El Piso is chef Pol Garcia’s latest creation offering a “neighborhood” tapas bar in an old Shanghainese villa on Fenyang Road.
The Spaniard was the executive chef at El Patio, housed in the same building, for two-and-a-half years. El Patio was all about fine dining, but El Piso is for laid-back eating and drinking, a place where you can enjoy small bites while standing with a drink.
Hailing from San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country, Garcia welcomes guests to book the long table that usually accommodates five people in front of the kitchen counter. You are treated to a full view of Garcia and his team quietly executing their well-rehearsed moves.
“It’s vital to have installed a new kitchen here with my own music, 15 different kinds of Spanish olive oils piled up on the wall that gives me freedom to create and communicate with the guests at the same time,” Garcia said. “The variety of olive oils here showcases the distinct aromas and flavors which give the sophisticated final touch to the tapas.”
The menu includes everything from traditional Spanish gazpacho cold soup and homemade meat croquettes to more complex plates that justify the phrase “haute cuisine in miniature.”
“With my culinary roots from the Basque, I keep several traditional Basque recipes but the menu is created from my personal point of view toward Spanish tapas,” Garcia said.
“I always try to add my personal style to the traditional recipes and create new presentations in a fun way. I also love to create something special for different guests that you don’t find on the menu,” Garcia said.
A staple in Spanish dining, Spanish gazpacho (48 yuan/US$7.6) is a refreshing way to start a meal, especially during the hot season. It might seem like an easy recipe but El Piso’s version is just so right with the perfect mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onion, garlic, olive oil and salt.
It follows with Catalan-style codfish and baked vegetables (56 yuan) that is gorgeously presented in a stone bowl. It is a traditional Catalan cold tapas with shredded salt cod on top of roasted eggplants, red bell peppers and onions in olive oil. The star ingredient is the dried salted cod, which has been salted for 24 hours and desalted for another 48 hours.
Another highlight is the cold potato and vegetable salad with mayonnaise foam and white tuna in olive oil (78 yuan). Also called Russian potato salad, it is a common dish in tapas restaurants. Garcia sprays the mayonnaise foam on top of the salad that is made with white tuna oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. When a little bit of black salt is mixed in, the taste is simply beyond expectation.
Spanish bottles dominate the wine list as one might expect.
El Piso is nicely decorated with an old wooden floor, Seville inspired pattern tiles and soft lighting. The dark color scheme gives this laid-back dining space a somewhat avant-garde feel while the leather sofas on the terrace offer a relaxing spot for those who prefer being outdoors.