Henkes is a relatively new addition to the Mr. Willis group of restaurants, in an expansive space in Reel Mall in Shanghai’s Jing’an district. The lighting and ambiance is very similar to the Anfu Lu Mr. Willis, dark on the whole, with bright spotlights over the tables. It did help make the cavernous space feel somewhat more intimate; I hardly noticed the other tables, as had been the case the last few times I’d come to Henkes.
Our friend Fanny was back in town from Hong Kong, so a small group of us gathered for a relatively late dinner. We started with a few things to share – grilled king prawns (with apple and fennel salad), fried calamari with pistachio, a caprese salad of sorts (with pine nuts), and a cheese platter (taleggio, asiago, and gorgonzola, with walnuts and dried figs). The prawns were quite plump and tasty, with a good dose of smokiness to contrast the thin, very tart slices of apple in the salad. The calamari was passable, appropriately crispy but the squid itself was too thin and flavorless to notice. I ordered the roast (Serrano) pork neck as my main, and pecked at some of my neighbors’ sides (roasted carrots and squash gratin). My pork was well-cooked, with a layer of crackling and a little saucer of sweet mustard that went really well with the fatty meat. The carrots were also tasty, enhanced somewhat by a likely-generous application of sugar, while retaining a decent crunch.
Still, I can’t get over the nagging notion that Henkes – and the rest of Mr. Willis’ cooking – just isn’t that exciting. I suppose the feeling is driven in part by seeing a good number of things from his other menus, as well as a casual Italian trattoria comfort food that apparently informed the Henkes menu. Pork neck is such a great cut of pork, but Henkes’ preparation, along with the sides, seemed like it was just coasting, good but just good enough.
On the other hand, our shared dessert (salted caramel and raspberry gelati) and my cappuccino were quite good, especially the cappuccino, which had the right amount of froth. In Shanghai, it’s often hard to distinguish cappuccinos and lattes, so this was a nice surprise.