By Michael Russam
If youve passed the corner of Zhenning and Dongzhuanbang Lu on a sunny day recently, youll have noticed Head in the Clouds huge daytime crowd. The cafe and bistro has been a huge hit on Chinese social media thanks to its photogenic brunch menu and its large terrace, bolstered by a welcoming, modern, high-ceilinged design.
Aside from its wanghong brunch offerings, Head in the Clouds also serves a full dinner menu, which was the focus of our recent visit.
A rotating menu of Western bistro-style fare with a general focus on Mediterranean flavors has enough flourishes to remind you that youre still in Asia. Though pretty lengthy, the diverse menu packs more hits than misses. For drinks, there is a limited selection of wine and beers, with a cocktail menu promising classics with Asian twists rolling out soon.
Starters like Signature Bites on the Board (RMB78) featuring pickled lotus root, mushrooms and olives, or warm Rye Bread (RMB28) with earthy nori-infused butter, set the tone. Razor Clams (RMB108), served out of the shell and drenched in pesto and pine nuts, are also a pleasant starter to share.
The influence of Italy comes through in a rich semi-dried Tomato Tagliatelle (RMB108) buffed up with chunks of rare tuna (RMB108) and big al dente folds of Paccheri with Tocco di Carne alla Genovese (RMB118), aka huge chunks of oxtail and beef cheek (which, though a little dry and less melt-in-your-mouth tender than wed like, is decadent enough to please).
Beyond that, a plate of Snapper (RMB108) served with new potatoes in a tomato and caper sauce is punchy and fruity in a way that will be thrilling for some and a bit much for others, while Lamb Chops (RMB168) and M7 Wagyu Steak (RMB198) both spice up traditional dishes with purees and detailed plating.
Things get most inventive with the Pumpkin Trio (RMB68), a plate of roasted caramelized pumpkin, pumpkin puree and pumpkin pickles served with brown butter whiskey foam, parmesan crisps and hazelnuts. It may sound a bit much, but its delicious, soothing and a pretty decent deal at RMB68.
Food Verdict: 2.5/3
In general, the dishes are well-executed with just the right amount of flair, fun and attention to detail to make Head in the Clouds better than your typical casual neighborhood joint. In keeping with the restaurants buzz, the space is crowded with local couples and small groups, if a little subdued. The open kitchen injects a dash of something more dynamic, while service is refreshingly friendly and attentive. It isnt perfect, but its great value and provides a chance to eat something engaging and nicely plated without having to go full-on fine dining
Vibe Verdict: 1.5/2
Total Verdict: 4/5
Price: RMB200-400 per person
Whos going: local couples, food bloggers
Good for: small group dinners, dates, WeChat moments
[Cover image by Cristina Ng/Thats]
Head in the Clouds, 217 Zhenning Lu, by Yanan Xi Lu 217, .
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