Helmed by the team of Bar No. 3 and recently shuttered Blackbird Cafe, and led by new-in-town chef Blake Thornley, Oha Eatery brings a lovable concept to Shanghai that currently suffers from a lack of finesse.
Jumping on the up-and-coming “small plates and intimate izakaya-vibe” trend, Oha centers its meals around a communal table. Here, chefs are able to float around to each of the counter-seated diners, introducing the dishes and closing the gap between guest and kitchen. The idea is there, but in its early days, Oha’s execution of the “Eastern flavors, Western techniques” style has a ways to go. The drinks, however, are great, with stiff bottles of pre-mixed Bar No. 3 cocktails starting around the RMB60 mark. The natural wines are worth a try, too.
The inspiration for the bulk of the fare here comes from Guizhou; home province to many of the restaurant’s staff members. At first glance dishes seem cheap, but being small plates, the bill adds up quickly. A few things hit the right notes: curried cauliflower and turnip (RMB75), partnered with sticky-sweet date and cacao nib galettes crusted with corn flour, is a wonderful surprise of a dish that brings together unexpected flavors that work. A final touch of celery leaves brightens the dish.
Most of the other selected dishes need work. A little bowl of gray pidan (preserved egg) mousse and marinated peppers (RMB22) is reminiscent of eating ammonia-tinged soil. Seriously. Why? Preserved eggs have been through enough already.
Slices of beef tongue (RMB38), a popular ingredient gracing many tables these days, don’t have their promised char. Instead, the pieces are chewy, dry, and lacking the proper treatment that the delicate meat so deserves, despite a five-hour sous vide. It’s thrown together lackadaisically with slices of watermelon radish and thick chunks of leek.
Then, there’s the seared sea bass (RMB110). It has a sugared pomelo puree which goes through a rigorous blanche, boil, and reduction process to temper the bitterness of the rind (the whole fruit goes into the puree). The process seems moot, as the bitterness from the rind remains to be persistent. It also comes with a side of chili dust, a powerful additive that trounces all other flavors you might taste. The dish feels disjointed, and for what it is, quite overpriced.
Despite the shakiness of the restaurant’s start, there’s promise, and with any luck, the kitchen will work out the kinks and make this into a destination that lives up to its concept.
Address: 23 Anfu Lu (near Changshu Lu) 安福路23号 (近常熟路)