Opened in the former Avalon space by Chicago chef Mike Solovey and Shahla Salih, owner of Urban Thai, Bloc is the latest venture attempting to revive the legacy of the once widespread Eastern European cuisine to Shanghai. The restaurant is inspired by the cooking of Solovey’s Ukrainian heritage and features contemporary takes on classic Slavic dishes.
Once inside we’re instantly thrown by the sleek dining room. Despite nods to Eastern Bloc design in the imposing rustic wooden signage and colourful folk-inspired block prints, the pale cream walls and light wood furniture are a blessed escape from the garish opulence and gold decor slapped on at other Soviet offerings around the city. Upstairs there is a similarly chilled lounge/private event space and a cosy sheltered rooftop terrace surrounded by treetops. Service is efficient and dished out with a smile.
The menu, peppered with instantly recognisable Ukrainian dishes of Solovey’s childhood, is authentic and easily accessible. The crimson red borscht (35RMB/cup, 50RMB/bowl), is scrumptious and worthy of a place on any Ukrainian dinner table. Inspired by a family recipe, the densely chopped beetroot soup is well balanced, with meaty cubes of beef and pork and a stodgy Jewish rye bread to soak up all the juices.
Pierogis, another classic, come in three varieties, which achieve varying degrees of success. The adventurous twists of sweet potato and goat’s cheese (40RMB/five, 75RMB/ten) are overwhelmingly sweet while the blue cheese and bacon (45RMB/five, 80RMB/ten) lack the desired punch we would have liked. The original four-cheese and potato (40RMB/five, 75RMB/ten) however are the definite highlight with a smooth, creamy filling and faint satisfying crunch to the outside. Served with sour cream and caramelised onions they easily beat the sad, from-frozen version served up at Russian restaurant Matreshka and we would come back just for these alone.
From the mains, the cider-glazed pork loin (138RMB) is softly succulent with a faintly boozy flavour, and while the latka (potato pancake) it comes with is underwhelming, the apple sauce is so good we are tempted to pick up a spoon and take on the whole bowl.
Less successful is the salmon loaf, two dense slices of salmon baked with bread crumbs and spices, which have the texture of Christmas stuffing and could use a liberal dose of moisture.
Elsewhere the Hungarian goulash (85RMB), a vast vat of beef and lamb stewed inside a whole-wheat bread bowl and the halupski (88RMB), cabbage leaves stuffed with beef and mushrooms and smothered in tomato sauce are two of the best value dishes on a menu where most mains range from 128-198RMB.
From the drinks menu there is a good selection of Czech and Polish beers (from 40RMB) or try Bloc’s signature cocktail, the zingy Boris Lipton (vodka, honey and iced tea; 55RMB). Bottles of decent (non Eastern European) wine start from a moderate 180RMB.
So far few restaurants in Shanghai have managed to do justice to this variety of hearty Slavic comfort food. Finally, Solovey’s efforts at Bloc now look set to fill that void.
By Claire Slobodian