Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Wine Must

In the immortal words of Young MC: "You want it? Baby, you got it".

A friend recently commented that he knew Shanghai had finally reached a certain saturation point as a city when Ethiopian food (the excellent but now defunct EatEthio) arrived in town.

Even in the year I've been here, this incredibly international and fast-paced place has increasingly been forcing most new openings to go big and polish up their branding and quality. The other option is always to go niche, with some spots bordering on the comi-tragic in their specific focus - I recently saw a sign for a lasagna-only place about to open in a failed chocolate-only shop (in the old awfully-named Awfully Chocolate on Xiangyang Lu, for the Italian-inclined).

Some executions may be better than others, but it seems like we have almost all 'concept' bases now covered.

So when a friend mentioned that a French comrade-in-croissants was extending his wine bar's offerings, I was intrigued as to how he'd differentiate in a city with more twists on French food than sense.

Although Wine Must has apparently been open for a little while now, the space has been completely redone and is softly re-opening with a new food focus. Tucked away in a courtyard in Jing'an, the invitingly large space is beautifully done in a Sino-Franco rustic style, with shikumen-style stonework on its central bar and large slabs of wood for tables. It also has a great outdoors space, which will be wonderful when pollution eventually makes it within only-mildly-toxic levels.

Although I have a few quibbles with the place's branding - the name, the logo, some of the seasonal decorations, the paper placemats (beyond the fact they are paper placemats, they tragically obscure the terrific tables) - the whole is more than the sum of its sometimes-dubious parts.

In fact, what the space caters best to is actually the concept - all of that heavy wood and low lighting make for a cozy den to enjoy the new offering: French grillhouse food.

The new menu is modeled after the French restaurant Le Relais de L'Entrecôte, which famously only serves a prix-fixe menu of salad, french fries, and steak with its renowned secret sauce.

Wine Must does the same, although with more ambition - there is a choice of salad or soup to start and a selection of three proteins - Australian Wagyu steak, a duck entrecôte, or salmon fillet - along with your unlimited (!) fries (!!!). And of course there is a secret sauce, this one called "esprit de vin" and apparently made with 18 ingredients, including (naturally) wine, chocolate, and 15 spices. It is served across all of proteins, which was intriguing.

(Can we pause to revisit that they serve unlimited fries? Thank you. Moving on).

After we cracked open one of their excellent reds alongside a starter platter (curiously global for a very French concept - you'd be better getting the Belgian "flammenkueche"/'pizza' by itself), we settled at our table and made the only choices necessary for the night: soup or salad and which protein. There's something to be said for limited options.

Appetizers were mixed - the salad was an underwhelmingly clumsy take on the classic frisée aux lardons, but the pumpkin soup was velvety and rich.

But then for the grilled goods: the steak was perfectly cooked, which is exceptional in this town; the salmon tender, although perhaps thin; and the duck the surprise highlight, with enough fat for immense flavor. All were served with potatoes as well as perfectly crispy fries (double the potato but delicious nonetheless) and that sauce, which, as suspected, worked much better on the steak and duck than the fish.

The proteins won the night, and overall, it was an incredibly satisfying meal for under 130rmb each.

For next time, I would skip the starter platter and might even splurge on a giant côte de boeuf "fit for two". It might be the size of a dinosaur steak, but if I came hungry...

So although Shanghai might seemed to have reached saturation, Wine Must's cozy space and the concept - prix-fixe and with enough options to satisfy everyone - make it a perfect spot for a group to catch up over great wine and a hearty meal.

They've got it. I want it.

Wine Must
1/F. Building 2
881 Wuding Lu, near Changde Lu

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