ow do you start an argument with an Italian? By calling one version of their dish authentic. In this case, it’s carbonara, which the new Italian restaurant Meanwhile in Xintiandi does Roman style and prints on the menu that is the “original classic spaghetti carbonara.” It arrives golden and luscious and flecked with guanciale, which my dining companion snapped a photo of and posted in a WeChat food group with the message, “The REAL Carbonnara (sic).” The squabbling began immediately. “That’s not guanciale,” an Italian friend of ours wrote. “Looks like bacon?” Another chimed in: “The best carbonara in (Shanghai) is at Palatino Roman restaurant, Changle Road, worth a try.” I’m not Italian and I never tried Palatino’s take so I don’t know, but Meanwhile’s carbonara was decadent, salty, and utterly creamy even though there isn’t a touch of cream in sight. To my tastebuds, it was the real deal.
If the name doesn’t give it away, Meanwhile is the latest concept in Xintiandi by the group behind restaurant chain Pizza Express, which replaces their former outlet in the popular Shanghai tourist spot. They completely upgraded the interior with lots of marble and shiny surfaces, and brought in chef consultant Jose Graziosi of the luxury Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, England, and executive chef Dan Segall, formerly of Zuma in London and M1NT Shanghai. The only pie you can now find are mini pizza bites called pizzette on Meanwhile’s bar food menu, but you can order food such as panzanella, a lively Tuscan chopped salad with tomato and bread that’s plated like tartare, and polpo al finocchio: tender, roasted octopus that’s resplendent with fennel and truffle.
Meanwhile plays a strong cocktail game too, with a circular, swanky bar dominating the center of the restaurant. Drinks reflect the deft hand of Aaron Feder, previously behind the stick at El Ocho and Candor, and they are heavy on small-batch spirits, vermouths – Feder makes his own blend – and Italian bitter liqueurs called amari, like in the bracing, rye-based Triple Amaro with Fernet Branca, Amaro Montenegro, and Cocchi Amaro Vermouth. There’s also a long, enviable list of highballs spanning mezcal to grappa, single malt scotch to pisco.
It’s a good thing that drinks only require one hand, because you’d want the other free to spear rice balls of arancini al funghi porcini, which was crunchy, chewy, and earthy. Another dangerously delectable dish was the calamari fritti, which was delicately breaded and juicy with twangs of chili. I desperately wanted to like the tagliatelle tre carni, which involved slow cooking veal, pork, and beef for hours. It was incredibly tender but needed a sprinkle of salt. Order the fondente al cioccolato for dessert; a chocolate fondant with vanilla creme Anglaise and mixed berries that’s warm, creamy, and fresh all at once, something that no Italian would be complaining about.
Meanwhile in Xintiandi
Monday to Sunday, 11am to 11pm
No. 22, Lane 181 Taicang Road
Nearest metro station: South Huangpi Road