Staying off the five-star hotel circuit and away from that complicated, highfalutin Euro cuisine this month. Here's three straightforward brunches from around-the-way locales.
1. Lil Laundry
Good for: For fans of Liquid Laundry here's more of the same plus a few new interesting things.
Available: Saturday and Sunday, 11am-2.30pm
Prices: Lil' Laundry has a gastro pub-style a la carte menu with a few options in snacks and sides, salads, and egg main categories, along with a list of available sandwiches and burgers. Price-wise, the mains and sandwiches are 100rmb-ish. Drinks extra. 150-200rmb per person aught to do it.
Feel like we really gotta support these Liquid Laundry folks. They're really suffering it seems like. Super unpopular. Business is terrible. They never get any press. Just circling the drain now with their new second location now up and running in Jing'an. You should go to their brunch deal at Lil' Laundry to show your support.
Long story short: Lil' Laundry is about 70% Liquid Laundry, with 30% of their own dishes. The stand-outs in the eggs section are the Trout Hash...
Hot Smoked Trout Hash 108rmb
...and the Duck Benedict.
Smoked Duck Benedict 78rmb
Skillets and benedicts. Seeing a lot of that around town. In my life as a professional (not professional) brunch wrangler. If you were to ask me the trends for the Year of the Rooster in brunches I would say, "skillets and benedicts, my man. Take it to the bank. It's what the people want." No complaints about either of these. Both well-cooked and tasty. The relatively uncommon trout and duck bases of the two benedict dishes lent an interesting twist to the standard eggs brekkie, and made me feel good about being an interesting enough person to order such interesting things. Maybe could have done with a larger slab of trout for the hash but I'm not mad at it or anything.
Nice enough dining environment too. The seats at the back get some good natural light which you can bask in while you're having your brunch. Service was good too, with the waiter guy benignly filling my glass with water as soon as it touched down on the table empty.
Good for: A lazy afternoon at the bar with a few homespun options
Available: Saturday and Sunday, 12pm-3pm
Price: Any main course plus two drinks -- including mimosa, Bloody Mary's, coffee, or soft drinks for 120rmb.
For the more laid back version of District, in contrast to the boisterous and collegiate atmosphere of the place on a weekend night, hit up their brunch deal, which is just a few additional options for mains on top of their normal bar grub menu. Three to choose from: Apple Pie Waffles (55rmb); Biscuits and Gravy (60rmb); and the Bacon Butty (45rmb).
Apple Pie Waffles 55rmb
Biscuits and Gravy 60rmb
District, a neighborhood beer bar around the corner from your house in Jing'an, lays down some pretty strong Beijing hutong bar vibes with their humble, good-intentions brunch deal. Coming from a small kitchen upstairs that usually sends out snacks to drink beer with, the just three items on the menu feel like they originate from someone's home kitchen as opposed to the laboratory of a big professional F&B empire (see: the aforementioned brunch entry). The Apple Pie Waffles are made with cinnamon bourbon apples, salted pie crumb, and homemade buttermilk syrup. Very delicious. Sweet but not too sweet. The biscuits and gravy is homemade sausage gravy and roasted red pepper and cheddar biscuits. Also thumbs up. A heavier and heartier sort of deal.
Recommended strategy: Go on a date with someone and then get a couple mains and split them between two people Chinese cuisine-style. Apply mimosas liberally. If you're by yourself, the Bacon Butty is like a fried egg and bacon panini and made with some tasty back bacon sourced from a local meat curer company called "The Cure".
That's right. Robert Smith is in Shanghai curing bacon. How lovely!
The upstairs seating option is also charming, I do declare.
3. Al's Diner (Xiangyang Lu)
Good for: It's the secret-ish Al's Diner. This one's good for when the other one is invariably full. Plus donuts.
Available: Saturday and Sunday, all day
Price: Home-style diner food, Al's Diner does all-day breakfasts off an a la carte menu. Egg dishes, chicken and waffles, and lunchier possibilities in around the 75rmb-95rmb range.
On top of the usual stuff on the menu at Al's that you already know and probably like, on weekends at their less trafficked Xiangyang Lu location is two additional dishes: Hog Boss Benedict (68rmb) and Porobello Benedict (58rmb). Basically, a poached egg dish available in meat and veggie permutations. They come with house potatoes or a side salad too, which make them not bad value.
L to R: Hog Boss Benedict 68rmb; That Breakfast Sandwich Thing We Make 65rmb; Purgatory Eggs 65rmb.
From their full diner-style menu of all-day breakfasts we cut a swath to the more popular items in addition to the Hogg Boss Eggs: The Breakfast Sandwich Thing and the Purgatory Eggs. Both conceived, I would imagine, to cater towards the savagely hungover. Shanghai is rife with the savagely hungover; it's a great market to appeal to. Standout was the Hog Boss Eggs -- would re-up on that -- but I thought the Sandwich Thing was a little dry and blah.
The dining at the Xiangyang Lu location of Al's is pretty no-frills. It's just an undecorated room with some tables, but for straightforward diner food that's pretty much all you need. It does the job. This location has less milkshake options -- in particular you can't get the half-baked chocolate chip cookie dough one -- which is balls -- but they almost make up for it with this from the bakery downstairs:
The other good thing about Al's is that it's all-day breakfast gear as well, so if you can't get out of the bed by, oh say 5pm or so HELLO CELIA they've still got you covered.