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15 new restaurants we loved in Shanghai in 2021

Get out there and eat, eat, eat!

Photograph: Graeme Kennedy, courtesy Bonica
As another year comes to a close and a new one begins, it's time for turning inward and reflection – and while we promise we've been doing the requisite amount of soul searching, we've also been reflecting on all of the delicious things we've devoured these last 12 months. It's largely been business as usual in Shanghai this year, which means plenty of new places have opened and sadly, many have also closed. But from truly great gourmet sandwiches to Kansas-style barbecue, Balkan burgers and modern Indian with the drinks to match, this is the shortlist you need for 2021's most exciting openings.

Atelier Izakaya

The latest project from Shanghai cocktail stalwart Daniel An took over the space that previously occupied his old one, Arch on Shaanxi Bei Lu. An izakaya equipped with an industrial-like interior and set to funky sounds, it’s a concept that’s proved successful enough to have already spawned a sequel on The Bund, currently in soft opening. Unlike An’s other joints, here it’s the food rather than the drinks that take the spotlight (though there’s still plenty of booze) with grill options galore to go alongside rice bowls, fresh seafood and some seriously good ice cream. Don’t sleep on a scoop (or two) of the black truffle.

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688 Shaanxi Bei Lu

Sakaba Malabar

The longtime neighbourhood Spanish bar received a slick Japanese revamp back in autumn. Perch yourself on high seats around the central u-shaped bar and dig into sharing plates that draw on Spanish and Japanese inspiration from sibling chefs Juan and Ana Campos, like croquettes topped with crab salad or 100g of Uruguayan beef wagyu served straight out of the Josper oven topped with Manchego foam. Drinks, dreamt up by Union Trading Company’s Yao Lu, follow the food on the fusion front – see memorable creations like the Miso Caliente that mixes blended scotch whiskey together with red miso paste.

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1081 Wuding Lu

Bonica

Around the corner from Mikkeller in Jingan lies sleek Mediterranean restaurant Bonica. Marco Chavez Jaime whose cooking chops include stints at a trio of Paul Pairet restaurants (Mr & Mr Bund, Chop Chop Club and Polux) leads the kitchen, which you can see from the quartzite-tabled dining area or terrazzo-styled courtyard. No doubt the venue's a looker, but the food is no bystander to what surrounds – particularly, the charred and chunky octopus leg with green chilli cream sauce and the 350g slab of beef tongue that might sound intimidating, but in reality, falls apart in your mouth with delicate ease.

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110 Lane 273, Jiaozhou Lu

Something

If you're spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon brunching in the centrepiece of Craig Willis’ Wukang Market takeover, you won’t want to leave – not only because another Monday morning awaits. Set in a lovely industrial loft-like space, Alexander Bitterling presides over the menu with dishes that trot the globe influenced by his travels all over. Don’t skip the Thailand-inspired One Night in Bangkok that hides fresh mango sorbet and crispy puffed rice within a mound of coconut cream for a taste that’ll have you dreaming of the tropics.

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98 Wukang LuOnline booking

The Smokehouse x The Camel Sports Bar

The Camel got a leg-up on the competition for Shanghai sports bar supremacy with the addition of Kansas-style barbecue king Matty Waters, who re-jigged the food menu with his signature low and slowed-cooked meats. The new-and-improved smokey offerings include hangover-slaying dishes like uber-creamy mac and cheese topped with baked beans and your choice meat, smash burgers, loaded fries (that really are loaded) and a truckstop breakfast burrito teamed with hash browns, scrambled egg, grilled bacon, sausage, sour cream and hot sauce – all now making The Camel a space where sports fans might actually have a shot at convincing friends to ditch regular weekend plans in favour of catching the football games.

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97 XiangYang Bei LuOnline booking

Roma

Italy and Shanghai might not be neighbours on the world map, but we never feel too far away thanks to places like Roma. Porcellino's Giampaolo De Santis has ambitions to bring a corner of the Italian capital here, and he's enlisted Andrea Calducci (executive chef of the Shanghai Tower's 101 Centuono) to help with that by heading an open kitchen where classics are handcrafted and made with nonnerly love – pizzas topped with Parma ham, stracciatella cheese and cherry tomatoes or rustic ravioli filled with sausage and fresh black truffle. Make sure to get the tiramisu coated with homemade chocolate cream and a cheeky digestif while you're at it. When in Rome and all that...

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1006 Kangding Lu

KLAY

An inventive modern Indian eatery from Hardeep Somal. If you’re familiar with the fusion flavours that the former head chef at The Bull & Claw has served up around Shanghai’s street-food pop-ups, he’s expanding well beyond those ideas at Klay. Pulling ingredients from all over the country, Somal is turning out a mix of playful dishes like butter chicken tacos, masala sausage rolls and a range of curries that – while carrying decent spice and heat – won’t leave you gasping for water. Behind the drinks is bartender-around-town Geo Valdivieso with a strong list of Indian-influenced cocktails - for example, the 'From Bollywood with Love', crafted using Peddler’s gin, saffron syrup and martini bianco.

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1124 Beijing Xi LuOnline booking

Ottimo

The brains behind hit natural wine bar SOiF have given the somewhat screened-away space on Surpass Court’s fourth floor a Mediterranean makeover. Keeping the previous venue’s name, they’ve freshened it up into an elegant-but-casual European-Asian eatery, albeit without the emphasis on natural wines. Traditional tipples mostly chosen from France and Italy anchor the sommelier selection instead and are rotated weekly – designed to match a food menu that channels coastal vibes with contemporary touches. Go for the melt-in-your-mouth toothfish served with pea purée or the kitchen’s take on the shrimp cocktail served with sweet tiger prawn tails.

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570 Yongjia Lu

Le DAiLY

Opening this past spring under great expectations, a trio of big-name Shanghai food and drink personalities François Seguin (SOiF), Michael Chen (The Cannery and Highline) and Andrew Moo (Yaya's) teamed up to sling gourmet sandwiches, deli-style bites, cocktails, coffee and natural wine on Wuding Lu. Sarnies rotate with current variations including a Shanghai Reuben crafted with slabs of brisket, hongshao sauce and spices, or a Spam and Pineapple number packed to the brim with things like Omnipork luncheon meat, roasted pineapple, avocado, laoganma tahini and potato crisps.

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550 Wuding Lu

RŌZO 芦苇

Found up an unassuming flight of stairs on Wuding Lu, RŌZO 芦苇 comes with a food menu consulted on by Peruvian chef Carlos Sotomayor (UP and now-shuttered Elefante to name a few). It's designed to complement your bottles: think chunks of lobster wedged between pieces of toasted butter bread or okonomiyaki – Sotomayor’s riff on the savoury Japanese pancake, with roasted potatoes, slow-cooked short rib and bulldog sauce. As for the wines themselves (this is a wine bar after all), there’s 120 currently available in the walk-in cellar starting from around 250RMB. Lots hail from France – which is where the owners are from – but you’ll also encounter bottles from other Old World locales like Spain as well as New World countries like Uruguay.

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968 Wuding Lu

Halu Korean Bistro

It wasn’t just the weather that was scorching over the summer, Ars & Delecto’s first-floor replacement (sadly, the bar is now closed on the second floor and for good) was red hot too, drawing some fairly lengthy waits when it first opened. The hype hasn’t died down since and when you do finally nab a table, your patience will be rewarded with a solid lineup of well-executed Korean classics that cover the single-page menu – particularly the sweet and sour chicken and jeon (Korean pancakes) that come with addictive fillings like cheese, potato and bacon or mung beans, kimchi and pork.

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222 Jinxian Lu

Caminetto

Mercato’s former executive chef Kelvin Chai has taken his talents to striking red shopping strip The Roof in Xintiandi where he’s putting his own personal stamp on Italian. Dishes largely identify as modern, open-minded Italian coupled with Chinese characteristics like housemade pastas that feature ravioli filled with shepherd’s purse or a creamy risotto clad with fresh crayfish and a chunk of pan-seared foie gras – plus a strong push to source produce from across country: ma jia gou (a rare celery from Shandong) is spread across a decadent three-cheese wood-fired shrimp pizza and glistening-yellow baby cabbage from Yunnan comes served underneath crispy-skinned halibut.

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458 Madang LuOnline booking

Torisawa

Another polished Japanese yakitori spot has found a home in Shanghai, this one on the ground floor of the Jing An Kerry Centre. Unsurprisingly, grilled meats are the star attraction with all parts of the featured bird (chicken) on offer – breast, thigh and wings, alongside ovaries and throat for the daring. The cocktail list also plays a strong supporting role featuring signatures designed by bar awards magnet Speak Low – think Yakult and lychee martinis or a Paloma with yuzu and shiso tequila.

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1515 Nanjing Xi Lu

Mezcalito

Remember Dodu? Its successor Mezcalito has taken on the mantle of people watching from the patio on Changshu Lu, only now with tacos and mezcal margaritas – which is a good thing in our books. There are a few design tweaks (a sun mural painted on the wall upstairs, stools patterned in bright prints and a laidback Latin soundtrack) and instead of rotisserie chicken, the team are turning out tacos and other fares like nachos and guacamole to be scarfed down alongside lots of agave-based booze, namely mezcal. Sip it neat from a selection of roughly 50 bottles – each with a brief description of flavours and accompanied by orange wedges, worm salt and fried maguey worms.

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81 Changshu Lu

Yugo Grill

The space that used to occupy Japanese-American mash-up Lucky Diner on Kangding Lu has been filled by Balkan bites or rather, some behemoth burgers from the former Yugoslavia. Loaded with your choice of sauces, cabbage, pickles and the like, the patties (aka pljeskavica) have also been filling our stomachs right to the brim. After letting your belly breathe, make sure to soak everything up with regional spirits like shots of rakija, Serbia’s national drink.

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365 Kangding Lu

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