Tuesday, 11 December 2012


After a heavy weekend of early festive fun, my body hated me and there was only thing to do: brunch my way out of it.

A friend suggested a fairly new place within limping distance of me, so I scrubbed myself into a semblance of a human and headed out.

The place in question is Henkes, the newest venture from Craig Willis, of chains Wagas and Baker + Spice, The Fantastic Mr. Willis, etc, fame. He seems to be the undisputed despot of the Shanghai (admittedly expat) dining scene - if Craig Willis builds it, they will come.

Although located, uninvitingly, in the back of the Réel Shanghai Department Store, if you creep around the side past Jing'an Park, you can pretend it's a free-standing spot with its sun-trap of a terrace that will be perfect for non-arctic months. The interior is thoughtfully stylish, with several sections suited to drinking, snacking, or serious meals, but a with casual feel throughout from 'market'-y touches like vases of fresh flowers and scattered eclectic treasures. It's perhaps better suited for dinner with its dark woods, but big windows filtered in moody winter sunlight and we sunk into chairs in comfort.

Although allegedly Italian, with its substantial pizza selections and showcase oven, the "trattoria, café + wine bar" had a nicely mixed menu for brunch. I immediately chose the "chak shouka" (usually either "chakchouka" or "shakshouka" in my experience - perhaps a political move?) for its restorative properties (nothing beats an egg on a hangover. Nothing.) and my partner plumped for the breakfast pizza, which is an indication of why we're friends. It wasn't a difficult decision although everything appeared good - I'm looking forward to trying other items like the poached fruit with granola and yogurt when feeling more virtuous and less like death.

The "chak shouka" was just what the doctor ordered - even with one over-done egg, the peppers and onions melded to form a yolk-coated hug in a baby skillet. All it was missing was some choritzo chunks for flavor and spiced yogurt as a cooling contrast.

My friend's pizza was equally admirable, with a thin, blistered crust and some seemingly-fresh sausage in the topping. Again with the eggs though - hers was barely cooked through, but in the bad way. Yes, Henkes is still in soft-opening phase, but there is no excuse for inconsistant (and almost raw!) eggs.

There had been one other irresistible menu option, and so we obviously had to order dessert. Low blood sugar levels are a dangerous thing.

The pancakes were delightfully fluffy with a buttery char, the best I've had here (although Egghead's inexplicably come close), and were interspersed with bananas, drenched with saucy blueberries, and served alongside whipped cream. Trifecta.

The pancakes sealed the deal, but the promising pizza shows that this place will be worth revisiting for many meals to come.

For happiness as well as health.

Réel Shanghai Department Store
1E, 1601 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Changde Lu

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