In just two short years since opening, Mercato is already an institution on the Bund and a fixture of Shanghai’s dynamic restaurant scene. Jean-Georges’ first foray into coastal Italian cuisine and third venture in Shanghai is his most casual—but perhaps most successful—mainland China venture to date.
Designed by Shanghai-based Neri&Hu, internationally renowned for their interior work at The Waterhouse, Mercato presents an upscale atmosphere that is at once old-world rustic and port-city industrial. Stripping down a century of renovations to the building’s bare structural elements, Neri&Hu reveal the Three on the Bund’s original steel columns and complement them with reclaimed wood, sensuous leather, and intimate lighting. The resulting atmosphere feels edgy and modern, unfinished yet organic, an industrial chic that is completely unique on the glamour strip of the Bund.
Helming the kitchen is Sandy Yoon, the 27-year-old Korean-American chef whose meteoric rise in the Jean-Georges empire has drawn much attention from media and industry insiders. Within four years of starting as a line cook at ABC Kitchen in New York, Yoon was plucked by Jean-Georges to open Mercato in 2011. “When I first came to Shanghai, it seemed like the city and especially the Bund was defined by its luxury, glitz, and glamour” she recalls. “When Mercato opened, with its stripped interior and reclaimed wooden floors, it was a completely new experience for most people. Mercato has been able to turn rustic into something trendy and top quality without the prices that people generally associate with it.” The average check at Mercato is around 300 RMB without wine, while the average check in Jean-Georges downstairs hovers around 700 RMB.
As ingredient-driven cooking becomes more important to Chinese consumers, Mercato appears to be leading the pack in the “farm-to-table” trend. Yoon notes that “more and more Chinese people are looking to understand and fully appreciate where their food is coming from. They are asking detailed questions about the quality and provenance of ingredients, and I love seeing that.” Yoon’s team sources locally and seasonally whenever possible. Most of the seafood comes from Dalian, and all the fresh vegetables and herbs come from organic farms near Shanghai. The ricotta is house-made, and fresh burrata is purchased daily from a fromager in Shanghai. Sandy has even been able to influence the supply of ingredients that were previously unavailable on the market, like broccolini for example. “It was practically impossible to find broccolini in China before we opened,” she says, “but that’s what’s so great about chefs getting involved in the sourcing process.”
In addition to driving food culture in China, Sandy’s celebrity as one of the youngest executive chefs in the city is inspiring a legion of new cooks and followers. The art of cooking is a profession that has suffered for decades from a lack of public standing and esteem in China, Mercato’s kitchen, made up entirely of aspirational young Chinese chefs buoyed by Yoon’s example, is leading the way to reversing these cultural precedents.
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.