I had a business dinner at everyone’s favourite foreigner friendly Xinjiang restaurant, Xibo the other night. The dinner was at 8.30pm but my colleagues and I didn’t fancy staying in an office devoid of air conditioning in the sweaty Shanghai heat, so we decided to have a quick pre-dinner drink at L’Atelier (meaning “workshop” in French), which is on the 2nd floor in the same building as Xibo.
The place itself is the very appealing with lots of wood and concrete. I think I read someone describe it as urban industrial chic which sums it up quite well. It is a bit like Dr Wine, but much less busy.
Wines are very reasonable which is the direction most wine bars are taking following the early success of the business model pioneered by the likes of Enoterra / Enotecca. And if you’re peckish, there are decent snacks (they describe as “finger food” which explains we we weren’t given any forks) to munch on. We went for the charcuterie plate (cold cuts) which came with some bread and wasn’t bad. The wine too was decent and from 6-8pm, it’s buy one get one free on all drinks by the glass.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. To begin with, we asked if we could sit on the sofa and I did explain that we had only 45 minutes as we had a dinner to rush off to. The manager (Tideane from the Caribbean islands) explained he needed to make space for the singer. No big deal, we were more than happy with the high tables in the middle of the room instead.
We ordered a glass of Sauvignon each which seemed to take an eternity to be served. I could see our 3 glasses of chilled wine standing on the bar top getting warmer by the second while we were getting thirstier. I resisted the temptation to go over and retrieve the glasses myself which might be considered impolite and eventually, Tideane brought the wine over along with our cold cuts.
Not long after we got our drinks, Tideane enquired how we planned to pay. It was only around 8 o’clock so it was a little unexpected but he explained only he can accept cash so if we planned to pay by cash we would need to pay now. I replied that we were more than happy to pay by credit card and without further ado, Tideane was out the door.
I mentioned earlier we wanted a quick drink so as soon as our glasses were empty, I tried in vain to get the attention of a server to bring us our second happy hour glasses. I should explain there were only 2 other tables occupied and there were 2 waitresses plus a bar man behind the bar. One waitress (Chinese) was occupied with one of the tables which is fair enough, but the other waitress (French I think) was not doing anything of great importance but decided it was a good time to start reading the menu rather than keeping an eye on her customers.
I eventually lost patience and went up to the guy behind the bar and asked if we could have our second glasses. It took a while but eventually they came and we guzzled them as fast as we could before asking for the bill.
Again it was a struggle to get anyone to take our payment so I again brought it myself to the bar and the bar man politely accepted the credit card but then bizarrely just put it to one side and then stood staring in to thin air. The French waitress was still reading the menu while the only one who seemed to be doing anything useful was the Chinese waitress.
Astonishingly, we waited for about 10 minutes and it was clear none of the 3 staff had any intention of doing anything with the credit card we had given them despite the place being virtually empty. I again lost patience and got up as if to leave, saying to the waitress “no need to pay, right?”
She laughed nervously, not sure how to respond before having a mini conference with the bar man and then finally swiping our card.
I don’t know how long they’ve been open. The place does have great potential and I want to like it, so I’ll give it another try when I’m in less of a hurry, but based on the first visit, the service was decidedly mediocre. Oh and the singer never materialised!