An Italian Sunday in Museum: NEW WAVE by DA VITTORIO

Text: Jocelyn Chen

Photo: Ye Shi

Laid-back yet full of elegance, the concept of bistronomy is becoming increasingly popular around the world, and its latest addition in China is the recent opening of NEW WAVE by DA VITTORIO, an Italian restaurant located at UCCA Edge in Shanghai, and headed by former DA VITTORIO Shanghai sous chef Francesco Bonvini. With fine dining standards and intimate ambience, the restaurant embraces each guest who walks into the culinary gallery in search of an aesthetic baptism of art and gastronomy.

DA VITTORIO Shanghai, a Michelin two-starred establishment since its opening two years ago, has already become one of the most difficult to book Western restaurants (among Ultraviolet and others) in the city for its reputation as a worldwide point of reference. This time the opening of its new branch in the museum has received a lot of attention from the industry as well. The name of the restaurant – NEW WAVE – is derived from the opening exhibition “’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art” in 2007, curated by Beijing UCCA and regarded as a major step forward to present a history of the Chinese avant-garde.

There are less than a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants in museums around the world, and my favourites include Odette, a three star housed in the National Gallery Singapore, and Nerua, a onestar in the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in Spain, which I’d pay regular visits to every year before the pandemic. Fortunately in 2019 I also visited Enrico Bartolini, a recently awarded three star on the third floor of the Museo delle Culture in Milan.

The use of minimalism and soft hues may be a common ground for these Michelin restaurants nestled in museums, because they can become a clean canvas, an empty space for artists to splash colours and ideas. However, to meet the expectations of visitors, museum restaurants sometimes need to offer dishes that correspond to the exhibition’s theme, and this can indeed pose challenges for the chefs.

NEW WAVE by DA VITTORIO is located on the 3rd floor of the newly launched UCCA Edge which forms an integral part of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art complex. Positioning itself as a bistrot, NEW WAVE will also be making slight adjustments to the menu to echo with the exhibition, making it both suitable for a short lunch break for visitors to the exhibition, and for guests coming specifically for a hearty meal at the restaurant. Shanghai is not short of decent French bistrots, but perhaps the city has been waiting for a proper Italian bistrot like NEW WAVE.

The name behind DA VITTORIO – the Cerea family – is the most profitable Italian fine dining group, leaving second place far behind. In fact, with its many brands and events, DA VITTORIO is already well versed in all aspects of restaurants and hospitality, such as its caffe at the Bergamo airport (before the pademic), pastry shops in town and Michelin restaurants in partnership with various hotels. With its fully developed menu items and profound experience of the industry, one could imagine how easy it would be for DA VITTORIO to tap into the bistrot scene.

Executive Chef,Francesco Bonvini and author

The word Ristorante refers to a formal restaurant in Italian, and Osteria is more of a family-style eatery, close to what we call a bistrot. But words do not necessarily represent the reality lies within, if you consider the three-starred Osteria Francescana and the two-starred Yuzhilan Chengdu which was originally registered as a snack bar.

Almost all Italy’s fine bistrots are operated by three-starred chefs, like luxury brands and their secondary lines. Examples include La Piola by Piazza Duomo in Alba, Il Calandrino by Calandre, Spazio by Niko Romito, Mudec Bistrot by Enrico Bartolini, and La Cantalupa next to Da Vittorio. After all, it’s just natural to showcase the chefs’ skills and expertise to make their restaurants stand out from the rest.

Centred around BISTROT concepts, NEW WAVE’s aesthetic is exuberant of dynamism and vibrancy with white drapes, abundant natural light and anairy, spacious design. I already missed Italy the moment I walked in.

Chef Francesco says the view of the sunrise from the kitchen makes them feel relaxed and ready to start the day afresh. The spacious table spacing is not strictly bistrot style, giving a sense of luxury and abundent privacy, and the arched doors and windows with operable glass ceilings are already fine-dining decor. Though curtain of the glass ceilings are usually open at night, it would also be nice if it could be left open during the day to let in the winter sunlight.

From to top to bottom:The interior;The kitchen;Executive Chef, Francesco Bonvini

Executive Chef Francesco had experience working in Australia for two years before he worked at DA VITTORIO and DA VITTORIO Shanghai for over seven years. I met him first when he was working in Italy previously, and it took me by awe witnessing the full commitment shared by him and his team preparing the restaurant. I think this kind of spirit is just encoded in their genes. My better half once told me that the dedication of DA VITTORIO’s Italian team is beyond comparison, and it seems to me that the Shanghai team is the same.

The menu at NEW WAVE is as bold and varied as Francesco’s fun-loving personality. Firstly, you’ll be greeted by a colourful whirlwind of delicate starters to kick off the meal like a Sunday holiday in Italy.

Started with gazpacho served in one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans(just kidding), the dish is made with a base of black olives and preserved lemons, covered in a foam of fresh tomatoes and red pepper juice, and topped with crushed breadcrumbs to increase your appetite with a multi-layered sweet and sour taste.

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can, Gazpacho

Among various starters including Italian-style pickled vegetables and seafood, I was particularly impressed by the chargrilled octopus with broccoli and lemon. The octopus is slow-cooked in its own juice without adding any extra water, resulting in a fork-tender meat that only MMB’s version can match (though the method is different). Here the taste is breezier and lighter. The black breadcrumbs are made from black olives, garlic and breadcrumbs that are air-dried and mixed in Mediterranean style which instantly wins the heart.

This dish brings back memories of eating homemade octopus salad in Sicily, a dish usually served with lemon, potato and black olives. NEW WAVE offers a deconstructed and refined version.

Another starter is amberjack with “aio ojo e peperoncino”. Chilled Japanese amberjack fish is marinated, dried and slightly seared to produce its beautiful colour, a method similar to tataki, and topped with a bright layer of Xinjiang sweet paprika and served with a clam concentrate and parsley sauce. The colour contrast is interesting: the red paprika, white mayonnaise, and dried garlic, echoing the colours on the Flag of Italy. The dish requires elaborate preparation and masterful skills while offering an outstanding crispness and presentation.

Chargrilled octopus, broccoli and lemon/ Amberjack, “aio ojo e peperoncino”

Chicken liver pâté with figs gives a very special mouthfeel. While some people find chicken liver a bit gamey, I enjoy its slightly bitter taste. Asian diners must be no stranger to chicken liver, but the pairing with figs adds to the texture and flavour of the whole.

Pizza nuvola with culatello ham and burrata cheese in the sharing section is absolutely stunning. A secret recipe from DA VITTORIO, the pizza dough is baked to perfection until a crispy, chewy and bubbly crust is formed and paired with Italy’s finest ham and the sweet, rich cream and curds of the burrata underneath.

Chef Francesco mentioned that the starters are served all at once for a reason, saying that it is a tradition at the Italian family table so he arranged for that to make everyone feel like home when they can’t go back to Italy.

Chicken liver pâté with figs/ Pizza nuvola with culatello ham and burrata cheese

Homemade fresh tagliolini with Japanese sea urchin: the sauce is made with garlic, whitebait filet, chillies, small tomatoes and fish stock, which is very tasty in itself, and the dish is finished with butter and served with fresh Japanese sea urchin. The method is traditional, but the difference lies in the proportions of ingredients and the heat control. A classic approach, but the result is a superior version of garlic chilli pasta, shining on its own even without the addition of sea urchin. I wish if there were more pasta dishes on the menu.

Homemade fresh tagliolinipasta with Japanese sea urchin

Homemade Bergamasca style fresh “Casoncelli” has the texture and appearance of a large Chinese dumpling, filled with walnuts and beef, and sweetened with a sultana sauce. The classic Risotto alla milanese with veal shank ragout and gremolada features starchy, firm rice and authentic flavours that I hope will continue to offer to diners.

Homemade fresh “Casoncelli” Bergamasca style /

Risotto alla milanese with veal shank ragout and gremolada

The main course we ordered that day was roasted patagonia toothfish in yellow Mediterranean style sauce. The fish was cooked medium well and seasoned with creativity: yellow cherry tomato sauce, saffron potato foam on the side, and green spice granita in a lovely round shape, crushed black olives and breadcrumbs, all adding texture and layers to produce the luscious result. It was a little bit sweet for my palate, but the temperature, mouthfeel and colouring were splendidly done.

roasted patagonia toothfish, yellow Mediterranean style sauce

My favourite of the desserts was the torta di mele with lemon cream gelato, which is freshly baked and has to be ordered half an hour in advance. The shiny, homemade caramelised apples are placed on top of the sponge cake to be baked in the oven, a harmonious blend of sweetness and acidity for a heart-warming indulgence.

Just like an Italian bistrot where the menu is often on a single page, you might feel the choice is limited, but quality is all that matters. The overall menu design of NEW WAVE is geared toward exquisiteness and subtlety, resembling that of an up-market boutique bistro.

Torta di mele with lemon cream gelato

Chef Francesco’s dishes look as colourful as his enthusiastic and positive personality. Perhaps a relaxed, active and curious mind is in the best position to yield productive results, or more specifically, beautiful dishes. The seafood at NEW WAVE is highly recommended as well and you can detact some traces of DA VITTORIO in it; overlaps exist but differences are clear. Sometimes you do get guests coming here and ask for DV’s dishes.

NEW WAVE has a sommelier’s own wine list, a textbook-like booklet categorised by Italian regions, offering a glimpse into the scenic country. The list includes some of my favourite regional vines, such as Carricante from eastern Sicily and Vermentino from Sardinia, reminding me of those good old days on the island. There are many affordable options as well. Cocktails by the bar are not to be missed, and it’s said that they will be available to order independently in the future.

Sure thing is, NEW WAVE is no ordinary bistrot. L’Avenue in Shenzhen also offers fine dining experience but with a relatively less formal menu and affordable prices. The growing popularity of bistrot and bistronomy is inevitable.

Chef Francesco’s approach to dishes is not bound by time or space, and in the future the menu will continue to expand to various regions of Italy. Shanghai needs restaurants like this, after all, the city’s fine dining marketplace is yet to become saturated and, people here are always happy to try something new.

With the arrival of NEW WAVE set to become a new hotspot in Shanghai, the restaurant’s performance is well on the way to put it among the few museum-bound Michelin restaurants around the world.



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