Review of Alma, Shanghai Bib Gourmand Winner

1st December 2016 / Shanghai

Watch the ALMA video on Youku (China)

Watch the ALMA video on Youtube

My Michelin tasting streak ensues. This time I was invited by Chef Sergio Moreno at Alma by DN to try out their food. Alma was recently awarded the Bib Gourmand in the first edition of the Shanghai Michelin guide, so I was quite curious and excited to visit.

Good for group gatherings
Good for group gatherings

Alma is a casual Spanish eatery currently helmed by Chef Sergio Moreno.

Many thanks to Chef Sergio Moreno for the generous invitation and hospitality. As most of my frequent readers would know, invited tastings do not impact my opinions and reporting of the food. If it’s good, I say it’s good. If it’s bad, I say it’s bad.

Inner Dining Area
Inner Dining Area

Decor

Alma is located on the 9F rooftop of Joy City, where the giant Ferris Wheel is. The decor is casual, bright and a little bit quirky. Great natural daylight flood the entire restaurant during the day, bringing life to the awesome paintings and illustrations on the walls. The custom designed tables and chairs are well spaced apart and have a sleek but humble feel to them.

Nice street art
Nice street art

All in all, the restaurant had a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. 8.5/10

Service

As with my invited tastings, an unbiased score of 7.5 is awarded. Our server was full of smiles and enthusiastic in announcing and explaining the dishes, I liked her a lot.

Food

The cuisine served in Alma is modern Spanish. That is, modern interpretations of Spanish classics. No fusion here. Chef Sergio Moreno hails from Malaga in Andalucía, Southern Spain.

One would wonder how he is surviving with selling such exquisite Spanish dishes at such low prices. The answer is because many of the components are made in house, hence reducing any overheads incurred if otherwise sourced from vendors.

Shake it
Shake it

Shake Your Soul (RMB25 / RMB68)

This was a salad with marinated salmon, that arrived in a glass jar. Nice clean refreshing flavours with a citrusy kick, and notes of toasted sesame seeds. I thought the orange and grapefruit paired together very well with the seasoning. The salmon tasted decent, but nothing spectacular. 7.5/10

No shaking required
No shaking required

Soul (RMB25)

A second salad. This one was a bold pairing of mixed tomatoes, watermelon and strawberries, coupled with sour cream, goat cheese and a basil pesto. The pesto and olive oil had great flavour, and paired marvellously with the tomatoes, as expected.

The goat cheese and sour cream added some richness between bites of the bright tasting flavours, whilst the arugula leaves gave off my favourite peppery scent, balanced off with sweetness from the watermelon. I felt the strawberries were unnecessary in this salad, as there were already many things going on. 8/10

Salmon looked a little dull
Salmon looked a little dull

Salmonjito (RMB48)

A play on cured salmon with Mojito. The salmon at Alma is cured in house with equal amounts of salt and sugar, together with mojito flavours of lime, rum and mint.

The after-salmon cocktail
The after-salmon cocktail

While they didn’t have the usual bright orange hues of commercially cured salmon, they tasted better, with a salty sweet flavour. A test tube of mocktail made of fresh passion fruit, mint and mango juice was provided to pair with the salmon, and the flavours blended into a beautiful after-taste. 8.5/10

More flower petals...
More flower petals…

Foie Gras Panna Cotta (RMB45)

This foie gras dish was quite peculiar, served in a tin with bee pollen and pistachio crumble. The actual texture of the foie gras was more pate than panna cotta, albeit a very smooth pate. It tasted ok, although I thought the bee pollen and pistachio crumble was a bit of a gimmick, and did little to the tastes. Sorry, but I think the French foie gras dishes are better. 7.5/10

You had me at Foie Gras...
You had me at Foie Gras…

Oh La La (RMB68)

Pan fried foie gras, quail egg and Iberico ham on Alma’s signature ‘Pan tumaca’ tomato bread. While this dish looked very pretty, I felt its’ ingredients didn’t stand out, even though there was a large slab of pan seared foie gras. Perhaps the salty taste of the Iberico ham had overshadowed it’s counterparts.

I always felt that quail eggs, although much more nutritious than chicken eggs, have lesser flavour than a good organic egg’s yolk. It was worth noting that the quail eggs were perfectly fried. The ‘Pan Tumaca’ tomato bread was nice and flavourful, but I felt was adding too many flavours to the dish. 7.5/10

What a sight to behold
What a sight to behold

Octopus Carpaccio (RMB48)

This was Alma’s modern take on the classic Spanish octopus on potatoes. Despite the name, this is a cooked dish. Thinly sliced octopus on a creamy potato mash.

Paper-thin octopus doesn't seem to work.
Paper-thin octopus doesn’t seem to work.

It was a impressive looking dish, but unfortunately, I felt the octopus was sliced so thin that I could neither enjoy the flavours nor textures of the octopus. Large sea salt flakes were also sprinkled on top, resulting in certain bites being overly salty.

The potato mash was very nice, creamy and smooth. Overall, I wished I tasted more octopus in the dish, rather than the olive oil and creamy potatoes. 7/10

Gambas
Gambas

Garlic prawns (RMB58)

Prawns were cooked nicely, fresh and bouncy to the bite. Contrary to the octopus dish, I thought the garlic prawns could use a stronger garlic kick and a bit more chilli heat. Not to say there were none, but the garlic flavour should be the star of the dish. 7.5/10

My surprising favourite
My surprising favourite

Cod Fish Ball

This was a peculiar looking dish, looking and tasting almost like Singaporean fish cakes.

Chef Moreno said that the cod fish balls were made in-house. I loved the very unique seasoning and herbs and the hearty, toothy bites. The clams were fresh and grit-free, something I always appreciate. The starchy sauce made from clam juice and garlic was very tasty, surprisingly light and not overly salty or heavy as I thought it would be.

Overall, this was a very hearty one that felt like mum’s cooking, tasting better than it looked. 8.5/10

Be careful not to drop the prawn
Be careful not to drop the prawn

Tropical (RMB48)

Beautiful looking Tapa with a grilled Argentinean prawn resting on filo pastry with avocado, lime, coriander and topped with hipster radish slices.

Ok truth be told, while this tapa looked and tasted beautifully, it was quite perilous to eat. Picking up the Tapa, one would fear either the thin base breaking, resulting in the beautiful toppings falling to their demise, or the lovely Argentinean prawn rolling over, also to it’s untimely demise. Other than that, it was a great bite. 8.5/10

A taste of the old country
A taste of the old country

Eggs-ceptional (RMB48)

Chef Moreno told me this was a very traditional tasting dish. It consisted of some very lovely eggs on baked potatoes, caramelised onions and topped with chunks of house-made chorizo. Firstly, the eggs quality truly lived up to the dish’s Eggs-ceptional name. The yolks were Eggs-pecially rich and flavourful.  The smokey chorizo had a unique taste that reminded me of the smoked meats from my wife’s hometown in the country side. That was it! This dish gave me a taste of the Spanish country side, which is something quite rare to experience in Shanghai. 9/10

Not sure if these are Spanish though..
Not sure if these are Spanish though..

Spanish Pita Kebab (RMB48)

This was an interesting course. Lamb is not my favourite meat. I like eating lamb as much as rabbit, that is to say, not alot. The reason is that in my experience, lamb was often merely a gamey version of beef.

Never thought I'd enjoy a pocket of lamb
Never thought I’d enjoy a pocket of lamb

Luckily, the lamb in this dish was barely gamey at all. The pita pockets were packed tightly with lots of tender pulled lamb. The pickles helped to balance out the lamb flavourful perfectly, while the mint sauce is a classic pairing with lamb. Good seasoning and perfectly balanced ingredients. This really took me by surprise. 9/10

Is that a spine?
Is that a spine?

Baby suckling pig (RMB178 – Rib , RMB238 – Leg)

Sadly, the only disappointment of the meal — Suckling pork ribs, served with roasted apples. Although the skin was baked to a perfect crisp, there was very little meat to pair with the fat and skin. To make matters worse, the fatty meat had a foul porky aftertaste, usually associated with meat from un-castrated pigs. The aioli-like sauce that was paired was also too rich for the rich-tasting meat. I would have appreciated a more acidic sauce to balance out the richness. It was worth noting that the olive oil roasted apples did add a bit of fruitiness to the mix, which helped in removing some of that porky aftertaste. 6/10

It was a nice slice
It was a nice slice

Green forest (RMB42)

The green forest was a work of art. Cute meringue mushroom on a cake, made of raspberry mousse and white chocolate. The scary bright green stuff was actually pistachio crumble. The dessert was deceptively not too sweet! 8/10

This lemon tart needs more tart
This lemon tart needs more tart

Lemon tart (RMB42)

Probably the most common/popular dessert in western restaurants in Shanghai — The Lemon Tart. A thick biscuit was used instead of tart pastry, which would have been ok if the dessert was to be picked up and eaten, but it was not. The result was making a little mess in trying to cut the biscuit base with a dessert spoon.

The various lemon components were well paired, and really gave the dessert it’s lemony identity. This lemon tart, was also not too sweet, and mixed well with the crushed almonds. 8/10

It was coconut mousse!
It was coconut mousse!

Pina Colada (RMB42)

The coconut shaped ice cream is also fast becoming a runner up to the lemon tart as most popular dessert. I first had this at Alan Wongs’ restaurant in Hawaii, and it was an eye opener.

Surprisingly, the one at Alma was not an ice cream, but in fact, a coconut mousse. I felt that it didn’t taste like it was made from coconut milk, but rather tasted like coconut candy or coconut water.

Unfortunately, this was a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped for it to be a refreshing coconut ice cream. 7/10

And thus endeth the meal at Alma. While the dishes at Alma are not on the level of the top chefs in the city, I felt they were full of heart from chef Sergio Moreno. The fact that they make many of the components from scratch shows this.

Indeed.
Indeed.

Speaking with Chef Sergio revealed an energetic but humble chef, whose passion was immediately revealed when asked about how certain dishes were made. I have no doubt that the food at Alma will continue to improve and grow to greater heights.

TSK Rating

7.8
Food
8
Service
7.5
Venue
8

Alma

Address
9F Joy City North Tower, 198 North Xizang Road

Phone
6073-8477

Cuisine
Spanish

City
Shanghai

Area
Zhabei

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