The latest Shanghai venture by British chef Jason Atherton, the Commune Social is a sleek new desert and tapas bar set in Neri and Hu’s Design Republic Commune. It’s still in the soft opening phase, but if the finished product is an iota like the preview we got, expect another reason to hit up the blossoming Jiangning Lu area.
Simultaneously downplayed and lavish. You walk into what seems like a low-key gallery space, which abruptly forks off into several sections each with their own unique designs, like if the house from Clue was a restaurant instead. There’s a spacious courtyard, a rustic upstairs bar, a tapas bar with an open kitchen, and a white dessert counter with stools that reminded us of a 1950s American soda fountain and snack bar. Eating at the Commune Social is supposed to invoke eating at someone’s house. And it does, provided that house were designed by a glutton.
No soups or salads, bread, or other filler, just everything you want to eat smooshed into one tapas menu that’s split into four sections – para picar (small bites), eggs, seafood, meat, grill, and vegetables.
Highlights of the para picar roster include the sea urchin with pepper butter on Ciabbata (58RMB), a.k.a succulence on steroids (c’mon it’s uni with butter!), manchego cheese and Iberico Ham toasties (58RMB) and oysters with Vietnamese dressing (48RMB). And unlike most Shanghai spots, they give you more than advertised, even cramming a fried egg into the manchego cheese and Iberico Ham toasties.
If you’re in a breakfast-y mood, go for the Spanish Breakfast, chorizo and potatoes (68RMB) or the fried egg with black pudding, capers, and anchovies (68RMB), both from the egg section. If you crave something more filling, tuck into the baked smoked bone marrow with onion jam, sour dough, and gentleman’s relish butter (98RMB) from the meat section or the char-grilled Iberico Pork and foie-gras burgers, avocado and pickled cucumber (basically White Castle sliders with bling) from the grill. Almost every dish seems like an all-star team of your favorite ingredients. Bone marrow not enough? How about bone marrow mixed with minced beef cheeks and stuffed back in the bone?
Other eats are more straightforward. The gambas prawns with chili and garlic from the seafood section (78RMB), entail whole, shell-on/head-on prawns with only a slight dribbling of chili and garlic. The salt and pepper squid with ink aioli (78RMB) follow suit. Tapas specials change daily.
When you’re done tapping into the tapas, migrate to the dessert counter where you get to choose from a tantalizing and thankfully non-saccharine sweet selection, including goat cheese, yogurt sorbet, honey combe, and sweet walnuts (55RMB). The more savory-toothed can enjoy manchego and quince atop walnut bread (55RMB).
The Commune Social is one of the few restaurants where creativity serves to enhance flavor rather than make the chef look avante-garde or edgy. It evokes what chefs throw together for themselves as a midnight snack in the kitchen after closing, but in a stylishly barebones and intimate space.
The Commune Social – 511 Jiangning Lu, near Kangding Lu Jingan district (静安区江宁路511号, 近康定路). Tel: (0)21-6047-7638. Hours: Midday-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm Tue-Fri; Midday-3pm Sat-Sun; 6-10.30pm Sat. Restaurant closed Mondays and Sundays.
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].