Italian restaurants are arguably the most “hit and miss” of Shanghai’s foreign eateries. For every Sabitini Ristorante there’s that restaurant (we’re not naming any names) that serves some very Hamburger Helper-esque pasta and rubbery baloney with the cold cuts plate. So when we spotted Italian Kitchen 26 during a night stroll on Anfu Lu, we had to pop in and see if it could tip the scale in the “hits'” favor. What we found was a kind’ve hit and miss restaurant.
There’s nothing to kvetch about in terms of decor. Italian Kitchen 26’s cozy nook of an interior, and muffled atmosphere make it a perfect shelter from the stampede outside. It kind’ve reminds you of the neighborhood Italian eatery in a small US town, except more carefully pieced together with a sleek black bar, a blackboard chalked with specials, and hanging ham legs (think the restaurant version of that movie star who puts a lot of effort into looking casual with his supposed 2-day stubble and thousand-dollar ripped jeans).
Genuinely nice and helpful staff
What struck us most about Italian Kitchen was how helpful the staff were. They were genuinely attentive (no blank expressions), and never seemed like they were just regurgitating the spiel their manager taught them to memorize for explaining the menu. When we asked for food recommendations, they didn’t slide our fingers to the most expensive items on the menu, but rather gave us the chef’s recommendations and then theirs.
A bipolar menu
One of those recommendations was the parma ham with melon (58RMB), a common antipasto dish, which they unfortunately kind’ve butchered. The ham was too drenched in olive oil for us to savor (though we’ll give it a point for being room temp), and the greens were bland and cold like an airplane salad before you add the dressing. The melon cubes tasted like they were salvaged from an open container of fruit salad on an office temp’s desk. We’ve heard you’re better off ordering the fried squid (35RMB), though that’s received negative reviews as well.
You’re in better territory with the segundo dishes despite a fairly hum-drum line-up of sirloin, tenderloin, fish fillets etc. Our recommended segundo was the grilled seafood plate (88RMB), a compilation of shrimp, squid, and sea bass, which we rather enjoyed, mainly due to the flaky slab of sea bass. The shrimp was sort’ve mushy, but all in all, we recommend it – especially since the price compares to what you’d pay at a casual Chinese spot.
Our favorite dish of the night was not a recommendation but the bacon and cream sauce pasta (58RMB) from the primo section of the menu, which we ordered on account of not being full after polishing off the antipasto and an entire seafood plate (I know, ugly American much?). The cream sauce was abundant enough so that it lent the dish some substance without weighing the noodles down like wet cream cement, while the mushroom bits were thick and earthy-tasting. The fatty bacon squares added to the mouth orgy, which we topped off with a glass of cabernet (198RMB per bottle).
Italian Kitchen 26’s sincere staff, snug atmosphere, and a few good items save it from being just another ho-hum Italian dive in Shanghai. It might not be worth a cab-ride across town, but if you’re perusing Anfu Lu or have a none-too-food-fussy date that you’d like to impress, stop in. Not to mention that you can eat for only around 300RMB for two.
Italian Kitchen 26 – 23 Anfu Lu, near Changshu Lu (安福路23号, 近常熟路). Tel: (0)21-5404-3109. Hours: Mon-Sat, 11.30am-5pm, 6pm-2am.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected]