Last week China celebrated Qingming Festival, giving my husband a precious weekday off work and, just like last year, we took advantage of the opportunity by enjoying a leisurely lunch on the Bund. Our restaurant of choice, el Willy, is owned by Spanish chef Willy Moreno and considered one of the hottest spots in town. After trying unsuccessfully to snag a seat during Shanghai’s bi-annual Restaurant Week, we decided to see what the fuss was about. Like many high-end restaurants in this part of town, el Willy offers a special lunch menu at a reduced price. But we passed up the terrific value set because we hadn’t come for squid-ink pasta and burgers. We were there for tapas.
Willy got us started with a small dish of mixed olives and two slices of crusty bread soaked in olive oil and tomatoes which we enjoyed with glasses of Spanish wine. Next to arrive at our table was the cheese plate and it blew us away. Cheese is a luxury here in China and plates we’ve ordered elsewhere have skimped on the portion sizes. Not here! There were five huge wedges of Spanish cheeses ranging from a pungent blue to a buttery-smooth Manchego plus quince paste, raw honey, a large handful of nuts and a bowl of bread. We were in expat heaven!
As for the tapas, they were divine. The croquetas de jamon were steaming hot, with a crispy crust surrounding creamy bechamel sauce flecked with bits of aged Iberian ham. The patatas bravas featured thick-cut steak fries drenched with a spicy sauce and house-made mayonnaise. We added a palate-cleansing salad to round out the meal, though with sauteed mushrooms, shaved Iberian ham and a poached egg it was hardly light. By the time the Canelones a la Barcelonesa arrived we were almost too full to appreciate it. The beef and chicken cannelloni had a nice flavor, but the black truffle got a bit lost in all the cheese and the dish could have used a little more texture. Of course, had we not consumed a kilo of cheese beforehand we might have been singing its praises!
The whimsical restaurant is located on the fifth floor of one of the Bund’s historic old buildings, 22 South Bund. Built in 1906, the large space has recently undergone an elegant renovation, and many restaurants and bars are moving in. 22 South Bund is on its way to becoming one of Shanghai’s premier addresses!