Nothing goes with raw oysters like a martini, so they say: an adage that underpins the ethos at The Plump Oyster, Shanghai’s first dedicated gin’n’oyster bar.
Perched above Kaiba Taphouse in Taikang Terrace, The Plump Oyster is a slick, sumptuous space where you can slurp on an array of cold-water catches; a throwback to the dim-lit oyster dens of New York, where dock workers and gentry alike would gather to eat and ‘entertain’. Unlike their 19th-century counterparts, these oysters don’t come cheap.
The restaurant-bar is the brainchild of American chef David Brode, former consultant at Osteria on Jinxian Lu – our undisputed go-to for oysters in the city, until now.
Before arriving in Shanghai, Brode sailed the seas as the private chef. Nowadays, however, he’s anchored to the Oyster, which has taken a year to build.
Looking around the restaurant it’s little wonder progress has been slow: the layout has been painstakingly crafted; chic yet earthy, modern yet rustic. The bar is a vast un-lacquered plank – a statement on the importance of drinks here. The soft furnishings continue the natural feel with warm coppers, tumerics and terracotas, all offset by the velvety tones of American jazz and an elaborate mood-lighting system. The pearl however, is the open oyster bar, manned by expert shuckers in chain mail gloves.
Rather unfairly, we visit on the opening night. While there are only two varieties of oyster stocked, the final list will run into the tens. First we try the Blue Pearl from North Island, New Zealand (29RMB/oyster, 207RMB/eight); a small variety of Pacific Oyster with dark meat and a sweet seaweed and cucumber finish. Second are the Gillardeau from Marne d’Orleron France (59RMB/oyster or 447RMB/eight) – these are much fatter and richer with a briny nutty taste and a crisp finish. Both are fresh and perfectly presented with a homemade mignonette and Tabasco.
For extra ballast there’s a limited selection of can’t-go-wrong antipasti: Cittero prosciutto di Parma and cured Italian meats (98RMB/78 grams), four cheeses and accompaniments (128RMB) plus a crispy Kentucky bourbon-battered chicken.
While dishes are not cheap; the quality is there – and pleasingly, this extends to the service, too. Brode is a spritely and attentive host, the type who takes the time to fill your glass while talking oysters. Pleasingly, the staff follows suit, a rare feat for an opening night.
Finally, to the gin. The list runs at 16 artisan and five standard labels (from 59-109RMB), including the rare Simpsmith Sloe, which opened the first copper-pot distillery in London’s city limits for nearly two centuries. There’s also a curated wine list, featuring some really delicious pours such as the Jean Marc Brocard Chablis (369RMB): plus several quality ales and lagers on tap (from 39RMB).
The Plump Oyster bursts with ragtime gusto and gourmand flourishes which, combined with Brode’s own artistic flare, offer Shanghai something unique, not least a fitting addition to a building where drinks are taken as seriously as food.