Tribe has exactly the sort of menu you’d expect from a place called “Tribe”. The first page entices you with neither food nor drink, but a lengthy PHILOSOPHY. It starts with “Hey Fam”, which was great, because it meant that Skepta’s Man was then floating around my head for the whole meal, in response. My mum don't know your mum. Stop telling man you're my cousin. Fam.
It’s barely worth me expanding on the menu, is it? In case you couldn’t have guessed, they have salads, grain bowls, “pizzas” with almond flour crusts, some carby, burger-y options (naughty), etc etc. Drinks start with mixed juices (but they couldn’t just serve us an apple juice, even though they have apples, so I’d imagine they aren’t exactly freshly squeezed) and go all the way to some pretty cheap cocktails and beers (outrageous; don’t tell your spin coach). I had a fairly nice gin and basil cocktail for 38rmb, but I can’t recommend ordering it because it took longer to arrive than our food.
We ordered a lentil bowl, a tofu bowl and some hummus. The latter was, sadly, a wet, beetroot-pink goop that tasted of neither tahini nor lemon nor garlic. Nor beetroot. Goodness knows how they make it, but they promise it’s vegan on the menu.
The bowls were hit-and-miss. The tofu bowl, with kale, nuts, some cumin-y veggies and more, was good. It’s exactly what I’d want to eat after a yoga class. The lentil bowl, with some soggy roast cauliflower and chickpeas, was unfinishably dull. We paid 304rmb in total for all the food mentioned, a couple of beers, a cocktail and a juice.
Tribe Organic is a good choice if you want to know exactly what you’re eating. The coded menu makes it easy to find options to suit your dietary requirements, which still isn’t common in Shanghai. The service and food often seem lacklustre, but at least it’s all healthy.
Palatino is a frustrating place to review. It's been open for five years now and, although it's well-established, it's showing its age. Every time I noted something really good, there was an imminent BUT.
The pasta was good, but the sausage sauce was dry. They're not BADLY priced, but they're not even homemade (except the fettucini, I was assured); there are cheaper plates of pasta in the city that have been lovingly hand-wrought from semolina, not just imported. The herbs were on point (thyme, tarragon, rosemary), but the chili was just there for decoration.
Really, though, I'm being fussy here. Actually the crab ravioli (118rmb) were good, with a lovely sharp, buttery sauce. The properly al dente (sorry, Casa Mia) linguine with cream, sausage and truffle (128rmb) was satisfying, too.
Desserts followed the general pattern of the evening. The fairly bland tiramisu (48rmb) was salvaged by some generous dark chocolate chips; the crostata di amarene (45rmb) didn't quite live up to its description on the menu, despite it's nice crust. I enjoyed them, but not enough to order either again.
Service is pretty smooth, but the decor is faded and doesn't match the price tag (we paid 459rmb for two, including a couple of Asahis). It also irrationally annoyed me that the bathrooms were dimmer than the restaurant. I want to be able to safely check my teeth mid-date, not squint around for the soap bottle.
Palatino is not-too-expensive, not-too-bad and not-too-exciting. Their pastas, pizzas and puddings generally meet expectations. You won't get any nasty surprises here, but there won't be any amazing ones either.
There was a big sign outside Hitachino Mansion on Saturday night, advertising an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet for 298rmb. It seemed ambitious to plan a buffet considering that we were two of about six people in the entire four-storey establishment that evening. It's probably because they get some very mixed reviews online - from four and a half Dianping stars to an ignominious 68% on BonApp.
Beers are, as expected, a strength - in every sense. A glorious espresso stout is smoother than glass and, at 7%, stronger than your dad. This appears to be a common theme: the weakest is around 5%, making prolonged drinking bouts inadvisable. They're slightly pricey but, if you ask nicely, they'll give you Happy Hour prices all night (34rmb for a 500ml beer or a stein of flat highball).
Food is izakaya-style, or teppanyaki-style, or whatever-you-want-just-please-eat-here-style. They'll do you sushi, shabu shabu or an 88rmb wagyu burger. Anything even tenuously Japanese. Despite the mixed reviews, though, it's all decent to good.
We ordered a brace of skewers: chicken (good), chicken skin (bland), pork belly (fine), sweetcorn and cheese (unexpectedly good). The grilled mackerel and 'Japanese-style avocado salad' both met our expectations with almost virtuosic adequacy. The rice cakes (dense, barely chewable) and the sesame tofu (good tofu drowned in Kewpie sesame dressing - lazy and ubiquitous and slightly cloying) fell short. In total, we paid 558rmb for two people - pricey for the standard but, to be fair, we did get pretty drunk.
It's a shame that Hitachino isn't more popular, because the beers and food are both decent. There are just so many other good Japanese places in the city. This is one of the few with really good craft beer alongside, though, and the service is quick because the crowd is never big enough to keep the servers busy.
I barely noticed Daliah transitioning into Jin Hua, and I practically live next door. In my defence, though, nothing has changed except the menu. They still have Daliah-branded comedy napkins, swings for seats, and a slide between floors. Fans of novelty dining experiences: you can still get your fix here.
The menu has been slowly expanding since their opening, and there’s some really good stuff here – if you’re the type of person who digs cocktails named after menstruation (up top for taboo-busting!), anyway. The branding is bold. The drinks are loud. The atmosphere is… getting there.
We ordered a ridiculous array of food, although some of the menu wasn’t available. Highly rated: a mint salad with fermented beans that I still occasionally think fondly about, three days later (28rmb); the stir fried chicken and crispy-chewy rice cakes (68rmb); the mixed mushrooms in an umami glaze (68rmb). Good but forgettable: crispy, deep-fried red beans with chillies (28rmb); mildly-spiced “street fries” (25rmb); the half BBQ chicken with lemongrass and a dry chilli dip (58rmb).
The reason this place only gets a three, though, is its competition. Lotus Eatery also serves Yunnan food. It’s less heavily-branded but it’s cheaper and, vitally, it does signature dishes much better. Enter Jin Hua’s fried goat’s cheese (36rmb). Although I enjoyed the fragrant rose jam, it just didn’t match up to Lotus’. I’d same the same for the mashed potatoes (28rmb) and the fried lotus roots (32rmb).
There are some desserts on offer, too. We tried the coconut bubble drink with fried bread (35rmb), which was a refreshing and satisfying end to the meal. In all, we paid 812rmb for four people, including drinks.
Jin Hua is a vibrant space with decent food and quirky drinks. It feels like you’re paying a little over the odds for the branding, though. It isn’t Lotus Eatery-level, but it’s a good option in the Jing’an area.
“It’s a classic osteria”, my Italian friend said. The waiter had just talked us through our options for the evening. There’s no menu at Casa Mia; a limited selection is verbally offered. This would be logical if the dishes changed regularly, but my friend has ordered the same porcini tagliatelle and tiramisu three weeks in a row. (It says a lot that he’s visited three weeks in a row, though.)
It’s an osteria in set-up, too. Everything feels unofficial, from the hidden, unmarked entrance to the mismatched furniture. It’s like the owners decided to start flogging homemade pasta out of the Donghu Hotel’s storage shed.
The food quality is as haphazard as everything else. The smokey and tender octopus appetiser (98rmb) was one of the only octopi I’ve ever really enjoyed eating, and the burrata (with superfluous prosciutto; 178rmb), was actually burrata instead of just sliced mozzarella.
Next: the pasta (from 88 to 98rmb). The flavours are good, and I’d recommend the lasagne, but it all felt frustratingly limp. Our table also ordered three veals (alla Milanese; 260rmb), but we were told that we could only have one. They gave us several different reasons for this, none of which seemed logical. One friend switched to fish instead (140rmb for a grilled fillet) and the other gave up hope of a main.
Dessert was inoffensive: my panna cotta was topped with some lovely poached cherries, but was disappointingly un-vanilla-y. There were some other options too: a chocolate affogato, for example, and a ubiquitous tiramisu (all priced around 48rmb). For four people, with a bottle of wine, we paid 1752rmb.
There’s something charming about Casa Mia. It’s worth a visit or two, and it’d make a lovely local if you live in the area. You won’t have an orderly evening, but there’s character in the chaos.
If Vegetarian Lifestyle opened in the UK, it would be the toast of TripAdvisor. Searching #vegan, #plantbased or #seitan (all hail) on Instagram, you’d inevitably come across shots of their satay skewers or fried “fish”. If anyone’s looking for a good international franchising opportunity…
Entering the Gubei branch is like walking into a very repetitive IKEA showroom: pale, Nordic wood and hempy fabric. It’s all very zen. The service is as efficient and minimalist as the decorative aesthetic.
There’s a picture menu with English and Chinese descriptions, which makes things easier considering the vast selection on offer. We went for a range of mock meats and meaty veggies, but there are plenty of fresher-looking options. Good drink options, too.
We were given some little pickled vegetables, roasted beans and orange slices before our orders started arriving. I’d recommend almost all of what we ate: the deep fried mushroom shashliks (60rmb) were the first to arrive, and they didn’t last long. Fragrant, spicy and addictive. We also loved the stir-fried rice cakes with truffle sauce (68rmb), even though they were very restrained with the actual truffle. The dumplings with chili oil (25rmb) were satisfying, as were the deep-fried vegetarian chicken shashliks with satay sauce (60rmb). I wouldn’t rush to re-order the vegetarian chicken with three cups of sauce (36rmb), but it certainly wasn’t bad. In total, we paid 249rmb for all of the food mentioned above.
Vegetarian Lifestyle is adept and reliable. They serve some of the best vegetarian “meat” in the city, and their mushrooms are magic. For good-value, well-balanced food, it’s a winner.
Before I visited, a friend told me I “must” order the avocado and cucumber shake at Charlie’s. Of all the suggestions. I’ll order a small salad, too, while I’m at it, I messaged back. Eye roll emoji. Crying laughing emoji.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter which smoothie you order at Charlie’s. They all taste of vanilla. That’s no bad thing – the aforementioned avocumberganza (35rmb) is absolutely dreamy and refreshing. I can also confirm that the blueberry smoothie and the vanilla smoothie are vanilla-flavoured. Probably all of the others are, too. I’ll have to check.
The food hits the same standard. The brioche buns are an industrial-level Paul Hollywood Good Bake. Burgers are well-stacked; there’s a fried chicken (35rmb) and a veggie (avo, egg and cheese, also 35rmb) option, plus some fishy things; they have hot dogs too. Importantly, it all tastes exactly how you want it to taste.
The sides are another source of delight: you can get a little pot of chilli (salty but tasty), fries (sweet potato, cheese-topped, any way you like) or chicken tenders (flecked with crispy sesame) for 20-35rmb.
Issues? The ranch dressing is a weakness, the sauce selection in general is limited (someone buy them some BBQ), and there isn’t much atmosphere upstairs, especially when they leave all of the windows open in February. The placid resident cat makes up for these, though, and the prices are friendly enough to allow you to invest in your own sauces.
If you haven’t been yet, give yourself a low-budget treat night and get down there. The shakes are addictive, if homogeneous; the food is well-done, if simple; the price point is on point. I can see why the cat sticks around.
Tequila Loca is dressed for a party – dangling sombreros, neon skulls, a carnival colour palette. Surely there must be a party vibe there too, sometimes. We visited for a Saturday lunch, though, and it was dead to the extent that I nearly knocked another star off.
It’s a shame, because Tequila Loca’s Happy Hour is worth getting in for. Their half price offer means you can get a pretty great frozen margarita for 25rmb; there’s beer on offer as well. You’d be missing out if you only went there to drink, though.
The guacamole is hand-pulverised at the table, which means that you can decide your own levels of limey sharpness, onion and cilantro (if any). It comes with tortilla chips and a range of topping options, it’s priced from 70 to 90rmb (topping dependent), and it’s really satisfying. Even if you’re just drinking, it makes a godly bar snack, along with a portion of crunchy, salted onion threads.
We got some tacos, too, which were hit-and-miss. Gimmick or no gimmick, the tequila-battered sea bass is a little bundle of fun and happiness. The lamb is also good, but there’s only a single, half-hearted mushroom option if you’re avoiding meat. The chorizo was a little strange, too – there’s a melee of braised veg at the bottom that’s much more Chinese than Mexican in flavour. I also wanted much more heat. Heavier on the jalapenos please, TL. In total, our food and drinks for two cost around 220rmb.
Tequila Loca is ideal for early evening drinks and casual grazing. The snacks are the perfect accompaniment to your cut-price cerveza, and the tacos aren’t bad either. It won’t blow your mind, but you’ll probably leave satisfied.
Back in September, I fell for some classic clickbait and read about Mercato’s 888rmb (plus service charge – of course there’s a service charge) caviar pizza. I scoffed. In the same article, though, I read about their enduringly popular truffle, three cheese and farm egg pizza, which I desperately wanted to scoff. Six months later, I finally made it. It was worth the wait.
Mercato offers tasting menus from 498rmb. Don’t bother; they’re just truffle pizzas with unnecessary padding. They also serve a predictable range of starters, pastas, mains and desserts, all of which are competent. The Iberico ham (228 / 448rmb), like that of every other Bund joint with tenuous Mediterranean credentials, was delicious but overpriced. The pasta and meatballs (128 / 158rmb) were well-cooked, if lacking in flavour. More memorably, the sharp, lemony Veal Milanese (248rmb) sauce cut well through the pompous pair of breaded fillets.
That’s not why anyone goes to Mercato, though. The flaming pizza oven, visible from almost every seat in the room, is in constant service. Our table of five ordered two truffle pizzas (218rmb each), as well as one with sausage, short rib, prosciutto, mortadella, and every other possible preparation of pig (178rmb). The former is worth the price and the amateurish service. A perfectly-runny egg oozes into the cheeses; with the earthy, charred base, it’s a decadent combination. The pork-feast was also good, but everyone just wanted more truffle.
We also ordered a couple of desserts: ricotta doughnuts and the tartufo (both 72rmb). Each had a good balance of sweet and sour and was technically sound, but they were an anti-climax after the pizza. For five varying appetites, with drinks, we paid 2527rmb.
Mercato isn’t cheap, but there’s at least one dish here worth shelling out for. Happily, it also happens to be meat-free. To save time, money and calories, just order a truffle pizza and a glass of anything – then find somewhere else for dessert.
Fu He Hui is quiet. Too quiet. The background tinkling of erhu and guzheng music compels whispered conversations and gentle chewing. I wouldn’t advise bringing your DSLR; the shutter would shatter the ambience.
It’s all part of the subtle beauty of the place, of course, but I found it hard to fully relax amid the hardwood and hessian uniforms. There’s a certain piety there that makes you want to straighten your posture and suck your stomach in.
There are normally three different tasting menus, priced incrementally up to 880rmb. The 880 menu normally features the choicest seasonal ingredients, and it included an enticing truffle xiaolongbao, so we chose that one. Alcohol is available, and there’s also a tea pairing (280rmb).
The menu opened with a selection of “small delicacies” – brittle, dainty crackers, deep fried chestnut nuggets, and some fascinating beetroot, berry and chickpea cylinders. The next two courses were equally delicate: a fresh and crunchy bowl of bamboo shoot garnished with ice plant, and a well-balanced mushroom tea.
And then things got heavier – first in size, and then in flavour. When the pumpkin with mashed rice and spices arrived, I was surprised at how simple the flavours were; very little “spice” was discernible. The snow fungus’ meaty heft added more weight to the menu before our favourite run of courses arrived: mui choy, a deliciously satisfying but unphotogenic heap of shaved hazelnuts, braised beancurd and potato emulsion; kou san si, with its pungent dried tofu and teapot of broth; and the maddeningly tiny but delicious smoked porcini with a dreamy white sesame gel.
Even then, there were three more courses: the aforementioned XLB (slightly underwhelming), a charming passionfruit and custard dessert, and a selection of little treats to finish. This included a panna cotta “White Rabbit” candy, of which I’d have loved a whole bag to take home. Please deliver, FHH.
In total, we paid 2248rmb for two people (tasting menus, one bottle of wine, water). Unless you’re a vegetarian millionaire, it’s one to save for special occasions. It’s some of the most interesting, fresh and smart cooking I’ve come across. We were surprised by the mild first few courses, but there’s method in the blandness; by the end, it all made perfect sense.
Walking into the Huaihai branch of Dongbei Four Seasons is akin to entering a Family Mart in terms of atmosphere and warmth, but who really cares? You haven’t come for the hospitality or the decor. If you’ve read even a single word about this place, it was probably either “chicken” or “dumplings”. Get stuck into studying the handy picture menu and you won’t even register your depressingly tiled, uncomfortable and luminescent environs.
Straight to it, then: the whole braised and fried chicken (香酥手撕鸡) is banging. Crispy skin, tender meat, and the whole thing seasoned to perfection. It’s also a total steal at under 40rmb. The dumplings (we ordered a big plate of the 牛肉馅水饺) also met the high expectations I’d cemented through listening to friends and reading reviews. Again, they’re full of flavour and good value.
I’m fully aware that most people go to Dongbei SiJi for the meat options, but it would be a loss to overlook the veggies. Our 地三鲜 (fried potato, aubergine, pepper, magic sauce) was lovely, hearty stuff. As a refreshing counterpoint, the cucumber and enoki salad with chilli (金针菇拌黄瓜) worked well too. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have any tofu, but the other dishes more than made up for it.
There’s a good range of drinks on offer (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and boiled lemon water as standard. We didn’t drink, so we paid 105rmb in total for everything mentioned above.
For the flavours and portions, it’s fantastic value. The chicken is obviously excellent, and the veggie dishes are worth your time as well. Just don’t expect Ritz-level interiors.
Veg Inn is cute. It’s important to note this from the outset. It certainly isn’t stylish, but it’s completely adorable. From the tiny, homely entrance to the bookshelves and the layout (three little lamp-lit rooms), it’s like eating in your imaginary Buddhist Shanghai gran’s house.
This is also evident from the menu, which appears to be handwritten on thick, brown paper. A couple of online reviews mention that the handwriting can be difficult to read, but illegibility (or a lack of hanzi literacy) shouldn’t stop you from visiting – just load up the Dianping page and point at the pictures of the things you want.
Veg Inn specialises in mock meat dishes. We tried a braised “pork belly” dish (which, in my head, I’m calling hong shao faux) and some fried “beef” (or possibly “pork” again – hard to be sure) with peppers and black beans. The latter was decent. The former was very strange, with the texture of bouncy spam and a sauce that tasted uncannily like Royster’s T-Bone Steak crisps.
They do a mean potato dish, though, which is heavy on the cumin; it was very dry, but satisfyingly so. We also tried a fried beancurd roll with mushrooms – a slow grower – and some forgettable fried rice.
I really wanted to like the food more, and I’d be tempted to go back and try a few other things. It was pretty good value, too: for two people (without alcohol, because they don’t serve any), our bill came to around 180rmb.
Go for the mushroom roll, the potatoes and the chance to experiment with some mock meats. Go for the lovely, cosy atmosphere and the friendly staff. The food won’t blow your mind, but you’ll probably have a very nice evening anyway.
Visiting Funk & Kale in the evening was a mistake.
The designers appear to have taken self-consciously cool-aspiring workplaces as their aesthetic. There’s a sadly pristine pool table at the mall-side entrance, for example. The “artwork” is a good marker, too: black and white photos of grinning urbanites with colourful photoshopped giant fruits. It’s the design equivalent of your boss buying a round of half shandies. “Hey guys”, it says. “Let’s hang out.”
The food is exactly what you’d expect from the Wagas group: protein-topped bowls and small plates of carbs, with some bright veggies thrown in for the ‘gram. We ordered the aubergine gnocchi and a ramen bowl with a quirky but forgettable name. The former was surprisingly good, with a rich tomato sauce but absolutely no frills. The latter was less so: the broth was oddly sweet, and the beef was unremarkable. There’s a brunch menu, too, if you really can’t find anywhere better, and some cakes at the bar.
Funk & Kale also offer a selection of drinks, from coffees to cocktails to a little selection of craft beers (“Hey guys”). It was the evening, so I tried a cocktail; the lemon and raspberry flavours were fresh, but it was about as alcoholic as a wheatgrass juice. Less than decadent.
In total, we paid 252rmb for the abovementioned food and cocktail, plus a beer. Not terrible. Not amazing.
If you work in the area, give it a go. Try to relax on the slightly awkward furniture. Play a very quiet game of pool. Order the gnocchi. Then check your watch, say “right, well then, I suppose I’d better”, and escape to somewhere more relaxing.
There are a couple of little Japanese places on Guyang Lu: you can go to the informal, izakaya-style place to binge on takoyaki and beer, or you can gamble on the mystery option, like we did. It’s called “Kong-Hai”, and it promises “new Japanese style cooking”. Well then.
Little warning for pre-HSK4 pals: they have neither an English menu, nor a picture menu. This is a good thing if you don’t read Chinese, mostly because you get to just gamble and point at things. The sections are labelled in English, so you can still get a variety of dishes; you just won’t know exactly what they are until they arrive. It’s also good because it will probably mean that the friendly laoban will come over to help you with the menu. He’s great, and he makes good recommendations!
The food was all good, particularly the sashimi. We had tuna (probably) and some beautifully creamy shrimp. Prices range from 48rmb to 188rmb (presumably for gold-leaf-encrusted caviar). We also took a punt on the vegetable section; their spinach salad (topped with a poached egg and shaved cheese) was pretty good, but not particularly Japanese. Similarly European in flavour was a salmon and shellfish dish in a white wine sauce. This was highly recommended by our new restauranteur friend.
We had some sake, too; in total we spent around 350rmb for two. A little pricey for what we were served, but the food was of a pretty good quality and the boss man was nice. If you’re in the area, it’s probably worth a look in.
Vedas is only the second Indian place I’ve visited in Shanghai, but I can safely say that their offering is below average. It’s in that 83 Changshu Lu complex – on the same floor as Xibo, which offers stiff dinner competition, and surrounded by other very worthy options. Unfortunately, there are a few good reasons why it was basically empty when we visited.
Look, they have some dishes that are pretty good. It’s hard to mess up a samosa (they didn’t!), and the tandoori lamb chops (188rmb) sizzled impressively. I have no quarrel with the rogan josh (88rmb), and the baingan bharta (68rmb) has a lovely texture (although the smokey flavour promised by the menu was lacking).
There were some real let-downs, though. The butter chicken (78rmb) tasted suspiciously like Heinz’s classic tomato soup; the dal makhani (78rmb) lacked that traditional smokey depth; the poppadums and naans were oddly flat and dry. The korma (78rmb) was fine but, again, lacked interest.
Annoyingly, everything was either over-seasoned (the dal was saltier than my neighbours in the morning) or under-seasoned (gol gappa chaat, I’m looking at you). The curries were very light on actual meat. Also, at a brazen 18rmb, the mango chutney we ordered was a very strange interpretation of the dish – more like a thick mango lassi than a sharp and sticky chutney.
It’s pricier than its competitors, and the food doesn’t match up. There’s not much atmosphere in their single, cavernous, undivided room, either. Not a terrible choice if you’re craving Indian on Changshu, but there are much better options elsewhere in the city.
I’m aware that giving a four star review to a neighbourhood sushi bar is a bold move, but it’s a justifiable one. Tokyo House is popular for several very good reasons. It’s even worth the wait in the cramped, crowded porch area.
Firstly, the food is dependable. It isn’t the pinnacle of fine Japanese cuisine, but it doesn’t pretend to be. Go for a sashimi platter with fresh salmon and white tuna (ours was 99rmb); sample the rich cubes of marinated beef tongue (46rmb); indulge in some foie gras sushi (18rmb/piece). It’s all going to be good. They have some more unusual options, too – I really enjoyed the beancurd cheese (19rmb), which I haven’t noticed in other places.
Secondly, the prices are unbeatable for this quality. All of the dishes mentioned above, as well as a seaweed salad (15rmb) and a cheese and mushroom platter (29rmb), came to 244rmb in total. There are endless and ready refills of tea, too, and the set menus are outstanding value.
Thirdly, the restaurant itself makes me feel inexplicably calm. It must be the combination of the open kitchen, the professional service and the idiosyncratic playlist. As mentioned above, the queuing isn’t the most fun you can have over a lunchtime, but you’ll forget about the wait as soon as you’re seated.
In all, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s well-made food at a very tempting price. Great for a regular, local lunch haunt.
If you’re looking for a dinner on the Bund, you probably have a few key criteria in mind. Atto Primo will almost certainly tick your boxes: it has an expansive and expensive wine list, prime prosciutto sold in 10g increments (minimum order 40g, though, to keep the peasants out), and a leather-bound menu packed with reassuring Italian classics.
We visited on a Saturday as a group of seven and ordered a good range of dishes. The entree selection was mixed. The focaccia carbonara and caprese salad were highlights, although the former was definitely not a focaccia – more of a pizzetta. The aforementioned prosciutto was also pristine – although I’d be shocked if it wasn’t, at 192rmb for a few translucent shavings. The insalata di mare, bruschetta and minestrone were firmly in Camp Average, and the burrata (148rmb) was a disappointment. Its accompanying roasted aubergine was oily and flavourless; even the cheese itself didn’t sing. Really – it’s hard to mess up burrata.
The only main course that I can recommend is the beef cheek (228rmb) – beautifully tender and rich, but accompanied by a soulless disc of polenta. The rest of the mains were forgettable. If I hadn’t taken a picture of the receipt, I wouldn’t have been able to name them. Veal Milanese (a preposterous 328rmb) and saltimbocca were both tasty, corner-cafe-level plates. Pastas and risottos (we tried the agnoletti monferrini, ziti al sugo di costine di maiale, and a mushroom risotto) were average, bordering on dry. My baked sardine dish with fennel (148rmb) lacked punch and depth. Even the desserts were unsatisfying: the tiramisu (68rmb) had a good soaking of strong espresso... to the point that the bottom of the bowl was swimming in it.
There was nothing offensively wrong with the food at Atto Primo. For these prices, though (we paid around 520rmb each for food, excluding drinks), we expected to be blown away. The service was patchy, too: my wine was taken before I’d finished, for example, and one of the mains was brought with the entrees. For an impressive Bund dinner at the same sort of price point, I’d always choose Mr & Mrs Bund instead.
The Nest is full of little challenges to liven up your visit. Choosing between all of the food and cocktail options is one – there’s a really well-varied menu, and I wanted to eat everything. Finding the toilets is another challenge. Don’t leave it too late to start your search; you don’t want to be caught short while vainly pushing against brushed metal walls, hoping one of them will open. It’s a very stylish interior, but it’s far from practical.
I was surprised by how quiet The Nest was when we visited for brunch one Sunday. It’s a large, top-floor room surrounded with a bright balcony area, and most tables were empty. There was still a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, but I don’t know why it isn’t more popular. Perhaps there’s just too much brunch competition.
We ordered a range of dishes from their set brunch menu (198rmb for any three dishes, plus a welcome drink). My surprise favourite was the heirloom tomato and burrata dish, complete with a salted tomato granita. Although I have a slight issue with the burrata label (it was more like a whipped goat’s cheese, with none of the fun parcel-opening experience you’d expect with a real burrata), it was a genuinely interesting and well-executed dish. I’d also recommend any/all of the pancakes: the Lithuanian potato for a hearty and filling option, the smoked salmon blini for elegance, or the buckwheat for a healthy carb fix.
Service was absolutely impeccable. At one point, a very minor mistake was made with our order (a dish was given to the wrong person), so we were given the same dish again plus an extra selection of desserts. Everything was prompt and professional. The “Corny Dessert” was a little disappointing and bland, but the sweet options were mostly great – particularly the “Dessert for a Queen”. The welcome drink (a riff on an espresso martini) was also lovely.
Overall, The Nest is a very strong all-rounder. Whether you need a venue for a date, a dinner party or a nice cocktail, you’re guaranteed good service and flavours for a very fair price. Let's all start going regularly so that the atmosphere picks up, too.
Aside from the food, one aspect that can make or break a restaurant for me is the lighting. It isn't so important for a meal with friends or a solo dinner, but it can have a serious impact on a date. It's hard to flirt under strip-lighting; everyone looks best in candle-light.
Considering this criterion, Scarpetta is the perfect date spot. Its softly-lit interior, complete with nebulous flickering candles, is designed for romance - to the extent that the people who visit for birthday parties or to tap away on their laptops seem incongruous. I don't even know why they have large tables. Scarpetta is for couples.
We ordered a range of things to share, and we all ate far too much. To start: the roasted eggplant, a mushroom and walnut soup, venison carpaccio, fried calamari and a charcuterie board. This was mostly good (particularly the soup), with a few slightly annoying shortcomings. The calamari, for example, was a pile of deep fried vegetables with a very occasional baby octopus. I didn't have a single piece of calamari. It came with a very good aioli, though, to be fair.
We didn't try the mains, focusing instead on pasta and pizza options. Scarpetta's famous bone marrow dish was... good? I wouldn't say it was worth travelling more than a few metro stops for, but it's predictably rich and satisfying. I also enjoyed the fennel sausage pasta, the 'nduja pizza and the lobster linguine, although my friends weren't convinced by the flavour balance and spiciness of the meat dishes.
We didn't have dessert for several reasons: we were slightly underwhelmed by the mains, we'd filled up on carbs, and my friend had brought a dessert wine anyway (the management gamely allow you to BYOB, but only if you buy a bottle of theirs first). They looked good, though - as neatly presented as the other courses we tried.
In total, we paid just over 500rmb each for the meal. This is comparable to a number of other higher-end places in the city, but it seemed excessive considering we only bought one bottle of wine. Scarpetta is a good date option, doubtless, but only if you don't mind splashing out for Italian classics that don't quite sing.
We visited for brunch on a bright, clear Sunday, with postcard-perfect skyline views from the terrace. Decor is muted-stylish, founded on a dusky teal and gold palette (in case you wanted to dress accordingly). Elegant.
We each had a three course brunch at 328rmb, which included a welcome drink and unlimited tea and coffee. The seasonal mulled wine and mimosa (with a mango twist) arrived promptly in M's signature glassware, followed by breads, butter and a lovely little olive tapenade (all complementary). Next, our entrees: the salmon rosti (disappointingly bland and a little greasy) and a satisfyingly rich terrine. The latter was served with delicate little Melba toasts, too, and well garnished with pickles.
This 'one good, one average' trend continued through the other two courses. My brunch pal ordered the roast turkey dinner, which was competent but unspectacular. My vegan roasted cauliflower and tahini dish, topped with a gorgeous melee of nuts, olives and pomegranate, is one of the best things I've eaten in this city. It's so good to see some of Shanghai's finest offering vegan options, particularly when they're so damn good.
The vegan dessert (pear tart with cinnamon ice cream) was less impressive: good pastry and a nice, almondy flavour, but a lacklustre ice cream and no spark. The fruit pavlova is worth your time, though: fun, fruity and photogenic.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend M on the Bund. I know it isn't perfect, but there's still some great cooking happening here. The service is impeccable, the views are Instagrammable, and the food - although not mind-blowing - is undeniably good. Take a date here for a relaxed but genteel brunch, and dress sharp.
There are many different types of first date. There’s the casual drink (safe, but half-hearted). There’s the elegant evening meal (more impressive, but expectation-heavy). There’s the date I went on as a teenager to Nando’s, where I cried real chilli tears because I boldly ordered the ‘extra hot’.
I want to make the case for a brunch date, though. Example venue: Brut Eatery.
Reason 1: High Chill Level
There’s a very casual vibe at Brut. I know first dates are often about making a good first impression, but you’ll look very incongruous here if you turn up in heels or a suit jacket. Kick it in trainers! Sashay over in your sweatpants! Easiest date prep ever.
Reason 2: Myriad Food Options
At Brut, you can order from the whole menu during weekend daytimes. Obviously classic brunch dishes are available (a version of a Full English; waffles; pancakes; etc) but there are also lighter or heavier options, to suit your preference. We enjoyed a healthy but satisfying quinoa-based salad bowl, the red tartine (with smoked salmon), the Cali Breakfast and the Brut Breakfast. With coffees and juices, it came to around 400rmb for four, which is pretty good. They also have a great range of cakes if you’re looking to extend the meal. If it’s not going well, though, you don’t even have to wait around awkwardly for the bill – you pay at the counter beforehand.
Reason 3: Conversational Kitchenware
Brut Eatery is part of the Shanghai Brut empire, which also includes a homewares store. They sell their adorable face mugs in the café, but there’s a much bigger range (including the signature Brut chairs) down on Anfu Lu. If you’re looking for an excuse to keep talking, it’s a nice stroll south.
There were some less impressive points about Brut: the toilet, for example, is one of the worst I’ve seen in a Western-style café. Dingy, dirty, and constantly engaged. There was also a billing problem, in that the waitress charged me TEN TIMES the bill when I paid on WeChat. It’s lucky that I checked – the mistake wasn’t picked up until I lazily scrolled through my transactions later. Pay with caution. The food arrived very sporadically, as well – one dish, then almost everything else a few minutes later, then a half hour wait for the last plate.
Overall, though, it’s a decent neighbourhood eatery with a very calm vibe.
The Yanping / Wuding area in Jing’an is packed with bars and restaurants, most of which cater to the growing expat population in the area. There are myriad options from different cultures here: juicy American burgers, refined Nordic cuisine, fresh sushi. Considering these options, I struggle to understand why Bites X Brews on Fire is always so rammed.
Look – it’s not bad. The service is probably the best thing about the place; one of the servers in particular has a great rapport with the customers. Apart from her friendly banter, though, there’s very little that stands out here. It also really depends on when you visit – the last time I went, we struggled to get served at all.
I’ve visited a couple of times: once for a light salad and drinks, and once for brunch. Both times, I was underwhelmed by the food. This weekend, for example, I had a veggie panini: brie, courgette, pea shoots, green goddess dressing. My friend ordered the pulled pork bagel. They were both served together in an awkward little wooden truckle, with only one set of cutlery. When I ordered a salad last time, it arrived ensconced in a hollowed tree stump. Call the @wewantplates police.
The food was distinctly okay. The panini and salad both lacked punch, although the bagel was pretty good. Drinks are also fine: very normal lattes, a nicely sharp homemade lemonade, and a nearly-authentic hot toddy. They also have some good happy hour deals.
It’s all just a bit messy, though. The menus are falling apart. The tables are badly organised and crowded. The deals aren’t clearly advertised.
I think that its success perhaps lies in the fact that it covers a lot of bases. Whether you’re looking for lunch or dinner, heavy or light, coffee or booze, you’re covered. It’s a real jack-of-all-trades… which leads to an obvious criticism about mastery, and a very average three-star review.
Angelina opened its first Shanghai branch more than 100 years since its establishment in Paris. A lot has changed since 1903. Now, for example, it’s possible to create pastries in Paris, deep-freeze them and fly them over to Shanghai. It’s also perfectly possible to order additional coffee, milk or hot chocolate to be delivered within the hour if you run out. The management at Angelina have apparently grasped one of these concepts, but not the other.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon, anticipating Angelina’s hyped hot chocolate. We ordered a pedestrian drinks selection: coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and milkshake, plus a ubiquitous pastry. This shouldn’t have been difficult for a cafe specialising in coffee, hot chocolate, tea, milkshake and pastry.
Angelina had not only run out of hot chocolate. They had also run out of the necessary ingredients to make lattes and mochas. Iced lattes were possible (implying a lazy pre-mix rather than actual espresso and milk), but they only had one glass left, so we were given plastic cups for all of the other drinks. They’d also run out of chinaware, so the hot water they offered instead of a mocha (decadent) came in a lidless and soulless cardboard take-out cup.
They did manage to serve us a banana milkshake (in a plastic cup more suited to a festival than a fancy French patisserie) and a very neat little cake: L’Africain. Unfortunately, these did not improve our impressions of the place. The cake was still frozen in the middle, and was so hard that we had to saw into it with a blunt pastry knife – less than elegant. The flavour was distinctly okay, and the milkshake was watery and bland.
We ended up paying 339rmb for some flavourless “cocoa” tea, a couple of average iced lattes, two waters at varying temperatures, a banana-less milkshake and a thoroughly disappointing cake. Angelina charge ridiculous prices for lacklustre service, flavourless drinks and all the tiled atmosphere of a metro station platform. There are plenty of better places to get your hot chocolate fix in Shanghai.
Shake is largely well-known for two things: its live music and its cocktail menu. The (frustratingly) small dance floor is always (frustratingly) crowded, but the house band and/or special guests always make up for it. Shake’s food offering, though, is passed over by most patrons. To me, it seemed a superfluous addition to a very competent bar. I gamely gave it a go, though, for the good of the SmSh readers.
The menu is a little confused, in every sense. There are myriad small plates and sides (tautological) on offer, with no real cohesion. The food is broadly Asian-influenced: roasted chicken in a sticky, kaffir-lime-infused sauce; crispy wings with a tang of fish sauce and chilli; a steamed soybean meat pie on rice, topped with a poached egg; lightly-seared tuna tataki. There’s a South American selection, too: pulled pork crispy tacos, for example, and a light, ceviche-like salad. (I refuse to actually call it a ceviche because it wasn’t half limey enough.) “Disco” fries come loaded with various meaty toppings, including a teriyaki tongue option.
Really - it almost all tasted good (with the possible exception of the rather pungent steamed soybean meat pie, which divided the group). The crispy pork tacos were a highlight and, although some of my friends weren’t so enchanted, I thought the wings were great. The fish seemed a little under-seasoned, but that’s probably only because it was casually served alongside heavy red meats in heavy red sauces.
My main issue here is that it’s all quite unbalanced. If you’re going to serve a menu of small plates for pre-dance mixing and matching, they should all complement each other. At Shake, the flavours were a little too dissonant. Teriyaki beef tongue fries thudding down next to a light and subtle tuna tataki? Not my kind of party. Also, the beers start at 60rmb and you can’t find many drinks under 80 kuai, which pulls up the price considerably.
I’d recommend the disco fries or the wings for a little preshow bite. I wouldn’t visit again for dinner, though.
Last week, I was trying to define the word “devoted” to my class of 11-year-olds. “Can you give us an example?”, one boy asked.
“Sure”, I said, and then – instinctively, without thinking – “I’m devoted to pizza.”
I am, though. I’ve tried “proper” pizza in various Italian towns and cities; I’ve experimented with making different bases at home; I’ve had takeaways in every style, from sourdough to stuffed crust. Devoted.
Sofia, deservingly, has a good reputation in Shanghai. The little Jing’an branch is dangerously close to my apartment. After a few visits, I feel well-qualified to recommend it. It won’t make anyone’s deep pan dreams come true, but if you’re a fan of thin-crust, char-edged pizzas, it’s a really good option.
I visited most recently on a Sunday night, after a long and boozy weekend away. We ordered one Hawaiian (sorry not sorry, pineapple haters), one veggie pizza and some hummus, plus some mint tea to make it all feel more wholesome.
The pizzas were just right: plenty of good toppings, gooey cheese, charred and bubbling in all the right places. They’re a really good size for a single portion as well, but you can always take any leftovers home. The hummus was also really good: plenty of olive oil to add a light richness. It also tasted like they’d used actual tahini – no corner-cutting with Chinese-style toasted sesame paste. The falafel salad, baba ghanoush (available as part of a mixed starter, which is well worth your time) and kebabs are also strong options.
Sure, it isn’t perfect. They don’t have a toilet (you have to go next door), and there’s nothing exciting or ground-breaking here. For a little local pizza spot, though, it’s perfect. Friendly staff, chilled-out atmosphere, good playlist, quick service, fridge full of beer and – vitally – good food.
We visited Co. Cheese Melt’s southerly concession (at The Hop Project on Dagu Lu) on a stunning, autumnal Sunday afternoon. I’d been to spin class that morning and I felt like the world of food was open to me. When you’ve spent 45 minutes in a dark room, sweating out half of your total body weight in front of an instructor who carries more muscle mass than the entire male cast of Love Island, you can eat whatever you damn well want to. That’s the rule.
When my friend suggested a grilled cheese, it was a hard yes from me. All it took was a single picture of a tuna melt and I was sold. We got the bus down to Dagu Lu, took a table outside, and perused the endlessly tempting menu. I actually used a random number generator to select my sandwich because they all sounded so great.
I ended up ordering a full-English-breakfast-style grilled cheese, featuring baked beans, egg, bacon and… well, cheese, obviously. My friend had a Mexican melee of avocado, refried beans and chorizo (plus the ubiquitous cheese). They were both a total delight. I’m not sure there are many greater pleasures in life than sitting in the sunshine and biting into a perfectly crispy, gooey-centred toasted cheese sandwich. The Mexican-style one was the definite favourite of the two, but both were good.
There were a couple of minor issues here. For example, we were automatically given the large sandwich without asking or being asked. I’m not complaining exactly, but it did mean that we unintentionally spent and ate more than we meant to. The price is another slightly contentious point: we paid 220rmb for two grilled cheeses, two sparkling waters and a coffee. That’s pretty high considering we didn’t even have any alcohol, but you can bring the cost down if you visit on Mondays – you get a free house beer with every sandwich. It’s also a shame that the little creek outside is so smelly. Don’t sit on the tables closest to the pavement.
Regardless, it was still a great lunch. I’d go back to try some of the other options, but I’d definitely ask for the small. I’d also take my own ketchup – despite the massive selection of hot sauces, as well as a few other condiments, they inexplicably didn’t have any of the red stuff.
In a city like Shanghai, it’s sometimes hard to prioritise. Food is everywhere, the options are endless, and there’s always someone raving about their new favourite brunch / hotpot / cocktail. I know. I get it. I’m not trying to add to the pressure with this review. I’m just saying – Lotus Eatery is the best meal I’ve had in Shanghai so far on many counts, and you should definitely make the time to visit.
Lotus Eatery (not to be confused with the Tianzifang Lotus Land, the veggie-focused Lotus, or any of the other seven million restaurants in Shanghai beginning with the same word) is on a street packed with the type of places you walk past and think “ooh, I want to try that one”. It’s a short amble through the park from Yan’an West or a slightly longer stroll from Zhongshan Park station. I’m including these details about walking as a hint. I couldn’t stop eating at Lotus Eatery. I wish I’d walked further during the day to offset the calorie guilt.
There’s a nice little fountain in the entrance, from which you ascend to a very well-laid-out room. It’s quite a big place, but it feels cosy: there are plenty of alcoves, cubbies and well-placed screens to separate groups. When I visited, there were a surprising number of groups with the same demographic: person (or couple) in their twenties, plus person (or couple) in their 50s. By the end of the meal, this made sense: Lotus Eatery is definitely the sort of place you want to bring your parents.
We ordered absolutely piles of food between four of us, and I’m so glad we did. The food arrives as soon as it’s ready. The first round – beef with cumin, okra, lotus root, runner beans – silenced the table. It takes a lot to knock the politeness out of a group of Brits and Canadians, but not a single person bothered to ask if anyone minded them finishing the last of the lotus root. We were all too busy eating.
The second round arrived. The wild mountain vegetable pancake was excellent, as was the rice cake with egg and pickled vegetable, the deep fried, sugar-coated Dali goats’ cheese and (ungghhhh…) the standout pan-fried Dali goats’ cheese.
This might seem like a lot of food for four people. It was. We still ordered another round, though, because we wanted some outstanding drinking snacks to accompany our massive pitchers of beer. Due to this, I can confirm that the sautéed beef and potato is also really great, which was not a surprise at all. We got some more runner beans, too. Somebody had finished all of the first plate without asking. (It was me.)
With the sheer volume of great food (and beer) we ordered, I expected a huge bill. For all four of us, the total only just sneaked over 500rmb. Incredible value for inimitable, uncriticisable food. The service was great, too, although nobody really noticed. I intend to use every excuse I can generate to go back again. My birthday. The long weekend. Thursday. Who cares. I need another goats’ cheese fix.
It’s not hard to find healthy vegetarian and vegan food in Shanghai. It’s just that there aren’t many restaurants which include options as a matter of course. After a few months of minor frustrations at entirely carnivorous group brunches and dinners, and far too many bowls of Jen Dow's signature veggie noodles (good but salty), a meal at Gwen’s was a happy soul food antidote.
The little cafe on Yanqing is stylish but small. There’s only really one proper table (a big one, but still) plus some stools at the bar. I liked the bar seats – they provided a great view of our food being microwaved, scooped and biodegradably-packaged.
I also liked the menu. Everything looks good: fresh and colourful cooking. I went for the biang biang tempeh rice (38rmb), which carried a satisfying garlic hit. Would recommend. Annoyingly, a few of the options were unavailable when we visited, but we also tried the New Orleans spicy tomato sauce with avocado and egg (48rmb, hearty) and the steamed bun special, which was well-packed and filling.
Service is quick and efficient, and the food was exactly the healthy hit I was looking for. I was surprised at how much microwaving was happening, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the flavour and texture of everything we ate was still good. I’ll be returning to try the drinks and the other food options, especially after a heavy food weekend.
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.
They’re really very good at brunch at Bull and Claw. At one point, searching for problems to show that I was a very discerning reviewer, I turned to the person next to me and asked if perhaps there was a bit too much bacon on his lobster benedict. Of all the ways to criticise a brunch, this is surely one of the best. It’s up there with “they’ve put an extra shot in my Bloody Mary, the scamps” and “oh no, we have a whole hour of free-flow mimosas left”.
To start with, the venue is lovely. It’s the sort of space in which your hangover gently evaporates. We sat outside under strings of bulbs, leafy branches and a clear Shanghai sky. Service was quick and efficient. All very relaxing.
The brunch menu is consistently tempting; I couldn't see an option I didn't want to eat. We went for the three-course option – a slightly misleading moniker considering that one of the “courses” is just a drink. At 188rmb, though, it’s still good value for what you get.
I ordered the Turkish menemen as a savoury option, which turned out to be a great choice. The sharp, yoghurt sauce was a particularly nice touch. The eggs were a little overcooked, but the sauce was full of flavour – plenty of richness with occasional fennel seed bursts. It was so nice to finally see a strong veggie brunch option in Shanghai that wasn't just avocado on toast, too (although they also serve their own version at B&C if that's what you fancy, because of course they do).
The bubble and squeak was also hearty and satisfying, despite the rather perplexing and incongruous sheet of fried beef on top, and the little shitake and feta fritters went down very well. When the abovementioned lobster benedict arrived (an extra 98rmb), it was a source of intense food envy around the table: muffins piled with lobster, bacon, eggs and a particularly buttery, rich hollandaise. I stand by my bacon comment above (it overpowered the lobster!), but it’s a good option if you feel like a decadent splurge.
And then the sweet courses arrived. There was a brief silence and then, from my friend with the maple and honeycomb waffles: “Jesus Christ”. It doesn’t really matter which option you order: the pancakes, waffles and French toast all looked and tasted equally good. I know that some diners will feel like they should go for the fruit bowl after their savoury dishes, but seriously – just give in to the carbs. This brunch is worth the treadmill time. I did think my French toast was slightly dry – a longer egg soak needed, maybe? – and I was surprised that the banana was raw rather than caramelised. The crunchy chocolate-peanut topping made up for this, though.
On the drinks front, I had the cucumber and apple juice, which was exactly what I’d been craving: light and refreshing. There are alcoholic options as well, though, and you can add free-flow drinks if that’s your morning vibe. The cocktails looked great.
In all, it was a very comfortable brunch. Bull and Claw is a safe bet for any occasion. Nothing mind-blowing, but more than dependable.
Yannick Alléno and his team are clearly very proud of their Shanghai Bistro. I know this because they've displayed their faces in every possible location. Yannick smiles winningly from the front page of the menu. The walls in our private room were graced not with prints of fine art or Loire landscapes, but with portraits of two of the chefs, who gaze directly into your eyes as you sip your Bordeaux. The steak tartare is quinelled by a suited assistant, right at your table. Confidence exemplified.
Combined with the high price point and Alléno's constellation of Michelin stars, this raised my expectations of the food considerably. The service was also exemplary: the sort of relaxed attentiveness that immediately puts you at ease. As a party of seven, including two teenagers, we were given our own private room. The view over the central courtyard of the Raffles complex was a lovely backdrop. Unfortunately, the hollow acoustics were not so lovely. The playlist was good (Maggie Rogers, Christine and the Queens) but we barely heard it over the echoes of our own conversation.
Auxiliary details are pretty immaterial compared to the food, though. So: the menu. It’s a good size, but there are some issues. For example, I try to eat vegan or vegetarian as much as possible. I'm terrible at sticking to it beyond my own kitchen, but I do try, honestly. There wasn’t a single vegan or vegetarian option on the main course menu. Not even a lone-ranging ratatouille. If you’re swerving meat and fish, you’re stuck with a couple of entrée options or a selection of sides. This is pretty poor.
To start, we shared a few plates. There are some standout dishes here. The brie stuffed with black truffle and mascarpone (130rmb) is one of the best cheeses I've had: a decadent, oozing wedge in dramatic monochrome. We also ordered a charcuterie platter (168rmb) with some excellent features: a light terrine, beautifully cured meats and some cute little sweet-pickled vegetables. There were several underwhelming elements, though. The escargot (78rmb) were served à la Masterchef (roughly translated as “with superfluous and tasteless foam”) and lacked the classic, garlicky punch. The shrimps with homemade mayonnaise (78rmb) were also disappointing. I assume that the lack of seasoning was intended to allow the shrimps to shine, but the result was a light but bland, hotel-restaurant-level entrée.
The mains were similarly hit-and-miss. I ordered the scallop, seafood and caviar with champagne sabayon and lobster pilaf rice (198rmb). The sabayon was satisfyingly buttery and rich, surrounding a perfectly tender scallop. Great cooking. The rice, however, seemed like an afterthought: it somehow managed to be both dry and oily, and carried neither flavour nor evidence of lobster. Others on the table ordered the whole roast chicken (160rmb; tasty roasted garlic, but otherwise unremarkable), sea bass (158rmb; lovely, light, olive-y sauce with just the right proportion of capers), steak tartare (198rmb; "beautiful", as reviewed by my actually-French friend) and – at the teenage end of the table – “L’Hambourgeois” (135rmb), which I wished I’d ordered.
I’d highly recommend getting some of the French fries (28rmb) on the side of whatever you order, regardless of their incongruity. I’d probably go back just for half an hour with some frites, a good book, and a large glass of anything from the excellent wine selection.
It’s hard to come to an overall verdict on Bistro by Yannick Alléno. There was some strong cooking and I enjoyed the evening, but there were also several disappointments. For such a well-decorated chef (and such a chef-decorated venue), I’d expected greater attention to detail and much more flavour. I think the fairest way to judge this place is by its name: it’s very much a “bistro” rather than a Michelin-contending restaurant. It has the obligatory paper placemats, carnivorous menu and excellent fries. It is certainly not priced as a bistro, however, and that’s what annoyed me. We paid about 500rmb each for a starter and main, plus a couple of drinks. Charging restaurant prices for bistro food is only acceptable if your food is impeccable. Here, it isn’t really worth the price tag.
According to the terms of the Chinese visa, foreign citizens must register with their local Liquid Laundry within 60 days of entry. If you don't - where else are you going for brunch? Is it good? Can I come?
Having visited for the first time this weekend, I can see why Liquid Laundry is such a perennially popular choice, especially among Shanghai's avocado-loving expats. It's inarguably good-looking, dependable food (once you get past the subtle entrance lifts). My food envy wasn't even limited to my own table: the florally-embellished Salade Niçoise opposite me looked just as good as the breakfast pizza at the window table, or the caramelised banana pancakes to my right. I'm still thinking about the lovely, chubby breakfast burrito, and I didn't even eat it myself.
Luckily, when my food arrived, it was just as aesthetically delicious. I ordered the "Green Eggs and Ham" (98rmb), just like two other people in our party and probably a good 20% of the other patrons. The menu doesn't oversell it, either: the two perfectly poached eggs were nestled in a mass of greens, salty bacon (which they try to pass off as fancy ham) and dense, seeded rye bread, with a ubiquitous sliced avocado topping. Effortless Instagram glory. It was a good choice. To be fair, though, everyone else made good choices too. My friend's pancakes were satisfyingly fluffy (and huge in diameter, too); the abovementioned Niçoise featured fresh, barely-seared tuna and purple potatoes amongst the edible flowers. There are also some veggie options, although I'd love to see more strong vegan offerings.
The drink selection is less exciting than the menu. Liquid Laundry hasn't really embellished (or replaced) its standard evening bar offering with brunch-appropriate choices. There are no surprises: alongside the classic Bloody Mary, there’s a small selection of other cocktails, as well as tea, coffee, wine, beer, etc. A 75cl bottle of mineral water is a fairly extortionate 65rmb, so you might as well have a proper drink with your avocado toast.
There were a few little niggles here: the bread and ham were a bit hard, the service could have been quicker, and my "Disco Fruit Tea" wasn't even sparkly. No matter how many restaurants move towards the “you receive your food whenever it’s ready, regardless of the fact that we haven’t started whisking your friend’s Hollandaise yet” model of service, it still never fails to annoy me. I'd also say that paying 133rmb for one brunch dish and a tea is a bit steep in a city that routinely sells great 10 kuai noodles. There are some cheaper options (a bagel plus topping is 25rmb), but most dishes are 75-110rmb. These are minor quibbles considering the effortless atmosphere and strong menu, though. If you haven't already been, check it out. It's an essential part of the visa application. Or at least, it might as well be.
When I visited on a Sunday evening, the place was slightly too quiet. Combined with the tiled surfaces and overly bright lighting, this made the atmosphere a little clinical. There's definitely a dimmer switch, though, because the manager turned the lights down right before we left. Pre-learn the Mandarin for "this room has the mood-killing lustre of an office bathroom" if you're going for a date.
Despite the lack of ambience, we were won over by the food - it's definitely worth a visit if you're around Jing'an. Everything is fresh, authentic and well-priced. We ordered a vermicelli noodle bowl with lemongrass chicken, pho with brisket and beef balls, a shockingly purple dragonfruit and banana juice, and a ginger lemon tea. The noodle bowl was the standout dish; the clean, light flavours were exactly what I needed after a heavy Shanghai weekend. Coriander and crunchy vegetables offset the savoury, spiced chicken well. The pho was also good, with its rich, slowly-simmered broth as a flavour base. There are a few different options available, including some with tripe, if that's what you're into.
In total, we spent just under 150rmb. Not as cheap as the local noodle stands, perhaps, but it's a good deal for quality Vietnamese food, and it's definitely healthier than a lot of the other options in the vicinity. Service is perfectly efficient and friendly, and the relaxed seating means that it's as good for large groups as it is for couples or solo diners.
It's worth noting that there aren't many vegetarian options here. If you're looking for standout veggie or vegan noodles, there are a few better options around West Beijing Road. Even if you don't eat meat, though, it's worth stopping by to try some of the drinks on offer. There's a whole range of Vietnamese options, as well as some satisfyingly lurid juices and the ubiquitous canned beers. I plan to go back one morning to try the Vietnamese coffee, made with sweetened condensed milk.
This area isn't exactly lacking in coffee shops, granted, but Pho Store provides another variation if you're tired of your normal flat white / ristretto / salted cream cheese iced latté. I’m not sure if Pho Store is quite worth the full four stars I’ve given it here, but it definitely deserves more than three. It’s a great lunch option, the service was quietly competent, and the healthy flavours were exactly what I was looking for.
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.