Atmosphere: A friend and I always argue over which is the better Xiantiandi wonton, Qian Li Xiang Huntun or Er Guang Huntun. They say Qian Li Xiang have better xiao huntun and the shop has that inspiring morning vibe of bosses eating wontons in a cloud of steam (wontons are the boss breakfast because only bosses have time to really sit down and enjoy breakfast, instead of scarfing baozi on the run, says this friend).
I say Er Guang wins because it's cleaner and the meat tastes better, and they have pork chops, greens, and drinks. And because one morning one of the cooks from Qian Li Xiang was cooking his own breakfast in a wok on the sidewalk (they don't eat wontons everyday), and in a jet-lag haze I stepped outside of the restaurant and nearly walked right into the flame.
But even though I'm way off topic and Er Guang is definitely better, Qian Li Xiang is still a decent option for a cheap meal in the Madang Lu area. They charge 13rmb for a bowl of ten big jicai xian rou wontons or you can add 1rmb to get them dry with the peanut sauce. I've never seen anyone order the more expensive wontons with shrimp. Overall, their flavors rely too much on spices rather than high quality ingredients, but you could do much, much worse for in this area. They stay rolling up pork and cai in the middle of the shop all day every day and the place is never empty.
Atmosphere: We arrived pretty late on a Saturday, and it was immediately clear that there are a number of people in Shanghai who see this as a place worth travelling for. It was buzzing - expats, locals, and Big Names In Shanghai. When we casually mentioned that we'd recently visited Union Trading, the manager pointed over to a woman eating a few tables away. 'That's the owner. She comes over every week or so.'
Al Borgo is incongruously situated in this massive complex out in Qingpu called FEAST WORLD that also houses the standard selection of fast food places, pizza joints and izakayas. It's a little awkward to reach on public transport (Panlong Road metro station then a 45 minute walk south-west), but easy enough to get a long, long DIDI to if you're coming from downtown. Once you get to FEAST WORLD, head through the ground floor to the line of restaurants that faces the river at the back of the complex. Al Borgo is the westernmost place on that strip.
Once you get inside, the vibe changes considerably. Coming in from the vast, neon-embellished food mall, the terracotta flooring, industrial-style light fixtures and raw surfaces are quite the contrast. They've done well on the decor here; it's almost, almost like walking into a little Italian city restaurant, complete with a gelato counter.
Food: Simple but good. Handmade pastas and imported cheeses make for Italian classics done well.
Everything about this place felt calm. You won't find the big, heavy flavours of Scarpetta or the flabby, anxiety-inducing prices of the Bund's Italians. Instead, you'll get a lovely, light plate of subtle baccala mantecato (whipped salt cod on crisp black breads) or a sweet little caprese salad. For your primi piatto, there's a little selection of ravioli, pasta or gnocchi, all made in-house, and some other classics made with dried pasta. They're all good - gentle but full-flavoured sauces and just the right chewy texture on the carbs. We ate slowly.
We couldn't make it to the mains, but we did try one of their top Dianping-recommended dishes for dessert: the ubiquitous tiramisu, a little jar of freshly whipped cream and not too much coffee. Lovely cooking all round.
Service: Staff were perfect. The owner came over to say hello and geek out about food photography with me when he saw me whipping out the light box. The barman talked us into digestifs even though we were terribly hungover - a real achievement.
The only minuses for this place are minor. The toilets are outside and, therefore, chilly, and it's a pain to get to. I'll be making the trip again, though, for sure. If our pasta courses were that good, I'd love to see what they do for mains.
Atmosphere: The restaurant and this entire new wing in Pudong Airport (near gate G###) was newly constructed and renovated. Squeaky clean glass tunnel on the way out of the train platform and sparkling marble floor did not give me the impression of a classy and sophisticated airport. It felt more like a horse racing course to me because everybody was running for the gate or something else. It looked like there was a black Friday sale except I never figured out what was going on. At least it was peaceful inside the restaurant. On the side note, the design of the bowl was very creative but I found it borderline disturbing with a few ants "crawling" in my bowl.
Food: I was usually the last person checking in because there was nothing to do or eat in Pudong Airport. There were two shops selling instant beef noodle soup, a HK cafe and literally nothing else except for Starbucks. This restaurant gave me a new reason to arrive at the airport earlier. The dim sum options were very limited but everything was good.
We ordered steamed pork ribs which were covered by a very generous amount of deep fried garlic. It had the perfect ratio of fat, meat and bone which made it tender, juicy but a bit chewy. The deep fried garlic soaked up the meat juice and was heavenly. The har gaos (shrimp dumplings) lined up in a very orderly fashion with nice little folds on each of them. I adore the perfectly steamed skin wrapping up diced shrimp, minced pork and mini bamboo shoot.
We also got pumpkin congee and fried spring roll. I literally burnt my tongue and lips with the freshly fried spring roll. There were a lot vegetable slices in the spring roll so it did not feel heavy and oily at all. We both find the pumpkin congee a bit too sweet but I still finished it because I had to catch a long flight after.
We eventually packed the chrysanthemum tea to go and it is a better option than Starbucks coffee if you plan to have a good sleep on the plane.
Service: The shop was very small and busy but luckily the staff was always ready to help with refilling tea and giving us condiments and napkins. It was a very satisfactory experience.
Atmosphere: According to Dianping, there are 44 "Baldhead's Lamb Soup" (光头羊肉汤店) Restaurants in Shanghai. The one on Ninghai Lu, a lamb-heavy street just north of Dashijie, is open 24/7 and you can order any part of a lamb you want, including the head or testicles a la carte. But you're probably coming here for the hearty, slow-cooked lamb soup, some bai qie yang rou, and the noodles. The shop proudly displays a sign that basically says, "We don't add anything to our soup. It's just lamb. That's why it's good." The soup is almost white and the rich taste hits you like the morning sun after clubbing all night.
Food: If you enjoy raw dining experiences this is probably your kind of place. When I rolled up at 6am, two young guys were chain-smoking Zhonghuas and on their third bottle of baijiu, having deep conversations about life. The lamb was so good I ordered another plate of bai qie yang rou (they only sell it by the 20rmb plate) to add to my ban mian, which has a taste I've been chasing for years, ever since a certain noodle shop on Changning Lu closed. Next time the weather is cold or you're just trying to eat after the club, try this spot.
Atmosphere: Busy. Here's the deal:
You go in through the green-framed glass doors to the crowded little entrance lobby, where you can get a ticket from a greeter (unless you've booked). Then you wait. In our case, you wait and wait and wait. To be fair, we came at a busy time, but we were only a group of three.
Once you're in, things are much calmer. The whole place is decked out like a swanky hotel from... some time in the twentieth century? I found it hard to put a finger on a definition for the decor, but it feels like a very salubrious place to sit and eat your well-plated Shanghainese food.
It's an excellent option for out-of-towners if Old Jesse is booked up or not smart enough for your needs, and if Moose is too expensive.
Food: On that note, the food is a very safe way to experience Shanghainese cuisine. There are some pictures on the menu, and some English translations. If you don't speak [much] Chinese, though, I'd recommend scrolling through the pictures on Dianping and just pointing at what you want.
The most famous dish here is probably the hongshaorou, which is purportedly among the city's best iterations. Unfortunately, it's so popular that it had sold out when we visited. Everything else we had was very well-executed, though.
Highlights for me were the black noodles, apparently made using a type of fern. The tofu with crab was also good; here, it comes topped with little crunchy nubbins of crisped rice. I felt like it was heavier on the tofu (and, sadly, lighter on the crab) than the Old Jesse version - a famous dish like this is bound to face comparisons with competitors - but I really enjoyed it.
We also ordered rice with fatty chunks of sausage, the classic "eight treasures" in its gloopy sauce, a very rich soup with offal and pork belly, and some vegatable dishes. In general, the food felt lighter and fresher than at most of the other Shanghainese places I've visited. The only thing that wasn't great was the fish in sweet and sour sauce. It felt over-cooked and mushy. The sauce was still decent, though.
Service: Service was very good; you'll need to wait if you haven't booked a table, but the staff are great once you get inside. Our waitress patiently talked us through certain dishes, alerted us to the fact that we'd ordered two tofu dishes, and gave us a good tea recommendation.
Do note that most staff don't speak English. As I mentioned earlier, Dianping pictures are your friends here (if you haven't chosen to visit with anyone who speaks Chinese).
Atmosphere: I was so butt-broken by the sunken sofa. It was like being heartbroken because of your lover’s false promises or dreams that could never be fulfilled. The dark leather sofa looked promising and I fell for it, literally. I gave the sofa my entire butt (not my heart, luckily) and I whole-butt-edly regretted it. The restaurant has been around for only one year. How can the sofa be this sagging?
Food: Hot pot shops serving hand-cut beef slices tend to have their plates vertically placed as a show of faith of the freshness of the meat. I never cast half a doubt on the freshness since there was a big glass room with two chefs cutting meat. However, there was a big problem when the beef slices came in fragments. I thought I was peeling two slices of beef off the vertically positioned plate but little did I know there were also two mini strings of meat hidden right behind them. The bigger beef slices which were in the safe custody of my chopsticks went straight into the hot pot but the mini burgundy-red strings of beef decided to embrace the pull of gravity and fell on the pristine white table cloth. This triggered an almost ethical debate inside my head. Should I put them back into the hot pot or should I not? The table cloth seemed clean but maybe it was dusty and full of chemicals. Wasn’t there a 5 second rule for food? It should be fine because I was about to cook them with 100C boiling water. Or maybe I should just cover up this pure embarrassment. After much deliberation, I laid down a pall (actually a tissue paper) on the lost members of the beef family but by now the meat inside the hotpot was beyond overcooked and basically became beef jerky. As I picked up my spirits and peeled two more slices of beef off the plate, the exact same thing happened. Only this time, I could almost hear the beef strings on the table laugh at me and say: you suck.
At this point I almost lost all my faith in the freshly cut beef “fragments” but I was glad I ordered some frozen beef which came in a wooden box with dry ice smoke and a little sparkly light. Despite the fancy layout, I did not find the dish photo worthy at all because the beef slices had a thick strip of fat and a thick strip of lean meat without any sort of marbling. It was not like this when I visited the store just a few months ago. It tasted fine but I was expecting a better cut of meat at this price.
We also got shrimp paste, tofu and winter melon on the side, the quality was standard but the proportion was disappointingly small.
Service: Flagging down a waiter was harder than getting a taxi on a rainy night. There could be three waiters tidying up a table right next to you and several others walking up and down the corridor but nobody would ever notice you waiving at them. I definitely toned up some muscles on my arms/shoulders after this meal.
I would recommend this place only if you want to put your patience to the test. But for now, I need some meditation.
Atmosphere: Out of all the wonton and noodle shops in your neighborhood, how many are actually good? If you eat at enough mediocre, oily sustenance spots, it's easy to forget just how incredible a bowl of wontons can be when they're made with the right soup, ingredients, and love. Luckily, this newer chain, Chicken Soup Wonton is here to remind us of their glory.
Food: "This reminds me of how food used to taste", said my dining partner, grabbing another of the malantou and tofu stuffed wontons coated with dry chili and cilantro. Those disappeared fast. So did the noodles underneath, cooked to just the right snap. The chicken soup tastes thick and chicken-ey like soup you get in the countryside. They don't salt the broth. And when you order a side of greens, they actually cook it in chicken soup. The place has already caught on. On a recent Wednesday, all the spring rolls and most of the side dishes were sold out by 9pm.
A shop in the mall with black truffle wontons and old Shanghai songs could really go either way. But this place more than pulls it off, and their design completes the whole experience. I mean, the logo is a headless chicken bathing itself in a bowl of chicken soup, and they have pink chopsticks. And for 50-100rmb per person, it's easy to keep coming back here for some classics done right.
Atmosphere: This bistro was conveniently situated right in the middle of JingAn temple in Kerry Center. It was a bit hard to find as I strolled from the south side to the north side of the mall but the restaurant was actually outside of the mall. The bistro was a bit crowded and noisy but it was still acceptable once we squished into our little cozy corner.
Food: The bistro mainly served a wide variety of drinking snacks which were almost like tapas, and a handful of main dishes including the infamous baked stuffed chicken and a few pasta selections. To start, we ordered a few drinking snacks such as sautéed sausage, sautéed mushroom, sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon, baked eggplant with cheese and mussels in white wine reduction. The sausage, mushroom and Brussels sprouts were really average but surprisingly I think the eggplant was charcoal grilled before it was baked in the dish with cheese because there was a pungent smokey flavor to it. The mussels were very delicate as there were tiny pieces of garlic and herbs hidden inside the folds of the mussels. The white wine reduction caught all the essence of the mussels and I almost needed a piece of baguette to dip into the sauce.
For a boost of protein we ordered sautéed squid, ossobuco and the baked stuffed chicken. The sautéed squid was the perfect drinking snack since it was very well seasoned and the squid was so fresh that it was almost crispy. The ossobuco was such a good deal. I had never had ossobuco this cheap before and I was glad the quality was not compromised simply because of the low price point. It was everything an ossobuco needed to be-- chunks of meat falling off the bone with a melting bone marrow in the middle. I realized it was not a popular item in the bistro and I was sure the ossobuco had been sitting in the stewing pot for the entire day.
The highlight of the night was the most popular item in the bistro. According to my brief observation, almost 70% of the customers of the night ordered it. The chicken skin was so crispy as the chicken was baked to perfection and the chicken fat was melted in the long baking process. The chicken skin almost fell off the chicken as I bit into it. Even though the chicken was baked for such a long time, it remained very juicy. The chicken was stuffed with risotto and the risotto was so flavor packed as it absorbed all the oil and juices from the chicken.
We ended the night with caramel cream puff, which was yet another highly popular item in the bistro and it was worth every ounce of fat it brought to my belly. The puff was not saggy from the cream at all and the caramel was crackling was I sinked my teeth in it. It was like biting into a thin but hard layer of candy.
Service: We were scrambled into the corner at first and it was a bit hard for us to catch the attention of the waiters but in general we did not have any problem in getting what we needed. As the bistro cleared out a bit, the waiters were very diligent in refilling water too.
Atmosphere: Surprisingly busy for a Wednesday evening. Such is the draw of their weekly cordon bleu night, I guess. Can't deny the allure of a breaded meat slab and a drink for 108rmb. If daily specials are your kind of economical party, they have one for almost every day of the week (88rmb burgers on Thursdays!), as well as a Happy Hour with cheap-ish drinks. Wine will still cost you around 40 kuai, though.
The clientele when I visited were exclusively American and European expats. There’s sport on the TV, a smoking area outside and a classic selection of gummed-up Heinz bottles to splurt on your fries. Essentially it’s exactly what you’d expect from a place called Abbey Road, except that the food leans more towards the European than the classically British.
Food: Abbey Road’s menu almost exclusively offers cheesy, creamy, meaty foods. Want a schnitzel? Get one stuffed with cheese! Ordered the rosti? You’ll need to dig down through the car tyre-thick layer of melted generic cheddar to find the oily potato shreds.
If your cheese obsession has moved beyond simply using it as a garnish, they also offer fondue sets for 248rmb, so you can eat an entire pot of the stuff for dinner. What a time to be alive in Shanghai.
We tried the vegetable rosti for 75rmb, which absolutely fulfilled its cheesy depiction on the picture menu, and a schnitzel topped with a creamy mushroom and bacon sauce. One thing I quite enjoyed is that, instead of fries or wedges on the side, you can ask for spatzl (little buttery dumplings) instead. They’re very cute and fairly good.
This was unsurprising considering the sheer amount of dairy on both plates, but we found the food very oily. Both plates needed ketchup to take the edge off. If you’re into Eurostodge, though, this could be just the spot for you.
Service: Staff were absolutely fine, and exactly what you’d expect from this type of place. Food and drinks were pretty prompt, and they helped the table behind ours to choose different drinks when the women there mentioned that their first choices were a little too strong.
I’d note that the price is a little high for this sort of food. Mains start at 75rmb, but they shoot all the way up to 200+ if you’re going for steak or a fondue. At that level, I’d expect something a little smarter and better-executed than the very chain-pub-style food on offer. It’s just around the corner from me, though, so I’m sure I’ll go back at some point if I need a melted cheese fix.
Atmosphere: I swear I've been shown apartments with this exact floor plan. Still, they make it work with the usual tricks: a simple color scheme of brown wood tones and eggshell white, cozy lighting, and chalkboards galore. The open kitchen does, however, make it painfully clear when the staff is just standing around instead of, say, making your food.
Food: My first experience with Egg couldn’t have been more perfect: stopping in during a sunny afternoon and being met with excellent service, a delicious Vietnamese egg coffee, and one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had. While their Bloody Mary was a little chunky for my taste, and I still don’t agree with the fusion-y notion to make it with mala spice, I have to respect that it’s one of the very few Marys served properly spicy that one can find in the whole city.
My second visit was very different. Once my order had been finally put in (more on that in The Service), I have to assume my drinks were then rushed, because my Pumpkin Spice Latte was an overspiced mess that left nutmeg on my tongue long after finishing. My Bloody Mary luckily acted as palate cleanser, and salvaged some of the experience before I received the Biscuit Benedict, which was already cold by the time I was eating. Points in their favor: the scallion buttermilk biscuits made in-house were surprisingly decent, and ideal for mopping up the perfectly poached eggs (at least they got the eggs right). The ham is cut thick enough to give it a satisfying chew, and each benny comes with a generous portion of it.
Service: Despite being nearly empty, service was slow and then proceeded to forget my order, only remembering after 30 minutes to check back in. For something like this I don’t expect some sort of compensation, but the lack of even an apology was a little insulting. After eating, I ordered a black coffee (they were out of gin for the Cinammon Bun Rum which I was curious about) which I -again- waited 30 minutes for, until realizing once more the order hadn’t been put in so I just paid and left. I know dips in service are to be expected, we shouldn't expect restaurants to be 100% consistent all the time, blah blah blah, but being forgotten TWICE is pretty hard to forgive, no matter how good your breakfast sandwich was the one time.
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.