On the perennially popular stretch of Wulumuqi Lu that hosts Eli Falafel, La Vite and the Avocado Lady, there’s a good amount of decent Chinese restaurants that a lot of people seem to pass by. Sichuan spot Yi Zhang Hong is one of them.
For fans of spiciness, Sichuan cooking, or just Chinese food in general it’s more than worth dipping in to. That’s especially true since, despite its reasonable prices and unassuming demeanor – it’s a relaxed, cozy space – it manages to answer a few of the criticisms that this famous cuisine most commonly faces. Its Sichuan food with a fresh pair of kicks, cleaned up just a little bit with a focused menu, a smidgen less oil and apparently no MSG. And it's all that while remaining unadulterated and plenty hot.
A good place to start is by splitting one of their “Griddle” dishes, a big dry-fried pot of chili, lotus root, celery and other goodies along with your choice of protein. These range from chicken to bullfrog to eel to pork intestine at RMB 78 to RMB 88. The diced, bone-in chicken is great, crispy and tender in all the right places, but the intestine might be even better. The generous sprinklings of chili and Sichuan pepper cover up the more offal-y notes of the organ, leaving behind just crisp skin and rich fat. It’s a real treat.
The mapo tofu (RMB 38) is one of the best I’ve had this side of Chengdu. It’s a standard rendition but it packs so much heat, pungency and flavor, flavor that seems to come from confident and well-executed seasoning rather than a simple barrage of oil and chili. Though there is of course a decent amount of those too.
Beyond that there are a number of classic Sichuan staples – cold chicken served in chili oil (RMB 38), pork wontons in a variety of spicy sauces (RMB 18), dry-fried green beans (RMB 28) – prepared as you’d recognize them with maybe just a touch more finesse. There are some more singular small plates too, of which soy sauce marinated and braised pork (RMB 38), though a bit pricy for a small plate, is worth a shout. It has those great earthy undertones that meat gets when its spent just the right amount of time sitting around getting funkier. Think of it like Sichuan prosciutto. Kind of.
On my last visit, four dishes between two came to just under RMB 100 a piece (admittedly with no drinks). Outside of chains like Spicy Joint that’s a good price for a Sichuan meal like this, with better cooking and a much nicer atmosphere.
Here’s the low-down on the latest action-
The Beef: Pork soup dumplings. A real Shanghai treat for locals, expats, and tourists alike. Yes, I always have fun eating my xiaolongbao. My method (which I’m pretty convinced is the correct one) consists of gingerly removing it from the bamboo basket and placing it on my spoon, then nipping a hole off the top and slurping out some the soup before placing a few strands of vinegar-soaked ginger on the xiaolongbao, and finally placing the entire contents of the spoon into my drooling mouth.
If you are in for even more adventurous xiaolongbao fun, Paradise Dynasty is a must-try. Mostly located in higher-end malls like iapm, Reel, Raffles, Shanghai Tower, the chain has around 10 locations in Shanghai. We were at the one in the Shanghai Tower after going up to the JinMao and doing the outdoor Skywalk (a bit pricey, but you are literally walking outside the building…breathtaking bc the view is amazing and your legs are about to give out). The upside is after all that adrenaline, you’re starving.
The main draw here was of course the skittles-funtastic basket which comprised of the signature (original), garlic, luffa gourd, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe, garlic, and Szechuan xiaolongbao. In that order. Follow the instructions. And contrary to most other places, they do not recommend the vinegar/ginger combo here as to fully savor the flavors. Each xiaolongbao was a fun surprise and were all bursting with the flavor they were supposed to taste like. We decided our favorite was the cheese and least favorite was the Szechuan but even then it was a tough call to make. Next time – an all-cheese flavored basket! Everything with cheese just tastes better. The rest of the menu here consists of typical Shanghaiese food – sheng jian, wontons, cold and hot dishes. Average.
The Gang: Lots of tourists (probably also bc of the location we were at) and local Chinese.
The Motive: For a quick casual meal when you get tired of all the shopping (or sightseeing).
The Damage: 8-pc “flight” basket – 62RMB, also can order individual flavors by the basket ranging from 48-86RMB for 8 depending on the flavor.
The Down n’ Dirty: Mostly located in the malls, so you have to venture out a bit. Caution: you might get distracted by stores along the way.
Like every Taiwanese folks, I'm a big fan of Ding Tai Fung, and it's kind of an instinct to go there whenever I'm craving for soup dumplings. Today my colleague asked me for lunch and we decided to step out of comfort zone to try out the famous rainbow soup dumplings. We ordered two baskets of the Rainbow Soup Dumpling and some vegetables. I have to say this must be the prettiest soup dumpling I’ve ever seen. Each colored represents different flavors, and let me break it down to you!
The original (white)- Surprisingly surpass my expectation! The skin is thicker comparing to Ding Tai Fung, while it doesn’t really effect the flavor. The broth exploded and taste a bit sweet but not too oily.
Luffa gourd (green)- Fresh and easy. I love luffa gourd in soup dumplings since it’s naturally sweet. If I could I would probably order a bucket of it.
Foie grass (yellow)- It’s creamy and very unique, even though it’s not a good mix in my opinion.
Black Truffle (Black)- Personally not a big fan of black truffle, but it truly is flavorful, adding a touch of luxury to the soup dumpling.
Crab roe (orange)- It’s a pretty common flavor for soup dumpling, and definitely my personal favorite!
Garlic (grey) –I love the color and the flavor is very on point. Not sure if it’s the garlic but the broth taste more fragrant than other flavors.
Szechuan (red) – Having zero tolerance for spicy stuff, I was pretty scared to try. But it’s actually not as crazy as I thought. (Still not a fan)
It’s fun and exciting to try every flavor while looking at the card on the table, imagining the taste of each ones. The restaurant itself is also clean and very easy to dine in. While I still favor Ding Tai Fung over Paradise Dynasty, the look of it is a good enough reason to pay a visit!
Went for a late lunch at the recently revamped former home of Franck Pecol's neighbourhood food empire Rachel’s on WuKang Lu aka STACK where I placed an order for one Smokey BBQ Burger, with original fries, and a pot of English Tea, with cold milk.
Before I could be seated to take in the sights of the gaggle of millennials preening themselves in front of the three large hairdressing type mirrors on the main courtyard wall, for their enumerable selfies, a pot of tepid tea was set before me, along with jug of warm milk, followed not long after by the Smokey BBQ Burger, with original fries.
It’s clearly evident that the burger had been par-cooked to come out of the kitchen so quickly? The burger was tasty enough as it was drenched with the topping, the fries were some of the best I have had in Shanghai, crispy and real potatoes!
All in all, a stout effort by the seemingly young team were operating the facility, price-wise 145RMB for a burger, fries and a pot of tea ok, but certainly a lack of attention to detail, no spoon for cup and saucer, no sugar offered, no salt & pepper, the paper serviette blew away, no replacement offered, or sight of any on the tables.
Would I return, probably not, the venue is not my cup of tea and certainly does not STACK up against other burger eateries in Shanghai.
They do need to repair the step, as seen in the attached image, as this is an accident waiting to happen.
Here's three qualities you won't find in most Chinese restaurants: outdoor seating, a long beer list, and music.
Benzhen, on the third floor of Hubin Dao mall near Xintiandi, has all three of those while serving some of the best upscale Sichuan in the city. The pepper and peppercorn flavors hit harder here than at Mayura, that Tiffany-blue, Sichuanese / Shanghainese peacock around the corner. And thankfully, Benzhen forgoes the 90's banquet-hall wedding vibes you'll find at Yuxin, that elder king of Huangpu Qu Sichuan Restaurants.
Here, they focus on pure Sichuan flavors as well as one could in a commercially viable Shanghai endeavor. A dozen varieties of peppers proudly sit on display by the entrance. The beef cuts in the shui zhu niu rou are way higher quality than anyone would expect. The mapo dofu tastes like grandma actually made it. No hollow Instagram-bait here - just good food.
Outside of the warmly lit dining room, a 3rd floor patio overlooks trees, skyline, and a park full of dogs and their humans. On a recent evening, a couple sat watching a Saint Bernard down there try unsuccessfully to make friends with several small breed dogs while a bass-heavy speaker drowned out the screams of an unruly toddler a few booths away. After the sun set, a giant screen tumbled down to display karaoke videos by Drake, BlocBoy JB, and Bruno Mars. Some would call that overstimulation. Others call that a party. Keeping folks here late seems like part of Benzhen's model. They have at least five pages of beers, including The World's Strongest Beer, Snake Venom, for 1480rmb per bottle, and plenty of wine and cocktails.
This is Sichuan cuisine refracted through the glass and water of Xintiandi. Call it Mall Food 4.0. Embrace it.
I have been dining at Cuivre since they opened back in early 2011, and great to see that the establishment is still buzzing on a damp Monday evening in Shanghai.
The ambience that's created by both Michael Wendling and Fanny Cervera, the former in the simple artistic nature of the dishes coming from the kitchen, and the latter in ensuring that the service team are on top of their game make one want to return again and again to Cuivre.
I was dining with a colleague, not my usual dining partner, he arrived before me and started on the wine, a delightful smooth Syrah, normally I would just say a Shiraz, but hey this was from France so one must have a glass of Syrah, this was smooth and well rounded.
On to the menu and suggestions from Michael's new updated menu:
We shared the following dishes.
Salmon Tartare: ok one might say what’s so special here, this is NOT the usually chopped salmon plonked on a plate, the subtle flavours incorporated into this dish are not something I would want to share, all mine it was, so precious, we had one each, this was served with a well-balanced Sancerre, served at the correct temperature, and decent pour, as were all the wines.
Octopus Leg: char-grilled, with a half a lemon also char-grilled and roughly chopped grilled capsicums, and shallots, wasn’t sure which leg it was, none of your rubbery chewy stuff that puts folks off eating octopus, this was delicate, we carried on with the Sancerre for this dish.
Beef Flank: served with double or possibly triple fried potatoes, Beef flank is such an underrated cut of meat, this was from Australia, I have had Flank steak from Argentina equally as good, as with all grilled or BBQed meat it’s how you cook it, and this was incredibly tender and juicy, served, more on the rare side of medium, just how we like it, we went back to the Syrah, which worked well with the dish.
Can highly recommend dining at Cuivre, whether for a dinner or brunch you won’t be disappointed in the slightest here, you are being offered consistent quality in both the food and wines, coupled with attentive service by both Michael and Fanny working the tables.
Before you arrive at Comma, plan your outfit carefully. I'm not saying that you have to dress formally - this isn't Michelin-starred fine dining - but the place is so rigid in its clean, minimalist lines and monochromatic colour palette that you'll feel out of place if you wear anything flamboyant. Or even if your shoelace is untied. I honestly felt like the staff relaxed a little when we stood up to leave so that they could tidy up our booth.
I visited while Comma were serving a set of 'brunch sets'. I've no idea what defined these as 'brunch' instead of just 'sets'; everything seemed pretty lunch-y to me. Maybe I just struggle to associate brunch with anything that doesn't incorporate avocado and bottomless Bloody Marys, though.
There are five brunch options: veggie (68rmb), omelette (78rmb), mini pancakes (88rmb), chicken (98rmb) and salmon (108rmb). I get it. I get the incremental 10rmb price increases, as neat as the restaurant itself. What I don't get is why you would charge 88rmb for some mini pancakes (served with bacon, egg, pickles, salad and fruit), or 108rmb for what is essentially a bit of salmon and some rice. The pricing seemed a bit off, and drinks (apart from tea) aren't included - they'll cost you anything from 25rmb upwards. We went for some mocktails which were around 40-45rmb each. They were surprisingly good - mine was perfectly balanced between fiery ginger and sweetness - but, again, over-priced.
When the food arrived, it was plated as fastidiously as you'd expect considering the decor. Two of us went for the veggie set and the other two ordered the chicken. There was plenty of tasty stuff here. The chicken was crispily fried to perfection, and came with a fairly average potato salad, miso soup and a shredded slaw with the ubiquitous Kewpie (probably) roasted sesame dressing. I was really happy with my veggie choice, though. It came with an okonomiyaki (loose texture but great flavour), and an excellent fried tofu miso soup. Both sets also included some little pickled peppers, a salad (cucumber, mushrooms, okra) and some aggressively bitter cubes of melon.
In all, I enjoyed my veggie set a lot. It was just the right amount of food and the range of textures worked well. The other options were, in my opinion, over-priced, and there was nothing mind-blowing about my meal here. I wouldn't say it's worth travelling for, but Comma is a good place to go if you're in the area and craving okonomiyaki.
Still with my family in town we wanted to have some good italian dinner. I decided for Goodfellas since in my opinion it is the most authentic Italian restaurant in Shanghai. Tight, cozy and stylish venue located in the bund but isolated enough to have your own private dinner far from the crowds. You have to book to get a table. If you are around the bund and you jump in, it is always full. We made the reservation for 7.30pm and our table was ready.
A very remarkable detail of Goodfellas is their wide sense of courtesy and compliments to the guests. This is an aspect not easy to find around in the gastronomic world. For example, for welcoming they will serve you a prosecco glass. Later, different sorts of recently baked warm breads, like focaccia stlye and others filled with tomato or onion, and also marinated tomato and cucumber bruschettas. In the end, you will get dark chocolate truffles and almond cookies as well. And, guess what? All this as compliments. Isn’t this smart? Absolutely. Not only everything is homemade -and free, but also is a way of keeping the clienteles pleased having extra “items” they won’t expect. I find it amazing.
Our waitress was Chinese but spoke perfect english –which was so relaxing for us, but the most notable aspect was her excellent knowledge and dedication of the service. She was delicate, changed cutlery, filled up the glasses, smiley all the time and even managed to adapt one dish to our requirements. Definitely this made our dinning experience very enjoyable.
First we went trough the routine of wine and sparkling water as usual and then we started by sharing a burrata with parma ham. Finally a burrata that tastes like actual burrata! After that, we chose caprese gnocchi, fetuccini with seafood sauce, truffle risotto and mushroom truffle ravioli. Don't ask me how, but I managed to try all of the dishes. All of them were spectacular with no exception. The key is the Italian chef in the kitchen and the use of high quality ingredients, with both factors nothing can go wrong. Sorry guys we didn't make it to desserts this time.
Delicious food, gentle staff and efficient service. Bund prices but not as high as if you seat in a restaurant with a first row bund view. I entirely recommend it and if you are up for some after-office drinks before, I would suggest stepping firstly to the Fellas Terrace in the 7th floor next door while waiting for your table and get a skyline sightseeing.
In the mood for enjoyable terraces around the city we end up in Le Saleya, a French bistro in the Former French Concession. We choose to seat outdoors honoring the beautiful night under the stars.
To be fair, their patio is cozy and pretty well maintained. There were only two more tables -that should have been a signal of the upcoming fiasco. The service was fast and the waitress very kind.
Those were the positive points. Now lets go to the F&B terrain. First, we ordered a bottle of wine, a chardonnay (in the end there were two bottles, 780 rmb total). The wine menu is varied but pricey. The cheapest wine for 390rmb doesn’t really match the target of the place and honestly, there are excellent wines for fewer prices than that, it is not necessary to put expensive wines –but still average ones- to pretend to be fancier.
After that, while we were deciding what to have for main, there was this funniest thing ever. The waitress told us to order the dessert together with the main because the chef needs an hour to prepare it – an hour!!?? I thought it was a joke but I asked again if we could order the dessert later since I didn’t know if I was going to be hungry at the end of the dinner and in a mood for a dessert, and she said there were only 2 options available for ordering at the end of the diner. Second signal we missed.
Lets keep going. We started with a tuna beetroot tartar. When it arrived to the table I thought it was a dessert. It was like mousse of beetroot and barely any tuna. Tasteless and just for the WeChat moment’s picture, we decided to jump to the mains. We had two-lamb confit with eggplant and goat cheese (180 rmb each), one lamb rolled with goat cheese and mint (205 rmb) and one crispy beef checks with fresh herbs (185rmb). Another poor detail is that all the mains even tough are highly priced, they don’t come together with a garnish, so we ordered baked potatoes on the side to share.
The lamb confit with eggplant was a sort of puree. I don’t know if they mixed it in the blender or what but seemed like food for babies. There was no goat cheese at all but there was a surprise ingredient: coriander. And, here is another big problem. Not everyone is a big fan of coriander, such an invasive –in the good way- ingredient! Why would you add something like that without specifying it in the menu? I wouldn’t have ordered it for example – not with lamb at all.
The crispy beef cheeks weren’t crispy at all and the presentation of the dish was like a mountain of grass, which was supposed to be the fresh herbs. It was full of “herbs” and the cheeks got lost in the forest I guess. Last but not least, the lamb roll. The goat cheese was definitely old, acidic and sour, tasted more like an old ricotta that a goat cheese. The mint was nowhere to be seen and the meat was rubbery. I guess that I don’t need to explain why we didn’t get to the desserts.
After finishing the second bottle of wine, and having to pay the sum of 1,949 RMB, this is where the fiasco ended. Highly overpriced for no quality, size or presentation of the dishes. I haven’t had a fiasco in a long time. The food menu is not varied (three lamb and goat dishes for example) and the wine menu is pretentious.
In fact, dedication –or love for cooking- and quality ingredients in the kitchen are indispensable to achieve a high end product. This was not the case. It is a pity for that beautiful patio but the lack of commensals and the quality of the food served indicates that something is going wrong at Le Saleya.
SmartReviews is SmartShanghai’s crack squad of amateur reviewers, eating their way around the city and writing about it. They have been chosen from a large pool of applicants and given a set of strict guidelines to follow to make sure their reviews are honest, informed and fair to both potential customers and the restaurants themselves.