Trekking through Shanghai for hand-stuffed dumplings, hand-ground coffee and hand-crafted cocktails with the man in charge at Maya.
Portrait by Luke Cardew. See more here.
Industry Nights is a semi-regular column featuring the haunts of chefs, restaurant owners, F&B managers, and other marginally sane people with good eating recommendations.
Rob Jameson is "el Jéfe," "Chief Chimichanga," the General (pronounced like 'H') Manager of Maya
Mexican restaurant. Dress warmly and pack your bags for a trek from Nanjing to Xinjiang with some craft cocktails and coffee along the way.
“My friend lives just behind this place so without fail, whenever I’m visiting here I go. Run by a couple of fun, smiley ladies from Nanjing, the constant stream of steam attracts a hefty following of quick eaters. Always fresh the price is very reasonable. The Xiao Long Bao are juicy and flavorsome with the perfect balance of soft dough, quality meat and juice. The shaomai are also delicious.”
“Although they’ve got a bit too flashy for my liking and re-designed the interior about a year ago, the food quality has remained. Late morning lunch is great for the freshly baked naan. I order it with homemade yoghurt. I also like the acidic tiger salad and the well known polo
rice dish. Piping hot tea washes it all down nicely.
The best dish, however, is their da pan ji
, or what the staff, for some reason, call “chicken kordak.” I just love dipping a naan bread in there to soak up the spicy sauce. The burst of anise flavor is awesome, as are the chicken on the bone and those well-marinated potatoes. You can order it with or without fresh hand-pulled noodles. Aim to get there 1 hour before closing and its at its best – say around 8.30pm but don’t let them run out!
Finally, during winter months these guys also truck in some of the best apples in China (direct from Xinjiang) – crisp, acidic & firm and juicy. Reminds me of good English apples. They really should press them, and sell them as cloudy apple juice.”
“I know a lot of people talk about this place, but it really is worth the hype. My wife is Shanghainese, and when we have friends in town, it’s a must-go place. The layout is one of the best elements, so tightly knit and cozy, a real down home feel. My favorites are the drunken river prawns. A perfect amount of rice wine and a touch of Sichuan peppercorn works like a treat. I love the whole chicken soup, it reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking; I ask for a citrus wedge with it. The full-flavored, fatty, oily broth is all-natural too. Another favorite is their tangy pork appetizer dish, the tang cu xiao pai
. It’s addictive. I always order the peng hao cai
greens, also known to my wife as “that green vegetable I like.” I love its healthy iron-rich leaves and the texture in your mouth, how it soaks up the seasoning it’s cooked in. Finally, for dessert the glutinous rice balls in rice wine, or jiu liang yuan zi
, is also done well. The slight acidic sharpness contrasts nicely with the sweet of the sugar content. The only thing this place could do with is a bit more service, there is a slight arrogance there that you come to expect, but the food is top-notch.”
“So my little bit of COD involves a ritual of hand-grinding my freshly roasted coffee everyday for breakfast. Hands-down the best place in Shanghai to buy single origin coffee beans is MQ Cafe. Run by a gentle, very patient local guy who trained in Gubei under a Japanese master, this small place is full of passion, training and quality. Their drip coffees are my favorite. I like the Ethiopian Yergacheffe, which is their only direct trade set-up, one the owner has developed having been to Ethiopia himself for sourcing. The Brazilian is also fantastic. The super friendly staff are happy to learn and try more varieties and they teach me about coffee--I love that about this place.”
“Sometimes I need a quality, late-night, chilled-out cocktail, a bit of peace and quiet and a friendly chat with a bartender who has time and is knowledgeable. Kobayashi San is a veteran of his trade. He owns a bar in Yokohama also--10 years strong. This place is rather hidden, set back in an open courtyard among the massage parlors and neon lights of Gubei. I love the low, cream-colored bar-top, the comfy bar-side seats, the classic jazz music, the staff in white tuxedoes. Everything is executed with Japanese precision. The drinks are, of course, classics and the prices are totally reasonable. The rather more adventurous “Ray Charles” is great and I’m also a fan of the classic dry martini and negroni there. The small vertical martini glasses with long stems are spot on. That’s how a martini should be served, short and cold, none of those over-sized glasses for show.
"One of my favorite touches here is how the bartender will wipe each bottle-top after pouring with a cotton cloth--almost ‘priest-like’ in its tradition. They also have amazing Japanese hand-etched glassware. My grandfather used to make hand-etched crystal glassware in the UK 40 years ago so I appreciate this craft. I also like the Japanese/Chinese Sakura fusion back-wall silk print that’s extremely easy on the eye. I like the sound of the sliding door at the end of the bar, through which the bartender will pass occasionally to retrieve your bar snacks. They do a great range of bar foods especially the homemade pastas. The mini consommé amuse you get with your drink is full of flavour and a unique addition! If you go on a weekday, which is when I generally get there you’ll often end up talking to some overworked Japanese businessman (or woman) sat on his own, looking to get away from it all, having a chat with the bartender whilst sinking his (own) whisky highballs until 5am!"
“Either here or The Camel
, I like a good sports bar with good commentary. Sundays are for the wife, unless, of course, there is a football match on, which, come to think of it, is quite a few Sundays. I appreciate the hospitality of Shanghai veterans Richard and Andrew! Open 24 hours and still providing attentive service, they have the best range of Irish single malts in China. Not many people know about the softer, smoother, triple-distilled Irish Single Malts as they were killed off by the blended varieties many years ago. Call me a fat bastard, but the first time I ate their lighter German-style sausage, and mash I liked it so much I ordered another one. They really have done great things with the kitchen here as far as pub comfort food goes and they have plans to bring in a new western chef to raise the bar again. I do like the new décor & layout. The fireplace in the winter is also a great attribute. A few whiskies and a Spurs win later things are even better, until I get a home-roasting!”