One restaurant closes and another opens. This is the manifesto of Shanghai’s favourite Peruvian chef, who has just opened a new Italian salumeria following the closure of Ceviche on Fuxing Zhong Lu. Eduardo
Vargas has been opening (and closing) restaurants in Shanghai for over a decade. His experience is as wide as his smile, spanning South and North American flavours. He’s opened brasa rotisseries, Latin lounges, and his Ferguson Lane flagship, Azul, is a modern tapas bar.
The one cuisine he hasn’t turned his hand to, it seems, is Italian. Until now. Located in a leafy square opposite Jiangsu Lu metro station, Porcellino is a large ground floor restaurant specialising in ‘homemade-style’ Italian fare, which includes artisanal pastas, pizzas and risottos. The name means ‘piglet’ in Italian, so, unsurprisingly, the menu emphasises its ‘salami portfolio’. The emphasis is on quality imported ingredients, slow-cooking techniques with no short cuts and great flavours. The result is Vargas’ spin on Italian classics, such as chicken alla cacciatora, combined with gourmet makeovers of simple dishes, such as panini, pizza and pasta.
Porcellino’s setting is perfect for a summer launch, with a huge terrace fitting ten tables overlooking a colourful fountain. The interior space is industrial and airy with warm generic Italian notes. The walls are lined with shelves of tins containing chopped tomatoes, bottles of olive oil, pasta and everything else you’d expect to find in an Ikea flat-pack Italian restaurant kit. The overall feel is warm and inviting, thanks mainly to the statement open kitchen.
An extremely nice waitress looks after us impeccably all night. We get started with the small prosciutto board (88RMB), with three types of ham: prosciutto di Parma, di San Daniele and Italian Ham Silver. This is followed by the bruschetta (44RMB/four pieces) with white bean alla Toscana, radicchio, voncoto and extra virgin olive oil. The portions are large and fingers are involved. The taste is delicious.
Sadly, standards slip with the pizza, which is a floppy disappointment. Admittedly, we opt for the ‘Porcellino’s’, a topping of sundried tomatoes, Sicilian olives, roasted Portobello mushroom, artichoke, pepperonata, fontino and mozzarella (108RMB) – a test for any base. However, the pizza feels overloaded, leading the centre to disintegrate a little. The inconsistency continues. The lamb (148RMB) is tender and delicious, but the fregola salad with which it’s served is over-dressed and oily. The complimentary bread is warm and fluffy but the dip tastes like pasta sauce from a jar.
There’s an unexpectedly delicious selection of soft drinks, with the basil lemonade (80RMB) being a highlight. There are also some elegant-sounding cocktails, such asthe Negroni Sbagliato (40RMB), but they lose their style when served in chubby orange tumblers with straws.
Porcellino’s concept is casual, inviting, and well priced, but there are some unforced errors that need to be seen to. Vargas’ talent shines through mainly in his signature dishes that have been carried over onto the menu, such as the meatballs (58RMB) and the flan (48RMB). We see Porcellino becoming a popular after-work hangout with the broad appeal that it intends, but it’s probably not one for food snobs.