With potent drinks and tropical vibes, tiki is peak escapism – and an escape is something we could all use a little of these days. The latest venture from bartender Yao Lu and chef Austin Hu (both behind Union Trading Company), Birds of Paradise is filling a tiki-sized hole in Shanghai’s heart.
Lamps hang above a bamboo-covered bar like sea glass floats at the new Yanping Lu spot. It’s more parents-in-law’s-house-in-the-Hamptons tiki than dark-and-grungy-man-lair tiki, which feels like a respectable and very Shanghai choice. Wallpaper with tropical plant fronds in soft focus portends the very near future where you’ll likely be seeing double.
On one Thursday night, the speakers rattle out The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ followed by NWA, and later on ska courtesy of Reel Big Fish kicks in. Eclectic yet somehow it all makes sense – which is the same for the booze going on in my glass.
The cocktail and grub game here is strong. Lu sets his delicious interpretation of tiki standards alongside the bar’s own creations. The Zombie, an OG tiki drink, is some unholy blend of rums further spiked with absinthe and smoothed over with passion fruit. In a similar vein, a classic Jet Pilot tumbles three rums and absinthe together with heady spice undertones from falernum. Notes of pandan vibrate through the uber tropical Birds of Paradise while the Lighthouse Keeper’s refreshing vodka and coconut water base comes with a Nordic burst of dill but still wouldn’t be misplaced on an island holiday.
Loco moco, a Hawaiian dish splicing together juicy hamburger patties and a fried egg on rice with rich brown gravy, will anchor you down from the head-spinningly boozy drinks. Like all of Hu’s menus, it’s soul-satisfying food: shatteringly crispy wings with guava-chilli sauce and pineapple relish, okonomiyaki-inspired fries, blackened sole fish tacos.
No beach holidays in your future? Birds of Paradise is the next best escape.
By Cat Nelson