A close contender with Mercato for my favorite Italian restaurant in Shanghai, Capo is the luxe-rustic shrine to Neapolitan cuisine by Yenn Wong (of JIA Hotels and a Hong Kong restaurant empire) and longtime collaborator Chef Enzo Carbone (of Issimo, 208 Duecento Otto, and Matto). Everything here just works, from the location in the cavernous attic of a historic redevelopment on the Rockbund to its “cook house” concept emphasizing premium ingredients and ‘back to the roots’ methods.
Designed by Neri & Hu and conceived by Carbone, the space is striking, imaginative; one of only a few destination restaurants on the Bund with no Bund view, and the place does not suffer from it. Low ceilings, dark corners, and winding corridors evoke a sense of mystique, while hand-blown light fixtures and repurposed wood fill the space with a warm aura. Indeed, the entire experience seems almost religious. Enzo tells me his inspiration was the scene of The Last Supper, an ode to his religious upbringing or perhaps, a personal sense of self-reckoning.
Then there’s the menu. Food takes center stage here, with open windows looking into the kitchen, a fresh crudo bar and twin wood and charcoal-fired ovens dominating an entire wall of the restaurant. These were imported brick by brick from Italy and hand-built by an artisan from Naples; one is used to grill meat and seafood over Binchotan charcoal from Japan, and the other is used exclusively to bake Napoletana pizzas over apple wood (according to the exact standards set by The Association Verace Pizza Napoletana). Enzo’s obsession with quality of ingredients is evident in his sourcing, commissioning rare-breed, artisanal meat with no growth hormones or antibiotics, exclusively reared for Capo by Jack’s Creeks Organic Farm in Australia.
All this comes with a price. At an average bill of about 400-500 RMB a person, this can only be an occasional treat for the majority of us, but Capo has no problems filling its seats. Guests are an even split of Chinese and Westerners—corporate bigwigs and moneyed Shanghainese. On one visit (full disclosure: media dinner), we sat next to the CEO of Lamborghini, who counts himself a regular, and a good-looking young Chinese couple with a healthy appetite and also, evidently, a hefty wallet.
Several private rooms off the main dining room lend even more to an air of exclusivity, each offering a level of experience beyond ordinary imagination. In one, a wine cabinet is stocked with the finest selections, from which guests are instructed to “drink as they wish”, and another looks directly into the kitchen through a one-way mirror while food is served through a window from stove to table. Those who want an even more immersive experience with their food can opt for the “Chef’s Table”, located directly in the kitchen.
The one questionable aspect about Capo would be its sharing a wall—and bathroom—with Muse next door (due to plumbing limitations in the historic building). On weekends after midnight, expect to endure loud bass thumping and perhaps uncomfortable encounters with drunken revelers in line for the bathroom.
Based in Shanghai, Jenny is a freelance writer, producer and photographer. She has been published in Conde Nast Traveler, Epicure, Time Out, CNNGo, and has appeared on BBC’s documentary “Exploring China: A Culinary Journey” and “Fresh Off the Boat”, an award-winning food show on Vice.com. She writes the blog JING THEORY, a website about Chinese food culture.
She was born in Chengdu, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.