The Nanjing Xi Lu expatopia is a magnet for foreign arrivals, among the most recent being Magnet, a sharp new bar and restaurant in the 1788 Nanjing Xi Lu mall. It’s so clean, in fact, you’d be surprised that Gaz Williams, co-founder of the stylishly grungy The Shelter had a hand in its opening. Magnet is a month-old so some bald spots are to be expected, but the final product looks to be a fairly cookie-cutter bar and grill serving American comfort dishes.
Decor and service
Magnet does distinguish itself from its sterile mall surroundings with a black-tinted door like a night club or IMAX exit, almost leading you to think it’s closed. But upon entering you’re met by an inviting glow, spic and span wood bar, a view of the Jing’an nightscape, and outdoor seating if it’s warm.
Service is more cordial than most, but needs some ironing out. They forgot to fire our appetizer order, instead bringing out our two mains first, but we were impressed by their swift apology quickly followed by the initial order.
Looking at the menu, we were reminded a bit of an American casual chain restaurant – ie. Applebees – meets a cruise ship kitchen with “comfort food creations” (an oxymoron, we know) like wasabi and mango prawns (78RMB), a cajun chicken and bacon quesadilla (58RMB), and more. The flavor fortunately exceeded expectations, however something went seriously awry with some of the sides and condiments. The sour cream lump that came with our quesadillas was cold and had the texture of mozzarella cheese combined with panna cotta. We tried dipping a quesadilla in but it bounced right off. It was as if it had been unthawed from the permafrost.
The same held true for the mashed potato globe that came with one of our honey pepper grilled chicken (78RMB). It was stiff and clumpy like it’d just come off an airplane freezer tray. But we immensely enjoyed the chicken itself, which was nicely charred, but not to the point it dried out the meaty moisture. Overall, mains fare better. Any of the burgers and hotdogs, and the smoked turkey and bacon ciabatta sandwich (78RMB), and grilled honey pepper steak sandwich (95RMB) are tender yet hefty enough to soak up the beer. Sirloin steak’s not bad either (178RMB).
We advise skipping most of the grill section, which features an archaic (even for comfort food), stuffy, and overpriced baked king prawn thermidor (198RMB), and Long John Silver-esque combos of teriyaki steak and king prawns (178RMB).
Beers set you back 35-55RMB, cocktails hover around 55RMB-both fairly standard.
Magnet has yet to work out all the kinks, but overall presents a soothing change of pace from the frenetic mall environment, and a den for Americans missing their classic throwback fare. Hit it up for a beer and sandwich, but avoid some of the staler starter and grill options.
Magnet – 1788 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Wulumuqi Bei Lu, Jingan district (静安区南京西路1788号, 近乌鲁木齐北路).
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].