Ponzu injected quail egg over torched wagyu nigiri
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52 hours slow cooked brisket

 

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Peruvian chocolate with lucuma ice cream and mochi balls.

If you end up in Macao or you don’t know where to food-travel to next, visiting Aji is my recommendation.

MGM COTAI, Avenida da Nave Desportiva, Cotai, Macau
General Enquiries: (853) 8806 8888


 

There you have it, get booking your seats at these gorgeous venues and eat-away throughout the summer!

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