Check Please is a quick round-up of some of the latest café and restaurant openings around town. In here we spotlight event space and studio kitchen Gourmet Library, unremarkable cafe The Picnic, and the third location of fancy-schmancy Cantonese restaurant Sense 8.
Address: 3/F, 326 Tianping Lu (near Hengshan Lu) 天平路326号3楼 (近衡山路)
It's part dining room, part library, and 100% event friendly. Housed in the Hengshan Fang complex near Xujiahui, Gourmet Library is a crossover concept led by Brian Tan, proprietor and chocolatier of dessert shops hoF.
The main attraction of this event space, besides the multitudinous collection of food books (for sale and perusal), is the show kitchen. The centerpiece is an open kitchen with an island counter equipped with plenty of induction burners. It doubles as a studio kitchen, too, with cranes and mounts affixed overhead.
Gourmet Library does have a regular menu, but the concept's main focus is to be a space that showcases different chefs, new talent, and pop-ups through events, and to act as an incubator and test kitchen. One of the latest events was a Yang Jing Bang noodle bar pop-up led by Nat Alexander (also of Homeslice). According to the WeChat account, there’s also an ongoing pastry making class.
It’s a gorgeous space, and we’d like to see more pop-ups. Until then, you’d probably find us pouring over the cookbooks in a quiet corner of the room.
For those looking rent the space: Gourmet Library's rates are subject to demand. The rates for the "Social Kitchen" area start at RMB800 per hour, while the private room starts at RMB400 per hour. Rates may change depending on season and vary for weekends and public holidays. It's a little difficult to find—it's on Tianping Lu, on the third floor of the building where retail shop "Mr. Blue" is located.
Address: 1/F, 481-483 Jianguo Xi Lu (near Taiyuan Lu) 建国西路481-483号1楼 (近太原路)
The Picnic is a bright design-forward cafe across from Capella Hotel. During the day, they serve coffee, tea, and variations on milky, overly sweet dessert-in-a-cup beverages. At night, like many cafes trying to survive, it turns into a bar with cocktails, beers, and wines by the glass.
Their drinks menu is eclectic: in addition to coffees, they have fancied-up sweet drinks like red velvet lattes and Oolong "milk capped" teas. The red velvet latte (RMB40) might as well have been two parts evaporated milk, one part coloring, and a sprinkle of diabetes. It just tasted like extremely sweet milk. The coffee is a resounding meh, at least that’s what we gathered from the espresso (RMB22/single). Elsewhere, the scoop of spicy chocolate ice cream had enough chili to choke our counterpart into tears.
For food, they have mini sandwiches and a number of weird snack items served in cones. Ordered the mac and cheese cone (RMB28) because that’s what we do when we go to these kinds of places. Then we let sink in the immediate regret and disgust, a cycle that inevitably happens about every other week. The cone quickly becomes mushy. Also, boxed Kraft mac and cheese would have been a better filler.
And I have mixed feelings about your drinks.
There’s also a hidden kitchen tucked in the back of this space called Long She. It’s supposed to be an izakaya serving Asian fusion.
We could think of a hundred other people that could have done something way better with this space. If you’re lost in the FFC and need a place to take a selfie, this is it. We suggest walking across to La Boulangerie et Patisserie de Pierre Gagnaire for pastries instead.
Address: No. 24, 4/F, North Block, Raffles City Changning, 1189 Changning Lu (near Kaixuan Lu) 长宁路1189号来福士广场东区4层24号 (近凯旋路)
Sense 8 is a lavish Cantonese restaurant that pays tribute to Hong Kong's well-known old-school teahouse, Luk Yu. This is the third branch of the brand in Shanghai, located in the newly minted Raffles City Changning. Yes, a mall. It’s sequestered away from retail shops, tucked in a corner of the fourth floor, with ample breadth for its imposing entrance.
Like the other venues (Xintiandi and Joy City) it has that same lavish touch. The style is akin to antique and imperial Chinese décor on acid. None of that minimalist contemporary modesty—it’s a glittering outpost of red and gold adorned with crystal chandeliers.
Sautéed dried shrimp, squid, whitebait, long beans, yam strips and cashews (RMB118). A sampling of Hong Kong street foods all in one plate, stir-fried with a homemade XO sauce.
The food is actually quite good, marvelous in fact, and relative to the quality of what’s served. Coupled with tip-top service, it adds up to a good value meal. In addition to a voluminous menu of Cantonese dishes, they have a supplementary dim sum menu with another 30-plus items. It feeds an A-to-Z profile of diners, and, to solidify their position as an all-inclusive restaurant, they also have banquet dishes.
The Steamed Green Crab with Rice Wine on Rice Noodles (RMB368), one of the eight banquet dishes, is perhaps the most impressive. The sauce is made of Shaoxing wine, chicken stock, chicken oil, and egg yolk. Changfen (rice noodle rolls) sits at the base of the dish, soaking up the luscious gravy. The meat of the fat Philippines-imported crab is fresh and wispy, and is expertly sectioned off for easy consumption.
Another banquet dish is the Casserole of Braised Rice with Fresh Lobster (RMB368). The wokhei (breath of wok) in this dish brings back memories of our favorite hawker centers in Southeast Asia.
Couple those with a few of their standards like Cantonese classic honey roasted pork and roasted pork belly (RMB128), and you've got yourself a feast fit for an emperor.
They do have a controversial item on the menu: shark’s fin. What can I say about shark’s fin without shooting myself in the foot? They serve it here, and they serve it well, in the form of the Simmered Chicken with Wontons and Shark’s Fin Casserole (RMB398/half chicken, RMB798/whole).
Growing up, shark’s fin was a staple on my family's reunion dinner table. Some people, with maintaining traditions in mind, are looking for the dish. There’s no conscientious way to say it: sharks are on the verge of endangerment—but if you’ve tried the fin, you can’t deny that it tastes good. Even if Sense 8 removed the shark’s fin from the lip-smacking broth, I'm certain the dish would still be delicious.
Aside from the mall location, it's a solid dining option, if you're in the area and in need of this kind of cuisine. Sense 8 is best suited for entertaining business or for weddings whereby extravagance and bling are a prerequisite. Or for when you’re feeling fancy.
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