Revisit to The Commune Social. A Review of their August Specials

7th August 2014 / Shanghai

I had a deep craving for something comforting and special last weekend, and after scouring through tons of restaurant listings, I was seduced back to The Commune Social. My last visit was a pleasant experience, and left me often pondering how their other dishes tasted.

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Hence I hopped on my scooter and rode down on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

One of the reasons that brought me back was an update to their Chef’s Specials. I love it when a restaurant constantly re-invents their offerings based on seasonal produce; You as a diner get to enjoy variety and be surprised by the best produce of the year. 

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I chose to sit at the back of house, along the kitchen counter seats because I was eating alone that day. At 2pm, the back area was already emptied out. Right infront of me was an array of cured sausages. I have to confess, I was tempted a couple of times to reach forward and grab a bite from one of them.

I decided to go for the 3 course chef specials, even though I had wanted to try their suckling pig dish. Unfortunately, the Uni & Caviar brunch dish was sold out, so I settled for the black pudding with duck egg, the tomato salad and the crispy chicken thigh dishes. Lastly I ordered their signature Uni with roast peppers on Ciabatta tapa.

First up, let’s talk about the tomato salad.

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The experience for this was somewhat similar to the first dish I had the last visit, and very pleasantly so. Beautifully plated, there was a medley of tomatoes that were sweet and very flavourful. Definitely not the run-of-the-mill water-pumped Chinese tomatoes.

The ricotta gave a nice rich balance to the sweet and slightly tart tomatoes. If you bit into a piece of caper, you enjoy an additional savoury flavour boost. This looked like a ‘very summer’ dish, and it was suited perfectly for the 36 degree celsius afternoon; Bright, appetizing, delightful.

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The ground pine nuts added texture and crunch, while the lettuce hearts served as a palate cleanser in-between bites — So you get to enjoy the explosion of flavours all over again, without getting adapted to it. Very well thought out and executed dish. 9/10

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Next up was the duck egg with black pudding. Black pudding is a type of blood sausage, without the casing. Made predominantly with pork blood, it is a popular breakfast item in many parts of Europe. I have to admit, I didn’t have much prior experience in tasting blood sausages, so this was somewhat my virgin experience with black pudding. I was expecting strong flavours, but was proved otherwise. The Commune Social served this dish with the black pudding fried, and then crumbled in small chunks. It tasted slightly rich and savoury with a deep mellow flavour. 

The sunny side up duck egg was rich and fulfilling, perfectly cooked with no char, yet cooked through. The croutons provided not only the crunchy component, but also helped to soak up the egg yolk, which helped bind all the other ingredients together in one bite.  There was a particular herb which I didn’t recognize that gave the dish a bright citrus accent. This is the type of dish where the individual components don’t really shine on their own, but harmonise perfectly when eaten together at once. 8/10

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I was hoping there would be a beef protein option, but alas, only lamb and a new chicken dish was available, hence I went for the chicken. I was slightly disappointed when it arrived, because when  the menu said “crispy chicken thigh”, I was expecting a roasted or pan-seared chicken with crispy skin. Turns out it was a battered deep-fried whole chicken thigh, served in two pieces.

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The chicken itself was crispy, even after slathered in sauce, the meat tender, moist and well-seasoned. The crust from the batter was actually quite light and crispy, even though it looked thick. The problem I had with this dish was the sauce. It was basically a pomodoro sauce, served with smoked tomatoes. I felt this was a confused dish. Its texture and presentation reminded me of Chinese sweet and sour pork, except it was neither sweet nor sour. As a matter of fact, the flavour of the sauce that encapsulated the entire dish was very one dimensionally bland. Quite a shocker, given the consistency of the other dishes. The sauce was neither salty, sweet nor sour. It wasn’t spicy in the chilli way nor herb way.

Being a deep-fried dish, it was naturally a little heavy on the palate. I would have liked the dish more if there was a sweet or sour element to lift the richness. 

The white beans were only marginally cooked through and gave quite abit of resistance when bit into; Almost crunchy. I would have liked them cooked softer.

Interestingly, while not mentioned on the menu, the chicken dish was served with 3 clams beneath. 

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Again I have to say, this is a very confusing composition. Was this meant to be a surf and turf?

The clams added no flavours to the dish, and the sauce didn’t help the clams either. The saving grace was that the 3 clams were meaty, juicy and fresh. No unpleasant fishy flavours. In the end, I didn’t finish the dish. 6/10

Feeling unsatisfied, I ordered the signature Uni crostini that people raved about. On paper it sounded great, Uni (Japanese for sea urchin, for those unfamiliar with the term) served on lightly toasted Ciabatta slices, paired with roasted sweet peppers. The plating was a joy to behold. 4 generous portions of Uni divided among 2 slices of bread. The bright red and shiny peppers looked almost sexy.

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You get 2 slices of bread with uni per portion, for ¥58. It seems like a small portion at first, because it looked like just 2 slices of bread. If you look at the components and divide the cost into 4 bites — 2 per slice, you will realize it actually is a very good deal. This is akin to 4 pieces of Uni sushi, for ¥58. Oops, I’m being a stingy calculative chinese again.

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Four bites. Each bite the exact same as the other. You sink your teeth into soft creamy Uni, and immediately taste the buttery richness flowing from tastebuds to brain. The accompanying sauce (whose components I don’t know exactly, but I think it is also has sweet peppers in it) sweet and bright flavour helps to distract your senses a little bit from the richness, and then the experience the wonderful sweetness of the roasted bell peppers. Brilliant. Take note to drink a sip of water to clear your palate in-between bites to get the most out of it, because if you have bites in succession, the strong flavours tend to die down with each consecutive bite. The Uni Crostini totally lived up to expectations, and made a beautiful and satisfying end to the meal.  9/10

TSK Rating

8.3
Food
8
Service
9
Venue
8

Author: Fred Lin

Fred "The Shanghai Kid" Lin was born in Singapore, and grew up in a family of foodies and home-cooks. He moved to Shanghai in 2007 and fell in love with the city, eventually carving a self-made career out of digital media design and development. He founded The Shanghai Kid food blog in 2013, and opened an award-winning Singaporean restaurant in 2014, which won CityWeekend's Outstanding Southeast Asian restaurant of the year in 2016. In 2017, he decided to reboot, and shut down all his businesses in Shanghai before moving back to Singapore with his wife. Fred plans to immigrate to Melbourne in the near future.

The Commune Social

Address
511 Jiangning Lu, near Kangding Lu Jingan district 静安区江宁路511号, 近康定路

Cuisine
ModernSpanishWestern

City
Shanghai

Area
Jing An

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