What It Is: A chain from Hong Kong that started in 2013 as a butcher’s shop, a private dining room and a space for cooking classes. Their beef is Australian, their preferred aging method is “dry” (this bit of marketing is hammered down your throat repeatedly), and their vibe is corporate cool. This is their first shop in Shanghai (if, like me, you don’t count Pudong) and they are part of the big refurbishment and upgrade of Grand Gateway. They are in the North Building, the annex off the back of the mall.
First Impressions: I’m eating in a mall. In a comfortable space that evokes the 1930s but still, a mall. The menu doesn’t help, with its corporate gloss giving off very impersonal chain-restaurant vibes. There are two crabs in the featured seafood tank. One of them is dead, on its back. The water is murky. Do I really want to pay 90rmb for a “classic dry-aged beef burger” that, the waitress tells me, doesn’t even come with fries, in a place that doesn’t bother to hide its corporate indifference? I order a side of 28rmb truffle fries, a stingy portion which show up before either the burger or the “dry-aged beef hot dog” that I’ve tacked on to hedge my bets.
When it arrives, the burger is smaller than expected and covered in a mayonnaise-based spicy sauce. I can’t taste anything except the sauce and the bed of tomatoes the burger itself is sitting on. I want to taste this fancy “dry-aged” beef I am being gouged for, so I have to pull the patty out of the bun and eat the meat on its own with a knife and fork. It is fine, under-seasoned, forgettable. I eat the rest of the burger (minus the patty) afterwards. It tastes exactly the same without the meat. It did, in fact, come with fried potato wedges. But those are not fries. The hot dog is a spiced gray tube. If they leave the dead crab in the tank any longer, I wonder, is that “wet aging”? I haven’t finished the food but I’m already thinking about where I should go after this. I’m going to need lunch.
What It Is: A burger restaurant built on the ruins of a previous burger restaurant. It was once Rachel’s. Then Franck, who owned Rachel’s, fled the country, lost his business and… stopped making burgers. This location was returned to the Great F&B Mahjong table, the tiles were shuffled and mixed and a new owner won the space. Now it’s Stack, a precision-guided F&B rocket aimed at the parade of photo-victims who clog the street on weekday afternoons and all hours of the weekend.
First Impressions: I am so ready to turn my anxiety about getting older into opaque hatred of this place. All I need is one fuck-up, one out of place French fry, one slightly-too-cold tiramisu, and I’ll lose it on this place. I’ve already heard bad things about it. The fuse is dry and ready to be lit.
What’s this? The iced tea is lemony, sweet and delicious. The truffle cheese fries are nice skin-on potato sticks with a gooey, black-flecked sauce spooned over them. Truffle paste and not truffle oil? And the tiramisu soufflé pancakes, which are massive and airy and usually off-limits to tables of two grown men nearing 40 years old, also delicious? Dammit. Supposed to hate this place. It’s not giving me enough.
The outdoor chairs are a little flimsy. The waitress is running around slightly too much. The table next to me is eating their burger with a knife and fork. Do these things count? No? Then give me more. Hmmm, the burger is average, comes with a brioche bun (burger foul) and doesn’t include fries. And it costs 82rmb.
Sigh. Burgers are the new cocktails in this town.
When we leave, a couple of young women in fake pink fur are vamping in front of the sign, making duck faces into each others’ phones and kicking the heels of their white basketball sneakers (no socks) up on the stucco wall. Now this – this! – I can hate. Thank you ladies.
What It Is: A three-story walkup dedicated to beef. Downstairs, when you walk in, is the glass case holding the dry-aged beef, the charcoal grill and the flattop grill for the burgers. Upstairs, spread across floors two and three, is a moderately hip dining room with white marble tabletops, leather(ish) banquettes and various proclamations of love for beef tacked up on the walls. It’s kind of girly for a steakhouse, which is maybe the reason it has become extremely popular in the last few weeks.
First Impressions: With these wanghong shops, there’s usually some obvious reason why the shop has taken off, whether natural or contrived. Usually contrived. “Limited” supply, tiny ice cream windows, design that is way too over the top for the product they are selling (Oro). With Love & Salt, it’s not so obvious.
It’s definitely not the food, which is fine and passable, but nothing outstanding. Perhaps it’s the prices, then? A basic burger is 52rmb and a 300 gram Australian Black Angus rib-eye is 242rmb. The burger comes with big, thick-cut potato wedges, and the steak with a few assorted vegetables. But El Bodegon does it cheaper than that, even. Why does this place have almost 4,000 photos and 631 reviews on Dianping, after being open just two months? I asked someone younger than me to read the reviews, in case there was a secret hiding there. Did I order wrong? Am I too old? Nothing came back. The usual bit about environment and service and waiters that will cut your steak for you (no thanks) and...
I don't have an answer. All I wanted -- all I ever asked for -- was a burger. Instead, I left full of protein and questions. Sigh.