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The Best of the FRENCH CONCESSION

In recent years, and with the recently concluded World Expo last year, Shanghai has truly emerged as one of the most dynamic global cities in the world. Progress came at a fast pace, and many that blocked its path were bulldozed and buried, to make way for a fresh, brash and gleaming new world.

Despite all this, it is heart warming to know that some parts of this historical city remain intact. The French Concession area is on of them. Here, the mantra is preservation and rejuvenation.

In the heart of the embassy district, a new living culture has emerged, one that fuses the old with the new, the east with the west.

Two such establishments are El Coctel and Baker & Spice.

The beautiful bar area of El Coctel

El Coctel is not an easy find. It is located on the 2nd floor of a typical row of shop houses, with a discreet sign and a narrow and dark staircase. It is however, the sort of place that is just perfect for a Friday evening’s cocktails, after a hectic week in the office.  The décor speaks only one language: comfort. I love the intricate ceiling pattern, the seasoned leather chairs and comfy sofas and the relative ease of seeing across the room, a testament to the genius of the owner/interior designer. The crowd is definitely the worth watching type, consisting of a good mix of expats and the more well-travelled Shanghainese. The best part of El Coctel is of course the drinks. The menu is extensive from Martini to Mai tai to Mojito. If its not on the menu, I am sure the equally famous bartenders would be happy to make you one.

Alas, on that busy night, even the best names in Hollywood could not get a table at El Coctel. Susan Sarandon, the Oscar-winning actress and her entourage could not get a table and had to be turned away.

Please mop up that drool, guys..

After a night of drinks at El Coctel, what better way to wake up the next morning to some fresh coffee and croissants. Make your way to Baker & Spice, a small little bakery in the neighbourhood. This place is just a heaven for bread and pastry lovers. You will find it hard to decide which ones to order; there are just too many to choose from. When in doubt, take-away!

The place is definitely small. It has one large communal table, which just barely seats 12 people; and a round side table for just two. So be early, and be prepared to rub elbows with pleasant strangers. Their Carrot Cake (one of my favourites) is simply divine. I was happy the entire day.

It is nice to know that in the fast race to the top, there are some things that are best enjoyed at a slow pace; sipping cocktails on a Friday evening at El Coctel, and sipping coffee on a Saturday morning at Baker & Spice.

– Shahrom Rashid

Images from City Weekend.

El Coctel is located at 2F Yongfu Lu (near Fuxing Xi Lu), Shanghai. Tel: 6433 6511

Baker & Spice is located at 195 Anfu Lu Shanghai. Tel: 5404 2733

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