This venue has closed.
Enzo Carbone’s on a roll. First, he opens Matto, a superior trattoria with standard-bearing pizza in Lujiazui. Now, just a few months later, it’s this high-aspiring opening in Yifeng Galleria, a scented luxury mall near The Bund. He’s calling it a ‘cookhouse’. Which basically means it’s covering a number of bases: grill, seafood, pizza, pasta and craft cocktails (via Arcade
’s Jacob Prain).
It’s Italian, of course. And it’s on The Bund. Everyone’s fussing about it. And you can’t get a table. Sound familiar? If only because of its location, Capo will inevitably draw comparisons to Mercato
, another high-profile opening on The Bund this year. But Jean-Georges Vongerichten can breathe easy. Mercato is still the area’s best Italian, if not restaurant, and, with consistency, those laurels will undoubtedly be left to gather dust for some time.
But let’s be clear: this is a question of hardware more than cooking. The downer with Capo is its clubby, frantic atmosphere. Designers Neri & Hu (who also did Mercato) have achieved a sort of dark, chapel-like rustic minimalism, with bare bricks, bare filament light bulbs – of course – and arches either side of the dining room (apparently inspired by Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’, a parody of which is at the entrance). The difference is, Jesus and the gang had a natural light source, while Capo does not. It’s tight, windowless and ultimately feels like what it is: a spare part of a nightclub (Muse, who co-own Capo, is next door) which was never destined to be a restaurant.
The music is loud, too. Clearly they hate the idea of fine-dining formality. Which is fine, of course, unless it means techno at crushing volume. Service could be brighter, too. One recent Friday, a server has the terrified glare of a panto baddie and appears to ration her largesse for the prettiest people in the room.
But in the kitchen, Carbone is faultless. With a team of 22 chefs, the cooking is uniformly excellent. The menu is broad and not instantly navigable. Pizza is cooked to the same standard as Matto.
Here though, the focus is meat, which is roasted in hand-made ovens, charged with applewood and bincho-tan charcoal (made from ubame oak and imported from Japan). A grill chef only really has to get one thing right; half the battle of decent steak is sourcing. Beef comes from Big Jack’s Creek Farm in Australia, who don’t use hormones or antibiotics on their cows, which, we’re told, are so free-range that they’re shit-scared of humans. If it sounds like organic gimmickry, it isn’t. The full-blood, 600-day, grain-fed wagyu striploin (438RMB/100g), with a 9+ marble score, is flawless, the best steak we’ve had in Shanghai. Served on a wood slat with roasted vine tomatoes and onion, it’s gently charred, complexly flavoured, fine-textured unimpeachable perfection. And priced accordingly. You’ll need about 300g for a proper serving. You can do the sums.
Still, for those without expense accounts, simpler pleasures are not hard to find. There are cheaper cuts on offer: 200-day, grain-fed, marble score 3+ Angus tenderloin (198RMB/200g) or the Capo Fiorentina, marble score 6+, 450-day, wagyu, bone-in rib-eye (888RMB)which at 800g could serve three, four at a push.
Elsewhere, the menu’s descriptions are straightforward and dishes rarely surpass this simplicity. With ingredients this good, they don’t have to: ‘jet-fresh’ burrata (118RMB) is cleverly underscored with salt via cured duck prosciutto. Two pastas show exacting consistency: the scialatielli, with clams, red prawns, squid, and mussels (118RMB) and pastificio mancini maccheroncelli wagyu ragout, with fibrous porcini mushrooms, (108RMB) have a satisfyingly al dente texture.
But the winning streak is derailed. Paying the bill is a royal headache. To be fair, a complimentary digestif is offered. While we wait, a frenzied American looks puzzled. She’s been told the designers have subtly embossed animal shapes on the ceiling. But she can’t see them. ‘I just see starfish,’ she shrugs, before striding towards the exit telling her friend about ‘this other amazing new Italian’ she knows about round the corner. Let battle commence.