Wu Guan Tang is a picturesque vegetarian restaurant built into a lane house on Xinhua Lu. It has atmosphere; it’s pleasant and refined, with good service, a tranquil environment and décor that’s reminiscent of a classical tea house. Casual enough for a dinner with friends but just refined enough for something slightly more high stakes, like a date or something more formal. It’d be good to take any visiting veggie out-of-towners. I’ve also heard that they have a killer rooftop patio, but the November weather prevented us from exploring. Will be back to try that.
They do set meals for different sized groups, which is a good option if you’re looking to sample a few of the highlights. Prices are slightly higher than your average neighborhood Chinese spot, but not by much. Three of us ordered the set dinner for two and threw some extra dishes on top, and it came out to RMB 100 a piece.
Highlights include okra that arrives slathered with a little chili alongside a rich, sour and spicy dip. Potato comes baked, sliced and dripping with butter, a testament to the fact that vegetarian food can clog your arteries just as nicely as any meat dish if you let it. Sides like pickled radish and cold tofu provide decent, if not thrilling accompaniments. The set provides a deep range of flavors, and it’s clear that ingredients are high-quality and treated with care.
If I had to make a complaint, it’s that some of the dishes are a little under-seasoned. This is clearly a restaurant with health on its mind, and it leads to the kitchen being a little shy with the salt shaker. A dish of fried rice noodles with peanuts, pickles and chilies, for example, lacks the heat and punch that it should have, with or without meat. The same goes for their version of mapo tofu.
In all it’s a minor complaint though, and perhaps it really does make the food here a little easier on the stomach. Wu Guan Tang feels like it would definitely be a good spot for vegetarians looking for something more original than fake meat and basic veggie versions of staple dishes. Crucially, it’s also just about interesting enough to be worth a visit from dedicated carnivores looking for something new.
(Side note – confusingly, Wu Guan Tang shares space with Frankie’s Kitchen, a couple doors down. They might usher you down there to “check our neighbor” if the original is full, but it’s the same restaurant. Frankie’s is the one pictured).
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.