Here you won’t find just delectable Spanish food, you will find the friendly and warm Spanish culture as well. As soon as we stepped inside on a late weekday afternoon we were warmly greeted by the team who were sitting down for their midday break.
Opened in January of 2008 in a colonial house in Shanghai’s French concession, El Willy is named after its adventurous and creative founder, chef Willy Trullas Moreno. In 2012, El Willy moved to its current spacious location with arched windows facing out onto the Bund in Shanghai.
You will quickly see that creativity runs in the family, as chef Willy’s brother did the interior design and his uncle did some of the wall art in the restaurant. On the glass panels dividing the dining sections you will notice colourful paintings of cartoon-ish sea creatures, which are done by ‘Hirano San’. It should come as no surprise when we were told the underlying themes of the restaurant is to be ‘family-driven and fun’.
Each of their menus feature a famous person, and this time it’s Eugenio, father of Enrique Iglesias. The cover art is fun and spunky in bright, attention-grabbing colours reflecting the fun dining atmosphere.
After we went over all the different brunch, lunch, night brunch and vegan menus, we definitely had a tough time deciding on what we should try, at which point our host casually said,
‘Anything you wanna eat, the chef can prepare.’
While we wanted to put this to the test, we at least wanted to try the chef’s signature dishes on this first visit. Chef Koen heads up the kitchen at El Willy, and has infused the menu with some of his signature recipes, including one courtesy of his beloved mom. Chef Koen is from Amsterdam, and greets you like you are his house guest, filling the table with as much food as it would hold.
Perhaps the most memorable dish (and the one we could not stop eating) is the Explosive Balik Salmon with sour cream and truffle honey, which is a recipe from Chef Koen’s mom. Fresh, rolled salmon atop of a small puff pastry filled with sour cream and truffle honey really makes for an unparalleled flavour explosion. We promise you will not be able to eat just one.
The Scallop Tiradito with crispy shallots and avocado is delicious and refreshing, a great shared appetizer option for the table.
The seafood tapas are scrumptious, with the Sexy Lobster Roll with jalapeño at the top of our list. Served in a puff pastry shell, the decadent roll is topped with a large piece of lobster. The giant shrimps baked with garlic makes your mouth water with its delicious aromas before it is set on the table.
Just as the team told us ‘whatever you wanna eat, the chef can prepare’, there’s something on the menu for the meat lovers as well. The BBQ Wagyu “entraña” with piquillo peppers are juicy and tender and topped with crunchy garlic flakes. You might want to order a side of bread so you can soak up every last drop on the plate!
For those with a refined palette or just the urge to try some of El Willy’s ‘caviar snacks’, we would recommend this bite-sized artichoke topped with a generous scoop of caviar. A snack to be savoured with your favourite tea.
Dining at El Willy is a fun and engaging affair. It’s perfect for a friends’ gathering where everyone can share the delicious tapas and then head out for a fun night filled with other social activities. Of course, you may find yourself staying into the wee hours at El Willy to try out their Night Brunch menu as well! Next time we visit we will make sure to visit during a weekend evening to see the space in action!
5F, No.22 Zhongshan Dong Er Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai
Photos by Florence Leung