Bird (wine bar & kitchen)
Add: 50 Wu Yuan Road, Shanghai 五原路50号
Tel: +86 135 0172 6412
Hours: closed Tue; Wed-Mon 6pm-late
Visited: March 2018
Will return: Definitely
Bitter (cafe & cocktail bar)
Add: 58 Wu Yuan Road, Shanghai 五原路58号
Tel: +86 135 0172 6412
Hours: Tue 10am-5pm; Wed-Mon 10am-late
Visited: March 2018
Will return: Yes
Walking down the quiet, peaceful Wu Yuan Road at night, Bird and Bitter are hard to miss. The two rooms beckon at passers-by with twin pools of light and warmth, reflected across a dark, narrow alley in between. On the left is Bitter, cafe by day, cocktail bar by night. On the other side sits Bird, a kitchen and wine bar with a concise but extremely likable menu.
The two complimenting, month-old venues are the latest projects of Ms. Camden Hauge, the face behind a multitude of food-related concepts around town including food festival Feast, dinner party club Shanghai Supperclub, as well as beloved cafe Egg on Xiang Yang Road.
Bitter is the more spacious of the two, with about two dozen seats inside the triangular cafe, and a dozen more on the sunny porch. A laid-back study in light wood, white tabletops, and naked concrete, the room forms a perfect backdrop for Bitter’s no-frills cocktails from award-winning bartender Mr. Warren Pang, as well as an array of brunch-like plates served throughout the day.
Peanut-cranberry granola, yogurt, honey (40)
But when it comes to food, Bird is where the real action happens. Like its sister, the space is clean, bordering on minimal, but the kitchen goes all in.
Even simple snacks like chips and radishes are dressed up. The former employs sweet potatoes – which feels very much like a nod to the nutrient-conscious eating that Egg is known for – cut into satisfyingly thick discs and finished with a shaving of salted egg yolk that could have been more liberal. The latter is served alongside a healthy dollop of smoked herring butter that we want to purchase by the jar.
Sweet potato chips, egg yolk (28)
These snacks are the first sign that the menu at this 20-seat wine bar was designed with drinking and sharing in mind. The second sign is that almost everything is served in bowls, pre-mixed so that a generous spoonful gets you all the components you need. The only exceptions are the chips and the pork ribs, for which you simply need your hands.
The kitchen, helmed by Mr. Chris Zhu, formerly of Anteroom on Chang Le Road, appears to be unconcerned with definition, turning out plate after plate with footprints all over the map. Cauliflower florets, fried to the crunchy-tender threshold, pick up delicate flickers of miso and chive from a puddle of onion cream. The Japanese motif rears its head again in the form of some bonito flakes scattered atop tender rings of squid. But the stuffing inside the squid has an unmistakably local lilt, a mix of bamboo shoot and salted vegetables (a.k.a. xuecai) that sharpen the gently earthy eggplant purée underneath. The dish looks monochromatic, but its flavors possess depth and dimension in spades.
Fried cauliflower, onion, chive, miso (68)
Squid, bamboo shoot + salted vegetable, eggplant (78)
When we struggle to define exactly what kind of food a restaurant serves, words like “global” and “fusion” often get thrown about. The former would be accurate in the case of Bird; the latter would not. In fact, much of Bird’s draw is the free-spirited effortlessness that, in my view, often makes up the line between the two.
That freedom of spirit lets the kitchen put Japanese bonito in the same bowl as Shanghainese xuecai, and all on the same page as some wonderful Vietnamese pork ribs. The ribs are rubbed with about a dozen herbs and spices that I couldn’t be expected to remember after several glasses of wine, but I remember their effect vividly. The spices hit out of nowhere, fast but nuanced like a well-made curry, building insistently on the tongue until soothed with little cubes of cilantro-dressed pineapple thoughtfully provided on the side.
Vietnamese pork rib, pineapple, cilantro (198)
That freedom also allows the kitchen to feel comfortable sending out plates that are straightforwardly European. Radicchio, blue cheese, and almond make for a classic symphony, twinkling with tiny flecks of ham and bound with a lime-honey dressing that, on my visit, was perhaps a touch more salty than it needed to be.
Radicchio, ham crumble, blue cheese, almond, lime-honey (45)
Seeing mushroom listed right above pork rib in what is implicitly the “main course” section of the menu might raise a few eyebrows, but the dish lives up to its place admirably. The whole, hulking dome of portobello is meaty and tender, laid on a bed of puff pastry that opens up to a parsley-flecked mushroom sauce. The sauce tastes like what I imagine cream of mushroom would in heaven: smooth and fragrant, thrillingly savory and lavishly concentrated.
Mushroom, puff pastry, grana moravia (78)
All of these dishes may not be on the menu when I next visit, since Bird’s menu changes every few weeks. But from what I have seen so far, I would be happy to take whatever the kitchen sends my way. Their creations are carefully put-together without feeling stiff or self-conscious, hiding just enough sleights of hand to keep things interesting without weighing you down. Granted, these little intrigues would manifest themselves more clearly if our plates were changed more often, but that can be easily remedied, especially with a service team as enthusiastic as Bird’s.
The wine list is short but unusual – which means a lot more coming from my wine-savvy friend than from me – but their friendly wine director Mr. Lobin Tjia would be more than happy to walk you through it. Or you could go with your hunch and pick one based on the pithy description beneath each wine that often reads like a line in a poem: “Atlantic breeze,” “bright berry burst,” “muscle yet finesse.” They make me want to try the wine almost as much as I want to find out the rest of the poem.
We accidentally ordered two cheese courses. The first was a semi-hard goat’s milk, drizzled with a thyme-infused honey that brings out its sweetness and rounds out the acidity and sharpness. It is hard to find cheese in Shanghai restaurants, and even rarer to come across a cheese course that is well-thought-out. I would gladly come back for this alone.
Semi-hard goat’s milk, thyme honey, crackers (80)
The second cheese was in fact a dessert that looked like a cheese course in disguise: a bowl of whipped ricotta, so light that it feels like gently cheese-flavored air tricked into solid form. The ricotta is strewn with bits of sweet date and crunchy pistachio, and accompanied by brioche fingers dusted with icing sugar. It did taste more like a dessert than it looked. It also carried the unmistakable insignia of a cuisine chef. In this case, everything worked out splendidly.
Spiced ricotta, date, carrot chip, pistachio, brioche (78)