RAC Coffee & Bar
322 Anfu Road
near Wukang Lu
The title says “RAC”, but in fact it might be more appropriate to state RAC 1, because there is also a second, a third and a fourth RAC nowadays, such has been the success of this small bistro that has taken Shanghai by storm and packs in the fashionable set at all times of day. The first RAC (the subject of this review) opened on Anfu road in 2017, the second in 2019 on Shaanxi South road, then Little RAV in the upscale IFC mall, and the most recent born, 2022’s RAC Allée in the just as upscale Jing’An district.
RAC Coffee & Bar is the complete name of the original dining spot but it is so much more than just a coffee bar. In fact, the name itself is misleading: while it is true that the place opened in September 2017 only as a pass-by street level coffee window, but it expanded quickly to open a restaurant later that year, in December. Simon Briens the owner gets often asked about the curious name, RAC, but he states there is no hidden meaning or cute story to tell. It’s just that he was looking for a short, easy to pronounce name that would be remembered easily; furthermore, he didn’t wish to have a name associated with one culinary trait, origin or ingredient, seeing as RAC is a multi-concept eatery, offering coffee, an extensive wine list, aperitifs, spirits, crêpes and galettes and all-day brunch. There is therefore no identity to the food or a traceable origin: that would not be possible anyways, because, while there are some classic dishes that are always on the menu, for the most part RAC being open from eight o’clock in the morning to late at night means the menu changes even during the course of the same day depending on what’s available at the market. Besides, Briens just wants the food to faithful to the ingredients used. And so, while there was never any mission or stated goal behind the food served at RAC, there were two other objectives Briens wanted to reach with his opening of the first and subsequent RACs. First, he wanted his dining spot to have a homey, neighbourhood feel where people could come to at any time of day, just have a coffee and work at their computer or engage in a full out lunch or dinner; second, he wished to have many serious wines on his wine list and even better, to make them available at prices that were generally cheaper than what was then the going rate in Shanghai.
RAC has seen constant lineups since it opened, and has the place takes no reservations, arm yourself with patience and be prepared to wait a bit for a table (many of which are communal, so be prepared to sit close to total strangers, though not every table requires warming up to those you don’t know). But the wait is worth it. The place is imbued with plenty of charm, with blackboards telling you about the wines by the glass, along bar where cocktails, spirits and coffees are served and there is also a pretty outside courtyard secluded from the main road where it’s just as nice to eat. RAC Coffee & Bar is also great in the evenings, when the mayhem is usually slightly less than it is during the day, but the place is never truly empty or devoid of hordes of happy people munching away.
And they do much away. RAC serves the best galette bretonnes in the city, available in five different versions (the classic with ham and cheese, or for example, the nantaise, with caramelized apples and blue cheese and the Far West, with eggs, cheese, pancetta, mushrooms and cream; but there are sweet ones too, for example those made with caramel, nutella or lemon). To be totally clear, I have visited Brittany often and I can safely say, and fear no counter-argument, that RAC’s galettes are better than 90% of those you’ll eat in any Brittany town, and that’s saying quite something, given that China is not exactly in a French neighbourhood. And while RAC has made its name with the gallette, truth is there are many other stellar things to try include the sandwiches, the only thing I have to criticize about is their size: too delicious, and so far too small. The pulled pork is mouthwateringly tender, but the wagyu beef burger and the avocado, egg and cheese are just as good. Salads like the prawn and avocado and the pastrami creations are large and highly satisfying too.
Wines are available from all over the world, and most are of the natural ilk, so those who aren’t too in love with funky smells might be a little less enthused about the choices available: but Briens is a major wine taster and connoisseur, and so the natural wines he sources are all clean and appealing to all palates. Even more importantly, there are wonderful beers and even better ciders to choose from. Personally I usually have a cider here as the choices rank with the best from France, but I always find wine to try that I quite like too. In ultimate analysis, it all ends up to RAC being the best quick bite, uncomplicated lunch spot in the city, so don’t miss out on a stop here next time you are in Shanghai. RAC Coffe&Bar is a place that will leave you happy.