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  • Shanghai Restaurant Review: Bar à Vin

    By Sophie Steiner, August 27, 2020

    0 0

    The Place

    Bar à Vin opened quietly on Jiashan Lu in mid-January in a manner that mirrors its co-owner Jeffrey Yao’s demeanor: humble and unpretentious. Yet, in the short eight months that it’s been open, it has garnered quite the reputation amongst those in the wine industry, and a consistent following of regulars that keep the two-story dining area full every day of the week. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    The space is so French. So very, very French. But not in the way we internationalized French food lovers think of it. Instead of the white tablecloths brimming with conventional favorites like Coq au Vin, B?uf Bourguignon or Soupe à L’Oignon, the warmly lit, quaint space is cozy, with homely fare one would find at a ‘neighborhood’ wine bar in a small French countryside town. 

    Co-owners Jeffrey Yao and Peter Dong met while working as sommeliers in Shanghai in 2010. After opening Le Vin together in 2012 and sister restaurant Le Verre à Vin in 2015, they were ready for a completely new concept. 

    At the end of 2019, they sold their shares and fully invested all time and effort into their new masterpiece, Bar à Vin. While previously they had built the standard European food-focused menu around the wine, this time they focused fully on traditional French dishes. These rustic bites tend to have a heavier palette to really stand up against the bolder, more exotic wine selection on offer. 

    The Food

    Family-style comfort food is what you can expect to dine on at Bar à Vin, but to keep it interesting, Jeffrey adds his own twist, like rounding out a plate with Thai or North African spices to add an unexpected yet welcomed surprise.

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    The yuzu-marinated Pork Ear (RMB58) is sprinkled with a sweet umami blend of Japanese furikake seasoning, a ‘cartilage-y’ crunch that lends well as a play on ceviche and is popular amongst French and Chinese alike. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    Pork Elbow Pate (RMB98) arrives in a large rectangular slab, like rustic homemade head cheese. The fatty pieces of meat and liver are balanced by spreading a large dollop of zippy stoneground mustard and tangy jam across the top before each bite. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    The lemongrass-forward broth that the Stewed Clams with Chorizo (RMB78) is served in is best consumed by the ladleful. Herbaceous and spicy, it soaks into the plump clams, so that each bite literally bursts with flavor. Pro tip: save the freshly-baked, complimentary bread for this one; a warm baguette is the ideal vessel for wiping the bowl clean. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    If there is one dish that can consistently be seen on each table, it’s the Teppan Cabbage (RMB78), meat stuffed cabbage rolls smothered in a blue cheese cream, topped with lardon-sized pieces of drool-worthy pancetta. The chef uses a deft hand with the pungent cheese, understanding its divisive nature, while still highlighting its ability to add an earthy funk that can bring balance to a dish. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    The Sliced Beef with Tuna Sauce (RMB118) is a French nod to the Italian Vitello Tonnato. Thinly sliced pieces of marinated beef are topped with a rich tuna sauce and loads of capers for a briny bite balanced by a refreshing drizzle of herb oil. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    The true star comes in the form of expertly cooked Confit Duck Breast (RMB118), with crisp, golden skin and succulent pink flesh. Accompanied by a tart mixed berry compote, this classic pairing makes it hard to venture out into the other made-for-sharing mains. But for the behemoth serving of medium-rare grilled Beef Steak (RMB228) that we spotted on the table next to us, we will most definitely be back. 

    Similar to other French wine bistros, like Soif and Le Verre à Vin, there is no fixed wine menu. Just peruse the ever-rotating wine bottle selection, stacked like books in an old library along the wooden shelves that cover the entire northern wall on the first floor. 

    Bottles are loosely arranged by region and style, but with dozens of varieties of wines from France, Spain, Italy, Australia, the US, New Zealand and China, you could spend countless hours looking through before ever finding a duplicate. For people (like us), who find themselves crippled by choice, Jeffrey makes himself always available to offer expert recommendations. Bottles generally range from RMB250 to RMB700.

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    Jeffrey also makes sure to stock wines from major wine regions like Burgundy and the Rh?ne Valley in France, or La Mancha in Spain, but he also curates a list that sports niche bottles that even some of Shanghai’s most well-known sommeliers are surprised by. 

    Although you will find mostly organic wines available, he doesn’t just follow the latest trends of natural wines. He wants to make sure his wine selection is always evolving based on customers’ preferences, ensuring that it’s fitting for wine nerds and noobs alike. 

    Food Verdict: 2.5/3

    The Vibe

    The modest décor, with wine bottles lining every available shelf and antique bronze sconces adorning the walls, evokes a feeling of comfortable ease, like you’re enjoying a meal with family rather than eating in a restaurant. Jeffrey’s welcoming nature accentuates that same feeling; he remembers most of his patrons names and wine preferences after meeting them just once. 

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    Sharing that same passion, the wait staff are attentive and friendly, offering wine and food recommendations when needed. For regulars, it’s commonplace to receive a complimentary dish or a tasting of a newly opened bottle of wine that Jeffrey is excited about. 

    It’s this sort of familiar personal connection coupled with a decade’s worth of experience in the industry that demonstrates that at Bar à Vin, they just really get it. The value received far exceeds the balance leaving your WeChat account. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation

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    Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

    Vibe Verdict: 2/2

    Total Verdict: 4.5/5

    Price: 200-400RMB per person (including wine)
    Who’s Going: Anyone and everyone who works in the wine industry, well-off Chinese wine lovers, French food addicts
    Good For: Date nights, wine explorations and foodie catch-up sessions


    See a listing for Bar à Vin. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

    [Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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