Belgian wine bar owner shares favorite food and drink venues
Yannick De Brouwer arrived in the city for an exchange program at Tongji University in late 2015 and decided to stay. Born and raised in Belgium, he started to work in French bistros, fell in love with good wine and started to spend more time in places that sold the best varietals. He is now the owner of Crave Cafe & Wine Bar, and Crave Bakery, and one of the partners behind modern Hunan restaurant Where Peaches Grow (园有桃).
Q: Introduce the neighborhood you live in.
After one year as a clueless student living in Yangpu District, I discovered another Shanghai among the streets of the tree-lined downtown. I moved a bunch of times along the years (Zhenning Road, Donghu Road, currently Taiyuan Road), but I have always orbited around since then. Until we opened our Bakery in Huangpu District, I almost never went out of Xuhui District anymore.
The nice architecture, the numerous boutiques, and the beautiful trees on Taiyuan Road just make you want to cycle all day long when it's sunny (who am I kidding, I am a lazy scooter rider). Most of its neighborhoods, buildings and crossroads feel like a 1960s postcard, or one of those historical movies about China at the beginning of the last century.
Q: What's the best thing about living in this neighborhood?
It has this village vibe. Buildings are much lower as well which feels refreshing. You live in a mega city that is three times the population of my country, but somehow you still manage to bump into many people you know walking their dogs, cycling, or running to their next meeting.
Q: What's the unmissable attraction here?
I just love getting lost in the countless small residences and alleys the streets offer. It feels like you are always going to discover something unexpected and nice, and you always do. Sometimes it's a small antique shop owned by a shirtless grandpa, a hidden art gallery, or a tiny chicken farm. Once you are back on the main streets, all sorts of boutiques and trendy cafés or restaurants await. I love this contrast.
Q: Each person may have different stands, but they all want a great café. What's your favorite café near home?
The best experience in terms of coffee and service I had recently was 3 ½ from OPS team (No. 1, Lane 305, Taiyuan Rd 太原路305弄1号). Outstanding professionalism and friendliness. You get to try different declinations of the beans you choose. The patience and the time they took to explain to us what we were drinking was another level. What's more? It's dog-friendly.
Q: Where to eat around here?
I think RAC Bar (322 Anfu Rd, 安福路322号) is largely underrated. Chef Goh Shan Tze knows exactly what he is doing and the food there is good, super comforting and reliable, never a miss. Plus, the wine selection there is still hard to beat today despite the explosion of new wine bars in town, and that hidden terrace is just, well, one of the best secrets in town.
开心食堂 (287 Hunan Rd, 湖南路287弄) has no signs or windows to suggest it is a restaurant; you just need to know about it, like Jack Ma or all the other celebrities who've already been there. A perfect spot for good classic Shanghai food such as braised pork (红烧肉), stir-fried sticky rice with hairy crab (毛蟹炒年糕), or onion chive oil noodles (葱油拌面).
恒春元 (1280 Huaihai Rd M., 淮海中路1280号) is a hidden gem on Huaihai Road M. The owner does everything by himself so you need to be patient but it's worth it. Ingredients are straight from the market, the food is homely and tasty. It's a soulful place where the organization of the tiny kitchen is as impressive as it is touching. The whole thing is wrapped in an intimate Tokyo midnight diner vibe.
When I go out of my neighborhood and head to the big north, above Yan'an Road E., Crush, Bastard and Yaya's are usually the places I am heading to. A big shout-out to their team.
Q: From high fashion to emerging designers, from flowers to fresh produce, where do you shop in your neighborhood?
To be honest I am not a big shopping guy so I won't pretend to be the most trendy guy when it comes to this kind of recommendation. When the planets align and I go to shop, I choose to spend time in:
Redzepi (1590 Kangding Rd, 康定路1590号), a huge vintage store that looks like a small warehouse full of furniture, paintings, glasses and so on. It has this beautiful messy flea market atmosphere and combines it with a North European concept store that offers plenty of small design brands or pieces of art from local artists.
Melting Pot (673 Yongjia Rd, 永嘉路673号) is also worth mentioning for being one of the way-too-rare vinyl shops in town. From time to time, it hosts super cool events. It's also a nice place to spend an hour digging some music with a beer.
Q: Any neighborhood place for a night out or simply a drink after work?
Although I don't go out as much as before, I feel like these are the must-go places for a nice night out with quality music.
HEIM (462 Chengle Rd, 长乐路462号) offers a home to all those souls out there seeking a genuine underground atmosphere. The music there rarely disappoints and can vary from minimal house to dark disco, really niche techno, or more rarely drum 'n bass.
System (1327 Huaihai Rd M., 淮海中路1327号) is huge and is worth seeing even if you are not into clubbing. You can literally get lost inside, walking along its different rooms and audiovisual art installations. It often hosts China's biggest DJ or bands, diverse exhibitions or cultural events, and I just wish Shanghai had more of these places.
If what I'm looking for is simply a few drinks or a nice bottle between friends, I feel that Franck Bistrot (376 Wukang Rd, 武康路376号) and its cellar is one of Shanghai's best-kept secrets when it comes to hidden natural wine gems that everyone forgot about. Most were imported before it even became a trend in town. I also often end up at Blaz's bar (20 Donghu Rd, 东湖路20号) for a good glass of wine since it's on my way home and I love the team.
8 Pints (310 Yongjia Rd, 永嘉路310号) is simple but efficient when I am missing the sour beers of my country. It's all draft, fast served, well priced and perfect for a quick grab or a long night chatting. They sometimes project those cool Stephen Chow movies I love so much on a wall in the street.
Q: Any new discovery in your neighborhood lately?
Alors... (Bldg 3, Lane 200, Taikang Rd 泰康路200弄3号楼) from Chef Lou Bingjia and his team took the challenge to open an oasis of good taste in Tian Zi Fang. The small dishes they serve are good, thoughtful, balanced, and paired with a nice selection of wine. My foodie friend who visited me recently couldn't stop talking about them.
ANAR KAWAP 石榴烤肉 (758 Julu Rd, 巨鹿路758号) is the place you need to go when you are craving a late-night meat fix. They have this lamb wonton soup that is just to die for, and skewers are just what you need after a few drinks and before taking the night further.