The word ‘omakase’ in Japanese means “I’ll leave it up to you”. Around the 1990s, as Japan became increasingly wealthy, a lot of the newly affluent, flush with cash, started turning up at high-end sushi restaurants but were not sure what to order. To save themselves from embarrassment, many just deferred to the chef to choose what were the most seasonal items, and “omakase” was born.
Now in Shanghai, a restaurant has grabbed the attention of diners by offering Chinese-style omakase.
Touzao, which means ‘head stove’ in Chinese, is a high-end restaurant that charges Rmb2,000 (plus 10% service charge) per head for a meal. Since its debut early this year, the restaurant has been generating a lot of buzz on social media, with many expressing curiosity (as well as scepticism) as to whether the food is worth a price tag which is exceptionally high by local standards.
According to Tencent News, Touzao was formerly a high-end Japanese restaurant and the new owner decided to keep the original décor and even the Japanese-style utensils.
There are many rules. Diners are not allowed to arrive late, in order “to prevent the food from getting cold”. Touzao also doesn’t list its number online as it only accepts reservations on WeChat.
One diner who managed to snag a seat at the coveted restaurant reported that overall the food was exquisitely prepared and beautifully presented; service was also on point. One of the dishes was a clear broth made with seasonal Sichuan bamboo shoots that had been double-boiled for seven hours. The chef also presents a beautiful deep-fried Wenchang chicken (a bird indigenous to Hainan province), though diners were largely disappointed that they were only given a very small piece of meat. There were also traditional dishes like spicy tofu and beef fried rice noodle (made with wagyu beef). For dessert, there was an elaborate egg tart with bird’s nest.
“There are many high-end ingredients, such as bird’s nest, M12 steak, geoduck, and sea bream,” the patron noted. Nevertheless, most diners concurred that despite the luxurious ingredients, the meals may not be worth the price. Some complained that the portions were very small and they were still hungry after the meal (the restaurant has since offered customers second servings if there’s any left overs).
Some question why anyone would pay that much money for a meal that still leaves them hungry. “Some people just want to spend money so they have something to vent about. To be fair, not all customers were unsatisfied. I’m sure there are some people who like Japanese culture and prefer that sort of treatment,” one scornful diner wrote.
Chinese-style omakase is definitely picking up as a trend in Shanghai, Beijing Business Today observed. “Change the menu to omakase only and the per-head price will immediately go from three digits [in yuan] to four digits,” the newspaper suggested.
In another sign that Shanghai’s spending power is alive and well despite economic pressures, American coffee chain Blue Bottle opened its first flagship store in early March in China, choosing a vintage looking building in Shanghai’s Jing’an district.
On the opening day, hundreds of people lined up before the store opened at 8am hoping to get their hands on what is possibly the most expensive coffee in Shanghai (a 350ml latte costs Rmb42 compared with Rmb40 at another high-end coffee chain %Arabica). By early evening, people could no longer join the line because it was so long that staff told them they would not be able to serve them all before closing.
“Don’t Shanghai people have to go to work?” one irritated netizen from a less affluent city queried.
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