Second Helping: el Willy on the Bund

Every month, we return to a Shanghai institution to see how they’re holding up. Whether they’ve opened a new branch or just relocated, we sample the old classics and new dishes to see if they’ve stood the test of time.

Guillermo ‘Willy’ Truellas has been busy. After throwing one heck of a closing party at his original el Willy outlet and opening his gourmet hot dog emporium Bikini not long after, the self-proclaimed sexy chef has re-launched his namesake restaurant at the south end of the Bund, where it maintains all the quirky qualities that made the Spanish tapas joint such a neighbourhood favourite in the first place.

The entire menu – in all its happy sexiness – survived the move, including the original pricing (despite the considerable uptick in real estate value), and there have been a few delicious additions to the tapas list. The explosive Balik salmon (RMB 88) picks up on Willy’s playful nature and runs with it: minced black truffles with honey atop a hefty pile of smoked salmon, which floats on a puffed piece of bread injected with sour cream. Sounds complicated, yes, but eat this little mouthful in one bite and the effect is hypnotic. Like the name of the dish suggests, it does indeed explode upon impact, detonating a bomb of flavour and textures that was hands down the best thing we’ve put in our mouths in 2012 – so far.

Also new to the menu is the Iberico pork neck marinated in thyme and rosemary (RMB 95). Unctuous chunks of pork neck recall the textures of Cantonese char siu (barbecued pork) with layers of crispy skin atop fatty pork and lean meat, but the flavours are straight from Europe. Decked out with truffled mashed potatoes, thick pungent slices of parmesan, peppery arugula and a dash of white truffle oil for good measure, the dish expertly balances all the bold tastes.

In fact, every dish we tried was artfully balanced with plays on the palate that made every mouthful fun. The grilled scallops with coconut and passion fruit sauce (RMB 98) taste like the first bite of summer. Tiny scallops balance on rounds of brioche that soak up the fruity coulis, while the crunch of fresh veggies add a textural element that showcases the kitchen’s vigilant attention to detail.

Our final savoury dish, the black pudding and sea urchin ‘juicy paella’ (RMB 265) was in typical Willy fashion more of a Spanish risotto than a paella. The rice was utterly creamy and the chewy blood sausage played well with the delicate uni (sea urchin).

Unrelentlessly impressed, we carried on to the dessert course where we tried a sampler platter (RMB 85) with six bite-sized options of some of the restaurant’s classic sweets. Easy favourites were the raspberry sorbet, a mint leaf-topped fruity scoop and the classic trio of Catalan cream, rice with milk and leche frita (fried milk), which comes out looking almost like a miniature bowl of cornflakes drowning in syrupy milk.

Whilst some may mourn the loss of the el Willy location in the former French Concession, the spectacular views of Lujiazui through the arched windows will easily make the new spot a dining destination. And back on Donghu Lu, come summertime we’ll be getting the latest in Willy’s dining empire: Elefante. Set at a slightly lower price point, the deli /restaurant plans to deliver the flavours of the Mediterranean – and we can’t wait.

el Willy. South Bund 22, 22 Zhongshan Dong Lu, near Jinling Lu. Tel: 5404 5757. Web:

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