This week we're eating at the big and bright new Jing'an location of Pie Society, their second in Shanghai, and at the newly renovated-by-crowd-funding vegan favorite Happy Buddha. There's also some odds and ends around town at the bottom to round out the meal...
What It Is: Half of Shanghai knows her as this city's hardest working, longest running drum 'n' bass DJ and promoter (Phreaktion, Sweatshop) and the other half knows her as the grand empress of Pie Society, a restaurant dealing in authentic ("proper", I should say) British pies and fry-ups. Pie Society Canteen is Siesta Jane's newly soft open expansion in Jing'an. They've got a larger space, an expanded menu, and are right in the thick of things a few doors down from The Shed, Kaiba, Mr Pancake, The Rooster, and all that Jing'an jazz.
Definitely a bigger operation! Nice to see a home-grown Shanghai success story against all these chain restaurants coming to town. This Siesta Jane, I tell ya. Talk about goin' from humble pie to having your cake and eating it too! (Ooof, that's terrible.)
So, the new menu. Along with the range of pies (50rmb-55rmb for "Seriously Beefy", "Hen Hao", and "Notorious P.I.G." among others, with options in beef, pork, chicken & mushroom, and veggie categories); they're also offering fully fleshed out Greatest Hits of British Cuisine mains (steak and chips 118rmb; bangers and mash 62rmb; Masaman curry 62rmb); all-day brekkies (classic English fry-up 88rmb; Cheesy crumpets with bacon 68rmb); and more. Good for your lunch break and also for more relaxed, comfort food-oriented dinners with friends. And of course, good for people who want breakfast but have missed breakfast by like four or five hours.
But yes: The pies are here in Jing'an, and they're as big, delicious, and flaky as they've ever been. They've been endorsed by the British Consul General, no less, and he was specifically selected to mercilessly rule over the British peasantry here in Shanghai with an iron fist, so you know they're authentic.
First Impressions: The main complaint at the other very much smaller operation is that they needed more seats. So yeah, they've got more seats. And some great additions to the menu. We'll be back to try out the new steak dishes but our brief encounter with the all-day breakfast menu was pleasant and fulfilling. Nice to see the diversification of items in addition to those pies. Sometimes one really does want to delve into the deep tradition of distinction and excellence British cuisine is famous around the world for.
Note: Pie Society Canteen is soft open until March 3, during which time food items are 20% off while they get on their feet and work out the kinks. Note to Shanghai restaurateurs: this is how you do a soft opening period. *SLOW CLAP.*
Also note: They're closed for CNY.
What It Is: After a successful crowdfunding campaign, pedestrians are more likely to notice Happy Buddha now, seeing the homey, yet a bit dark eatery through the window. It's smaller and a bit cramped, although one major improvement is the new kitchen. It’s obscured by the cash counter which helps in reducing the powerful cooking aromas. They've also added a couple of new items to the already hearty Tex-Mex menu, which features vegan pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, desserts, soft and alcoholic drinks (Tsingtao Beer is vegan, you know) and healthier options like wraps and salads.
Yes, everything on the menu is vegan now. And still relatively inexpensive, mains cost 35rmb to 50rmb, pizzas are 72rmb.
Lizzy’s All Natural remains unchanged, Better Bentos moved out; Sprout Lifestyle’s grocery store moved up to the second floor, where they offer all kinds of healthy, plant-based groceries: from “super-food” products to eco-friendly beauty products (some are not entirely vegan). They’re now more focused on well-being related workshops, such as parent-child mindfulness meditation; plant-based comfort food cooking classes; and more.
The community vibe is still strong.
First Impressions: Happy Buddha has a lot of work to do if their goal isn’t solely being “the only American-style vegan restaurant” in Shanghai. The food here is still hit and miss, and still taking a bit of time to make. The "Happy Dog" is not bad -- it's flavorful and the sausage has the right texture. My issue is with the sweet potato chips served on the side, which are 11rmb on the menu. They have the same look, taste, thinness, crunchiness like the ones you can buy from local small vendors near wet markets, who sell them 10rmb for a big bag. Same recipe maybe?
The “Spicey Pizza” [sic] reminds me of that awkward moment when I realize my Tinder date doesn’t look anywhere near as attractive as his picture. The crust is crispy but feels pre-made, topped by ketchup, nacho cheese, scattered seitan pieces, and exactly one diced slice of jalapeño on each slice. The pizza essentially is a dry, crunchy crust covered by some spicy ketchup. Okay, so he doesn’t really have a nice personality either. I made a bad decision ordering him.
We are in an era where veggified dishes have been drastically improved. And Happy Buddha is pretty good at making some of them delicious enough to win omnivores' hearts: the creamy pesto pasta, spinach quesadilla, nachos, and ice-cream for example. And it's still the only place to go when I crave some hot chili. Shanghai hasn't got many vegan-friendly places to offer yet, so I’m glad and even grateful to see the existence of Happy Buddha. At least they’re trying to make a good social impact and on the right track.
And also...Mojito Man comes to Shanghai...
The Dagu Lu location of Le Cafe Des Stagiairiiriiieess only closed like a week ago and already we've got a Beijing Famous cocktails celeb taking up residence. Hey! It's the "Mojito Man"!
Erstwhile the mojito king of Sanlitun Bar Street AKA "Salitun Dirty Bar Street", basically, the Mojito Man just served up mojitos out of a shack at the front of the road for people to stay lubed up while hopping up and down this horrendous / fabulous strip of bars. It's... a Beijing thing I guess. Street mojitos. "Mo-street-os" brah. They were a thing in like 2014. But yeah, he's moved into the smoldering heap that was CDS -- like their branding is still on the walls and he gives no fuqs -- and is serving just two variations of mojitos. And this special deal for special people.
For ex-Beijing people, here you go: a very, very syrupy taste of home. For Shanghai people...um... you have been informed of his existence. You are welcome.
...and Blue Moon to join the Shanghai craft brewpub scrum.
Last order of business. Blue Moon craft beer-but-not-craft beer is opening a taproom between The Shed and Pie Society (Shaanxi Bei Lu). Looks like they'll be ready to brew up a little controversy after Chinese New Year. (The backstory in brief: Blue Moon is a Belgian-style witbier brewed by beer giant MillerCoors, branded to look like your typical weirdo beardo authentic craft beer. This upsets people.)