South China Tables: Rapscallions Restaurant & Café Bar

By Alastair Dickie

What: Fine food for foreign foodies

Where: Coco Park North, 138 Mintian Lu, Futian District, Shenzhen. Tel: (755) 8359 7131

Why: For the view and the victuals

For the wealthiest city in China, Shenzhen gets a poor rap. Losing the lion’s share of tourist trade to its specially administrated neighbour to the south, the city is often relegated to the position of mere conduit. Travellers en route from Hong Kong to Guangzhou scuttle through the city’s soulless transport hubs and conclude them to be gloomy indicators of the state of the wider city. Recently however, Shenzhen has grown wise to the fact there is more to a place than the profligacy of its skyscrapers. Hundreds of small, independently-run bars, restaurants and clubs have started to spring up all over the place, each doing its own small part to chip away at the notion of Shenzhen as a cultural desert.

Nestled in the heart of the city’s favourite expat haunt Coco Park, Rapscallions Café Bar is arguably the best  addition, what with its daring feat of space-optimisation in the city. A picturesque rooftop garden decked out in foliage and fairy-lights hunkers atop the main restaurant; its tastefully done wooden interior seats far more customers than you would expect, and the inside opens out onto a deceptively large bar and veranda.

For starters, try the baba ganoush (RMB 45), an appetiser that arranges a plentiful serving of crispy pita slices around an exotically smoky eggplant and garlic mixture. Then, a mains-heavy menu spoils you for choice. Thin-crust pizzas vie for attention alongside freshly-made sandwiches, leftfield African curries and rich pasta dishes. The parma ham and garlic spinach pizza (RMB 115) strikes a perfect compromise between flavour-rich toppings and a simple tomato sauce base. The all-day breakfast menu offers a difficult choice between the sweet (honey and butter pancakes, RMB 45) and the savoury (full fry-up, RMB 95). The bacon chicken and pesto cream penne (RMB 90) is a delicious blend of rich sauces, succulent meat and just-so al dente pasta. The restaurant’s signature paprika and chilli-laden shoestring fries (served with most main courses) expertly master the tricky balancing act between crunchy outer skin and fluffy potato filling. In short, you won’t want for options.

Rapscallions has purposefully avoided a fancy upmarket feel, meaning both the price and the atmosphere are relaxed, but this compromise has left a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. While never scrimping on drinks measures, the staff serve mixed drinks in rather small glasses which, at times, results in concoctions that err on the side of eye-watering. Also, watch out for discrepancies between the English and the Chinese language menu descriptions. Our ostensibly vegetarian-sounding spicy Spanish rice salad came with an unhelpfully large sprinkling of chicken.

Minor gripes aside, Rapscallions has in a few short months managed to establish itself as an expat favourite, and deservedly so. There is no real unifying theme or regional focus to its menu, but the restaurant actually benefits from its not too posh, but in-no-way paltry angle and has managed to carve itself out a niche in Shenzhen’s burgeoning culinary scene.

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