I first visited Mercato about 3 years ago. Located at 3 on the Bund, Mercato is the Italian brain-child of celebrity chef, Jean Georges.
Instead of a very dim and classic fine dining vibe as with most restaurants on the Bund, Mercato is more rustic. Gently lit with warm tones, wooden elements, it felt friendly and accessible for group dinners and romantic dates. Getting good photos of the food however, was a nightmare. 8/10
Service was very good, in line with Jean George restaurants. Plates were changed and cleared promptly, dishes arrived in a timely fashion and our servers were all very well learned. 9/10
The cuisine featured Italian cooking in the form of shared plates, infused with some Southeast Asian influences in the use of southeast asian herbs and spices like kaffir lime leaves.
Thanks to China Restaurant Week 2017, organized by DiningCity, I had a chance to sample a nice 4 course dinner at Mercato, at a mere fraction of the usual price of only RMB278.
It’s always a lovely surprise to be offered an unexpected amuse bouche during China Restaurant Week.
Mercato gave an Arancini to each diner to start the meal. As with the usual intention of an amuse bouche, it was a preview of things to be expected in the dinner — Italian dishes with Southeast Asian influences. The Arancini itself had a nice evenly crisped exterior, revealing a creamy interior with notes of lemon grass. 8/10
Spicy Tuna Tartar with Black Olives, Cucumber, Avocado and Mint
The first of 3 starters, all inclusive. Nice. The starters were served sharing style, between 2 or more diners.
The tuna tartar had an interesting mix of ingredients. The avocados added creaminess to the tuna. The black olives gave away blasts of salty umami in between bites. The cucumbers and crispy rice puffs added textures to the mix, while the mint, an unconventional herb used with tuna, made the entire dish taste refreshing. Very interesting and pleasantly unique. 8.5/10
Italian Chicories Salad with Orange, Fennel, Aged Balsamic and Olive Oil
This was a pretty much de rigueur Italian style salad bathed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
The fennel provided a bright fragrance against the crisp vegetables. The oranges laid on top were especially sweet, and went very well with the salty and tangy dressing.
That said, there was no particular highlight in the dish. 7.5/10
Wood Oven Roasted Asparagus, Fontina and Prosciutto
The asparagus arrived on the table with a great smokey aroma, having just left the wood-fired oven.
The proscuitto had almost been crisped and caramelised, resembling bacon but much better with a more complex salty flavour, thanks to the Fontina cheese. The stalks of asparagus were remarkably sourced. Tender and naturally sweet, a pure pleasure to eat on their own, and together with the salty prosciutto.
This dish was very memorable, and our fellow diners commented that they would return just for it. 9/10
Rigatoni and Meatballs with Smoked Chili Tomato Ragu
For the Primo course, we chose both the Pizza and Pasta.
The portions were surprisingly generous for two persons.
The rigatoni was cooked al dente, always a good sign. More impressive was that I found that the rigatoni had been perfectly coated and even absorbed the flavours of the sweet, tangy and smokey ragu sauce. I’m uncertain, but I could have sworn that I detected some kaffir lime leaves in the mix. The meatballs were tender, perfectly seasoned and full of flavour. Lovely. 9/10
Wild Mushroom Pizza with Three Cheeses and Farm Egg
I was equally impressed by the portion of the pizza. This would have been quite substantial to have been shared between two diners.
While the mushroom flavours were apparent in the Pizza, I could barely detect the three types of cheeses aside from some hints of charred Parmegianno. I wished it had a more cheesy taste.
That said, the crust was a delight to bite on. Crisp and airy, with a nice wood-fired char. 7.5/10
Crispy Beef Short Rib with Polenta Fries and Smoked Chili Chianti Glaze
For our mains, we all decided to go for the beef.
On appearance, the beef looked dry with an imposingly black sauce on top.
Luckily, the beef short ribs fell apart with simply a prod of the fork. The glaze was very interesting.
It reminded me of a Chinese vinegar pork knuckle dish. Sweet, tangy with a crispy bits.
I would have liked the beef to have just a little bit more structure instead of becoming almost like baby food, so we could taste a little more beef flavours.
The polenta fries were surprisingly crisp on the outside, but cheesy and creamy within. 8/10
Salted Caramel Gelato Sundae with Candied Peanuts and Popcorn
This was meant for two, but came with three scoops of salted caramel ice cream.
The saltiness was just nice, and gave a nice taste and textural contrast against the sweet and crunchy popcorn and candied peanuts. 8/10
Soft and Crunchy Almond Cake with Poached Pear and Green Apple Sorbet
The almond cake was light and quite tasty. The poached pears, not as much, and felt quite irrelevant on the plate.
The green apple sorbet had a beautiful freshness that tasted neither too sweet nor sour, and full of that distinctive granny smith apple flavour. That said, all three components were plated separately from each other, and unfortunately tasted like so too. 7.5/10
That brings us to the end of this China Restaurant Week review.