The newest gastropub from the Three Amigos of Western comfort food in Shanghai – Kelley Lee, Michael Jordan, Sean Jorgensen – Liquid Laundry is like Boxing Cat: The Expansion Pack. They’ve brought in a new roster of microbrews and cocktails to go with their lineup of Boxing Cat standbys, and have installed an in-house brewery (something Boxing Cat never had). But most of all, they’ve seriously upped their food game. And not just the selection, which draws from all over the globe, but Chef Sean Jorgensen has never been in finer form.
A lot grander than Boxing Cat. Shelves of growlers greet you as you get off the elevator, they have several fully-outfitted bars, and a colossal kitchen with a wood-fire oven. However, the feel, oddly enough, manages to maintain some subtlety with cool blue lighting and a section with sofas and lounge chairs like at an indie coffee shop. Only sit at these if you’re there to grab a beer. We made the mistake of eating dinner in the lounge area, and the mammoth food platters practically jostled each other off the sides of the tiny tables. Service is amicable if a bit inattentive. Having to yell “fuwuyuan” like at a Shanghainese sit-downer kind of clashes with the ambience.
Whereas Boxing Cat offers your standard bar fare – wings, chili cheese fries, burgers etc., – Liquid Laundry serves a collage of global fare, serving everything from North African Lamb Sausage to wood-fire pizzas to porchetta to black-eyed peas with Hunan bacon. Their charcuterie section is a standout, featuring home-cured chorizo, duck prosciutto, and more (they also have a daily sausage special). All in all, it’s like they ditched the “filler” and compressed everything you’d really want to eat into one menu.
The individual plates follow suit. Clearly, the chef’s creative tweaks serve to boost flavor rather than his own artistic ego. Take the Duck Rillette (68RMB), which is unctuous by definition, but they decided to throw in some crackling duck skin as succulent insurance. Or the Bacon Guajillo Cornbread (48RMB). It’s cornbread with BACON. Yeah, you see this gimmick everywhere, right? Don’t worry, Liquid Laundry serves the one version in town where they’ve scaled back that the sugar so it doesn’t taste like a Pillsbury cupcake. And their maple butter is made with authentic maple syrup.
Even something as simple as a pretzel (48RMB) transcends the sum of its parts. The dough’s chewy, crackly, and salty (it’s not just bread in the shape of a pretzel), and the usually generic cheese sauce tastes like it has a whole stick of butter melted into it.
Two words. “Face. Bacon.” Sounds like a slasher flick you’d find in a video store’s dollar bin, right? You’re not far off. It’s Liquid Laundry’s “Hannibal Lecter Special,” basically a pastrami sandwich with house-cured pastrami, coleslaw and spicy mustard (78RMB). The coleslaw was a tad sweet, but not enough to throw the flavor palate off-key.
Also don’t miss their delicious rotisserie chicken with a choice of house-made sauces – original, Asian persuasion, “hot as shit,” and BBQ (128RMB for half with 2 sauces, 218RMB for whole with all the sauces).
Just as “liquid” comprises half the restaurants title, it also accounts for half the offerings. On top of the Boxing Cat Beers, they’ve tailor-brewed a selection just for Liquid Laundry, including “Miami Weiss” (a hoppier wheat beer), and Tripel Threat, a Belgian-influenced brew whacked with ginger and Sichuan peppercorn that they released this past year. They also offer an exclusive selection from Norwegian brewery Nogne O.
On the cocktail-end, they’ve brought in a selection of both traditional concoctions like Negroni, and more bizarre ‘mash’ups with beer.
Most of Shanghai Western concepts suffer from too much chef posturing, and grand schemes that fizzle out when they reach the kitchen. Liquid Laundry is the opposite. On paper, the ideas sound zany, even offputting – c’mon “the Hannibal Lecter Special” and beer with Sichuan peppercorns served at a place whose name suggests the food is served with bleach rather than beer (Chlorox 2 for the dark meats, right?). But the first bite of “Face Bacon” lays your fears to rest. Liquid Laundry grabs our early vote for the best restaurant of 2014.
Liquid Laundry – KWah Centre, 2/F, 1028 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Donghu Lu (淮海中路1028号, 嘉华房2/F, 近东湖路). Tel: (0)21-6445-9589. Hours: 5pm-midnight daily.
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].