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  • Husk is always busy. I’ve now been for dinner there and, although I enjoyed the meal, I still can’t fully fathom why it’s so popular.

    The positives: it’s fairly well-located on a small street just off West Nanjing. The interiors are stylish. There’s a ground-floor decked terrace, which is always lively during the summer. The food is fresh, it all tastes good, and there are some brunch/lunch sets on offer.

    This place still left me a little cold, though. I have some questions.

    Firstly: why is such pedestrian food so expensive? We paid 592rmb for a small Caesar salad (although it wasn’t advertised as such), a stingy seafood plate, half a (dry) roast chicken and some wine. There were no issues with the flavours but there was nothing particularly exciting going on here, and the portions weren't exactly generous.

    Secondly: why are there no vegetarian or vegan options on the menu? If you’re looking for a veggie main course, your options are the bread basket, a couple of sides, and perhaps a soup. I understand the concept of supply and demand, but here I am, demanding. Please supply, Husk.

    Husk is a classy but distinctively safe restaurant. It’s in a handy location if you’re shopping or working around West Nanjing. Expect well-presented but predictable food, and bring your own sandwich fillings if you’re vegetarian.

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  • Have you ever had Tex-Mex food before in the United States? The standard combos of 

    ...savory/spicy chicken/pork/beef meat + cheese + peppers + onions + beans + rice in a tortilla/burrito/over a salad? 

    Good, then you know exactly what Pistolera is. Will surprise absolutely no one with the dishes on the menu, and it doesn't need to. The food is solid, the portions are large, the atmosphere is fine, and there's salsa dancing on Thursday nights. The terrace is woefully underutilized, and that's really the biggest highlight of the location. A terrace of this size, in a location like this, with food at this price point, is really something to be appreciated. Go with a group and have after-work drinks on the terrace. Go for a date and enjoy almost total seclusion. Host a party and invite all your friends. Just do something to justify this huge terrace's existence. 

    ...oh yeah the food. I'm writing about the food. 

    Like I said, exactly what you would expect, nothing more, nothing less. The quesadillas are savory, cheese, a little oily and completely satisfying. The chicken fajitas are full of flavor and the peppers and onions are grilled to soft, satisfying perfect. The tortillas aren't made in the basement by a 60-year old grandfather hand cranking the maize grinder, and you know what, they're just fine. The nachos are huge and fully loaded, without skimping on the cheese...perhaps one of the best nachos in town. The drinks are...eh ok maybe the cocktails aren't that good. At least the mojito is not my favorite in town, but that's the only one I've tried. 

    If you're looking for this style of food, but with a upscale or creative twist, go to Maya. If you want this style of food while killing a few beers and watching sports and pushing no boundaries whatsoever, come to Pistolera. 

    Lunch sets are very reasonable, so you'll end up paying somewhat less than 100 CNY per person. Off-lunch hours are slightly pricier. There are good daily specials (BOGO quesadillas, cheap taco Tuesdays etc.) but you'll need make sure about the hours because many of them are time-limited. 

    Go enjoy the balcony and kill some cheesey beany meaty carbs friend. If that's what you were in the mood for, Pistolera will certainly make you happy. 

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  • I have been a frequent diner at Ginger over the years, the restaurant is not too far to walk for a late lunch to escape both the monotony of work, and of course the searing heat for a while, and to catch up on the current book I am reading without interruptions.

    Arriving after the main rush at around 13h45, I was shown to a corner seat and offered a glass of water, no hard sell here which is a pleasant change.

    I had seen a recent posting of a dish that I had not eaten in a while, gazpacho, Ginger excelled with a blend of Summer Tomatoes, Watermelon, and Green Curry Sorbet in this Gazpacho, what a combination and what a treat this was, so refreshing on a sticky summer’s day.

    I followed on by ordering the Vegetarian Hanoi Rolls, which came with an abundance of leafy greens, butter lettuce, the deep-fried Hanoi rolls, were not laden with oil nor left a bitter taste of old cooking oil on the palate.

    I finished off with the Freshly Baked Perfect Lemon Tart, I was told that I had to wait 15 minutes for this to be baked, the lemon curd was amazing, as was the smooth pastry crust, now I consider myself to be a dab hand at baking pies, crumbles and tarts, including the making of lemon curd, particularly since Marks & Sparks left town,  I  have also had many a tart in Shanghai at various restaurants, but must say this was the best lemon tart ever.

    The service this Monday lunchtime was efficient and friendly as ever, I finished off with a glass of freshly made Ginger Ale, all for a total of 255RMB, going slightly over my budget for a lunch.

    Do go and visit this amazing restaurant, you won’t be disappointed.

     

     

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  • Tang Palace is my go-to place for dim sum. It is pure chaos. The dining hall is huge and always packed, the waitresses are always in a hurry to go somewhere else, the food never comes out in the order you expect, and they charge you extra for the napkins. But this is exactly how dim sum should be, and the food is way better than you expect for a chain at this price point.

    As a testament to its popularity, even on weekdays in the middle of the day, the place is packed with local families, many rolling in three generations or more. The highlight for me is the steamed shrimp dumplings. These are the biggest I have seen anywhere and each one is bursting with what must be an entire family of shrimp. The crispy skinned roast pigeon is also really good. Almost every table I saw ordered it. The panda shaped durian dessert is great for kids.

    This chain can be found all over Shanghai, but I like the one on Dongzhuanbang lu in the same building as Da Marco. I’ve never been there for dinner, but judging by the number of fish, lobsters and king crabs in the tanks out front, they must do a brisk business at night as well.

    As with most Chinese restaurants, this place is better enjoyed in groups and perfect for your out of town guests. You all can be full for under 100 RMB per person.

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  • A few months back, the Hunter Gather in Hubin Dao transformed from a grocery-store-with-a-restaurant to a restaurant-with-a-little-grocery-section-and-cooking-classes. Good call!

    Sadly, the DIY peanut butter machines disappeared (R.I.P.). Almost everything else is great news though. The Asian fusion dishes with organic ingredients have more flavor and color than ever, and between the curries, pickled vegetables, ma la, Bibimbap elements, noodles, salads, and grilled meats, there's probably something for everyone who is trying to eat better. That said, some dishes seem more inspired than others. A pumpkin pasta was just meh.

    Their lunch set is 98rmb and includes a starter like cauliflower soup, a main, and a drink like coffee or tea. Considering the quality, that's a solid deal and more than filling. Maybe order the dressing on the side if you're counting calories though. Overall, for around the same price or slightly more than Sproutworks down the street, the food is way more robust. It's the Lexus to their dependable Camry. Shout out to the farmers. Bonus: The frozen yogurt is worth a trip alone.

     

    ***

     

    Basically: Quick-serve organic restaurant serving bright Asian fusion dishes in the form of bowls, salads, and noodles. High-quality ingredients and lots of flavor. Avg: ~ 100rmb per person. Also has some groceries, cooking classes, and [sometimes] frozen yogurt.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Owned by the Popolo group, Gemma maintains the same standards held to the group. Italian staples and standard fare such as cold cuts, pizzas, pastas, mains – and let's not forget the gelato are all featured on the menu. Can’t complain about the food, although the price point is slightly higher than some of its sister restaurants (Bar Centrale, Alimentari). Pizza is a standout, with a thin and chewy yet still crispy crust. The other staples are solid but did not feel particularly unique or inspired. Perhaps in line with the group philosophy of just doing simple things decently well, which seems to be a concept that works.

    The restaurant itself is more grown-up than its other sibling restaurants, with darker wood and a dimmer setting, giving it more of an intimate feel. There is also semi-outdoor seating where you can get the best of both worlds – covered roof but still open air – while sipping on an ice cold Spritz. There is also a bar upstairs, which will open shop if there is a bigger party upstairs.

     The best part of this whole set-up however, is Buco – the resident gelato store, which feels like artisanal gelato made with down-to-earth natural ingredients. They do also takeaway by the pint if you just want to pick one up to go.

    The Gang: More geared towards laowai, suitable for both smaller groups (1st floor) and larger parties (2nd floor).

    The Damage: Dinner for 2 @ 600rmb, including drinks.

    The Down n’ Dirty: On the 2nd floor, pretty immaculate.

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  • Located on the corner of Jiaozhou Road and Wuding Road, Alimentari & Degusteria is probably the go to stop for a lot of Westerners in Shanghai to get their imported pantry foods, and if time allows, have a seat to enjoy some fresh cold-cuts and cheese with some beer, or just dive into their all-day breakfasts choices. They are well-stocked in everything from your favourite wines, to your longed-after Italian pasta sauces. The large panel windows facing street-side views makes one reminiscent of the numerous street-side cafes you’d see in France or Italy, as it offers up a nice patio seating for chit-chat or simply people-watching.  

    In the area and looking for a place to get some work done, I decided to finally come check this place out. The place is fairly empty on a weekday afternoon, with a couple of people here and there on their laptops. Walking in, you are greeted with a large display of fresh cut gourmet meat, cheese displays, various olives, alongside rows of spirits, beers, or juice drinks. It is a feast on the eyes just as it is a feast it will be on the stomach. The staff are also super helpful and friendly here. They were happy to give me recommendations when I asked. Looking for some nibbles, I ordered some parmesan cheese, black peppered beef, salami, with some whole wheat bread and found a nice spot by the windows to sit. Other menu options such as paninis or sandwiches ends sales around 6pm.

    The cold cuts and cheese were absolutely delish and super fresh. Definitely ranks among the top cold cut platters I’ve had in the past, plus the price here is surprisingly affordable as my platter only came out to be around 70rmb. 250kg is the minimum amount you’re allowed to get for each platter option. In addition, there are also set platter choices available that might be better to get in a group. Ciders and ales are always ready on the side as well if you need some pick-me-ups while working or chatting here. The place started to fill up as people got out of work.  

    Overall, I loved everything about this place, from the food to the vibe. It definitely lived up to its hype and I look forward to coming back or checking out its other branches around town.

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  • Ochobo used to be located in the El Willy building on Donghu Road. It has now reopened in a small renovated building on Tai Yuan Rd. This is a high-end Japanese set menu joint where most of the seats are at the bar and you won’t be disappointed. You will leave with a full belly of delicious food but a significantly lighter wallet.

    Ochobo is only one floor of this tiny building. The ground floor is a sister restaurant specializing in grilled meats. This is not a heavily trafficked area, but just around the corner is the severely underrated tequila bar Pocho. Pocho makes some of the best drinks in Shanghai without squeezing your wallet dry.

    While the space is small, the menu seemed to cover the main spectrum of Japanese cuisine from sashimi to shabu shabu to grilled meats and tempura. The stand outs were the sea urchin tempura and melt in your mouth beef in a small shabu shabu hotpot.

    Two in our party aren’t keen beef eaters, and the staff happily switched the beef dish to lobster. The lobsters were pretty plain, but that’s expected when you order off menu at a place with only one set menu.

    Everything else was really, really good. But the damage is heavy at 880 rmb per person without drinks. Side note, they only charged 100 rmb for corkage which helps in this type of place.

     

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  • I decided to pay a visit to Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice to see if the chicken rice truly lived up to its name. Located on Jiaozhou Road, the store has a very appealing traditional Chinese styled storefront, with a hint of Singaporean ceramic décor. The store is pretty tiny, luckily, there is also a second floor up a flight of wooden stairs that may be able to accompany slightly larger groups.

    Arriving on a weekday evening, the place was not that packed, and we were able to get a good comfy spot for two upstairs. Colourful posters line up the red-painted walls of the restaurant, giving it an interesting Chinese vintage vibe. We were seated next to an incredibly loud group; the store for some reason, didn’t have any music on to help drown out the chatter either, so we ended up having to practically shout to be heard. That’s just Chinese-styled dining I guess. The unpleasant noise aside, the overall atmosphere was good.

    Unlikely many other Hainanese chicken rice places, this place had no set chicken rice meal (with set portions of chicken, rice, and veggies), so you had to order everything separately, which is a bit annoying, and makes this place a bit pricier than other similar joints. You can order the chicken by the half (78rmb) or by the quarter (48 or 58 rmb), and rice made with chicken oil was 9 rmb (a rip-off for rice). They also had no plain rice available, so my vegetarian friend had to settle for something else to go with her meal. Up first, we had the cold dish appetizer, tofu with preserved eggs, which tasted amazing sprinkled with some soy and hot sauce flavouring. The kai-lan mixed seafood veggies and bean curd water spinach were also pleasant tasting though they were definitely made with a touch of Shanghainese flavours as there were a distinct sweetness to the taste. My favourite part of the meal was the kaya (coconut jam) toast dessert, which tasted just as good if not even better than the ones I’ve had in Singapore. Compared to everything else we’ve gotten, the chicken rice itself was a bit underwhelming to be frank. It was not bad, but it certainly wasn’t anything spectacular either, as its name suggests, and I certainly could have gotten the same thing elsewhere for half the price.  

    Overall price is 100rmb/person.

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  • I've tried a few times to get on the Beef & Liberty train when it comes to their burgers. My first time eating there was on a Monday, and it was BOGO night for burgers, but I was a little underwhelmed by my burger. It was fine...but not really memorable. 

    "Maybe it was an off-night", I thought to myself, so I tried again on a Monday a few months later, it was the same thing again. 

    "Well your problem is obviously that you're going on Monday nights, when they're slammed for those BOGO burgers" my friend said, in response to my griping about the underwhelming burger. 

    In an effort to address this possibility, I made a THIRD trip to Beef & Liberty on a recent weekday afternoon, when the restaurant was essentially empty and the kitchen would ostensibly be able to focus completely on my burger. 

    It was only then that I was able to conclude that my burger experience from the very first time had been thoroughly representative; Beef & Liberty burgers just don't taste very good. The main issue is that there's just no seasoning on the patty whatsoever. I don't care how high quality your meat is, or whether you've got the perfect blend of imported chuck, short rib and brisket or whatever...if you aren't putting adequate salt and pepper on your burger patty, then it's missing something. Sometimes a salty pickle or good bacon can replace the need for salt on the patty, but that wasn't happening here ether. 

    Aside from the lack of seasoning, there was also no sear on the outside of the burger, so no lovely maillard reaction savory goodness. It seemed like the burger hadn't been cooked on an adequately high-heat source to create a good sear, resulting in very little surface texture. It was just a poorly seasoned and poorly cooked burger patty - no way around it. Extremely disappointing for a 100 RMB burger. 

    The shoestring fries that accompanied the burger were completely unseasoned as well. What does Beef & Liberty have against salt? 

    So why the three stars, you may ask, and not lower? 

    Because after the second visit, I learned to hedge my bets, and so on this third trip we also ordered a pulled pork sandwich, and that was pretty delicious. Savory, juicy, slightly tangy with good crisp from the slaw on the side - exactly what a pulled pork sandwich should be. The side salad I ordered with it was also good. It seems the kitchen's disillusionment about appropriate seasoning levels only manifests itself in the burgers...

    Besides this, the banoffee milkshake was a delicious indulgence, the fancy ketchup is tasty, the drinks were fine, and the terrace environment is really nice - quite the highlight. I would go back to enjoy these things, but not those overhyped burgers. There are many better options around town if you feel like spending that much money on a hamburger. 

    Lunch sets were slightly over 100 each. 

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SMARTREVIEWS

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.

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