here is a chance that the majority of your favorite dishes in Shanghai have been created by the same chef. Maybe even all of them!
If you are a sworn lover of hearty meals or classics with a twist, you have probably tried food designed by Justin Birmingham. New Zealand hailing chef worked at a two-star Michelin restaurant and now has been residing in Shanghai for over eight years.
Birmingham is the one who brought you Fat Cow, Saffron, Grill Republik, Tequila Loca, and Shanghai Brew House.
How does he not run out of ideas and where did they come from? We chat with the chef about the food, city, and favorites.
When did you start cooking?
When I was six, all I wanted for Christmas was a chef’s uniform. I was a regional winner at Junior Masterchef when I was 10 and by the time I was 16 I was already a fully qualified chef.
At 18, I went to England to do my two-star Michellin training. Turns out that was quite a rough regiment, working 16-18 hours a day. Being that young and being under so much pressure almost turned me away from cooking.
But then at 19, I got cancer. It took me five years to fully battle it. At that time, I met Gordon Ramsey on his tour in New Zealand and he invited me to work in his Chelsea restaurant. I was still in therapy so there was no way I could have gone.
Bourbon Cookhouse BBQ Platter
These five years were quite tough, but they have brought me back to cooking and I fell in love with it again.
When I came to Shanghai, I was 27, and the city presented itself with so many opportunities, so many concepts, much more than I could do in England or New Zealand.
Set lunch at Grill Republik
How is it to manage so many different brands?
So far I have opened 17 restaurants in Shanghai only. I came to work as an executive chef for Shanghai Brewery group – Fat Cow, Saffron, Chicken&Egg were all my original concepts.
As it goes, relationships end, and since I have set up a new restaurant group, called BRC China, which consists of Bourbon Cookhouse, Grill Republik, Shanghai Brew House, Tequila Loca, Drunken Hen, and planning on opening three more restaurants in the early 2020.
It’s challenging, that’s for sure. But seeing brands blossom and open in multiple locations makes me really happy. I try to stay away from the spotlight, so it happens that people mention how they like one of my concepts without knowing I am behind it.
Shanghai Brew House burgers
What is your favorite ingredient?
You don’t need a million spices to make it edible, and I love the simplicity and preciseness of cooking seafood or fish into perfection.
I have a dream to go home one day and open a beach seafood restaurant, where food is caught off my Dad’s boat.
What do you love about Shanghai?
Diversity of the city. The industry has grown extremely fast in the last ten years.
Where do you go to eat for a night out?
I love Japanese food. This city has some great Japanese restaurants.
My most favorite Chinese place is Da Dong Roast Duck. From food to service and environment, everything is great. I also have a soft spot for dim sum. And oh, Xinjiang food, definitely. Too many choices.
Tequila Loca guacamole bar
What is your favorite cheap eat?
My guiltiest pleasure is KFC. But I love Shanghai tiny, hole-in-a-wall shops with local food.
There is one, a small shop on Hongmei road, you have to try, it incredible, they serve small wonton. Every time I am in that street, I have to go for a bowl.
What food do you think is underrated right now?
I have a feeling that Middle Eastern and Indian food are quite underrated in China in general, yet they are very up and coming cuisines everywhere else.
New Shanghai Brew House will open in December 2019 in Jingan. You can currently taste chef Justin Birmingham’s creations at these venues in Shanghai:
- Grill Republik ( A La Town, Xianfeng Jie 6686 021-31317195 or 021-31317196)
- Shanghai Brewhouse (A La Town 6686 021-31317192, or 31317193, Hongmei Road 21b 021-34635188)
- Bourbon Cookhouse (A La Town 86 021-31317120, Shenchang road 688 021-54158086)
- Drunken Hen (A La Town 31317188)
- Tequila Loca (A La Town 31317122)