Jason Atherton is best known in the West for his award-winning London restaurant, Pollen Street Social, but in recent years the British chef headed East, opening up eateries in Hong Kong and Singapore. Asia has been good to Atherton, and he to it, so it’s no surprise that he’d take the concept that’s popular in his Hong Kong and Singapore outposts — British-inspired tapas in a sleek but unpretentious setting — and bring it north to Shanghai. The result is The Commune Social, which opened in April to much fanfare.
Atherton is a celebrity chef; his name is attached to his projects, but he’s not in the kitchen. Scottish chef Scott Melvin (from Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurant Maze and Atherton’s other Shanghai eatery Table No. 1) is now at The Commune Social, where he’s a friendly, smiling presence in the open kitchen.
You’ll find The Commune Social located in a redbrick former British police station dating back to the concession era. Design firm Neri&Hu — whose work also includes The Waterhouse hotel where Table No. 1 is located — took the building’s good bones and turned it into a quirky space filled with the same design elements that can be seen in the hotel — reclaimed wood, exposed rafters, and an expanse of concrete. The restaurant is neatly partitioned into a handful of intimate areas — on the ground floor, the establishment is made up of three interconnected rooms. The dessert bar is in the front, right next to the entryway (think lovely white tiling all over — bar, walls, and floor) and serves as a gleaming departure from the other rooms. Then there’s the tiny dining area with tables, and bar seating around the open kitchen. And if you’re in need of fresh air, head upstairs to the rooftop bar for a savory drink.
The Commune Social does not take reservations, so you’ll likely be cooling your heels at the bar, where cocktail maven Rashid Ghuloom — who came from London’s ultra-trendy Hakkasan restaurant — concocts drinks such as the Green-Eyed Vesper, made with vodka, gin, Lillet Blanc, and cucumber and lime oils.
Anyone who’s eaten at Atherton’s 22 Ships (Hong Kong) or Esquina (Singapore) will recognize the menu, which doubles as a placemat. Dishes are beautifully plated — nearly everyone in the restaurant has his or her smartphone out to capture the creations — and wonderfully textural. Among the top dishes are the miso grilled mackerel, which comes topped with a wasabi avocado mousse, cucumber cubes, and a cucumber skin jelly; the Iberico pork and foie gras sliders, which are deliciously, greasily served with pickled cucumbers and avocado mayonnaise; and the suckling pig that’s served in a tiny roasting pan with a chunk of roasted pineapple, its crispy skin giving way to succulent meat beneath.
Although you’ll be tempted to devour everything on the menu, you’d be remiss not to save room for dessert, where South African pastry chef Kim Lyle — also of Table No. 1 — works her magic. Try the refreshing tiny sangria popsicles as you peruse the well-curated dessert menu, whose standout treats include the deconstructed PB&J, a sweet-tooth satisfying but not overly-saccharine mix of peanut ice cream, salted peanut caramel, strawberries, mulberries and jam.
Photos Courtesy of The Commune Social