Suzy is originally from Wales, and loves cooking and dining out, especially for vegan and vegetarian food. She has an ever-lengthening Food Bucket List which often inspires her travels.
Atmosphere: If vegan, you’ve probably already heard of If Vegan. If not vegan, consider this your introduction. It’s a friendly, upstairs restaurant with a sort of scuffed IKEA vibe and a whole load of lovely, mostly healthy plates. To get in, find the little door on North Shaanxi, ten paces north of West Beijing, and head up to the very top floor. When we visited for a weeknight dinner, it was almost full of smiling, healthy older vegans and younger, v-curious hipsters. There's a bakery / patisserie counter by the entrance full of impossibly dairy-looking things, which you can presumably get to go. Also, it’s one of the only places I’ve found that does a good vegan version of meat floss, which is a selling point in itself.
Food: You can get the abovementioned meat floss in the summer rolls, which also contain dragonfruit and come with a sauce the colour of grasshoppers. (It doesn’t contain grasshoppers. They’re not vegan.) We also ordered a lovely braised aubergine dish with a chilli kick, some not-too-slimy okra with a thin, soy-based sauce, a perfectly nice quinoa salad with fresh, steamed and roasted vegetables, and – regrettably – some purple whirls that reminded me of the food fight in Hook. The menu alleges that they’re made from purple sweet potato and coconut. They were the last thing left on the table, and were only really good for the novelty factor.
Everything else was great, though. the food is fresh, well-considered and often imaginative. I'd go back to try more of the menu, not only because it's well-made but also out of curiosity. What do they top their vegan pizza with? I haven't yet found a good vegan cheese substitue in Shanghai, but I'd be game for trying whatever they've chosen.
Service: The staff are sweet as hell, and very attentive to refilling your bai kai shui glass. Orders are placed through iPads, which have pictures and English translations for each dish. It's all very convenient.
The Godly restaurant brand has been around since 1922, and don’t they know it. The year is plastered all over the restaurant, like an incantation against rising rents and an increasing abundance of more interesting vegetarian options.
I’m not knocking it; it’s hard to make something last almost 100 years. Look at the state of the EU after just 26. I’m just making the point because Godly has clearly enjoyed a lot of respect for a long time and – honestly – I’m not entirely sure why.
They do mock meat, but it’s normally buried in some gelatinous sauce, like in the “beef” noodle dish we ordered. They promise spicy Sichuan dishes, but our tofu was saccharine and fangless. There are similarly disappointing curries, too, like the mushroom one we didn’t finish.
Having said all this, it’s not a bad restaurant. The claypot vermicelli noodles were delicious, and the spring rolls – despite their gloopy, orange sauce – were nicely crispy. I’d also recommend the mushroom floss dish, too, although it was nothing like what I’d expected; it bears absolutely no resemblance to meat floss. In total, for four people with a beer, we paid around 400rmb.
Godly is a good place to try classic Chinese vegetarian food. It’s worth a visit for the vermicelli noodles and the novelty of eating cruelty-free “eel”, among other things. There’s a fully bilingual menu, staff are helpful, and prices are fair.
I’m going to come right out with a conclusion in the first paragraph: the pastas at Arch are so good that my Italian friend, to whom pasta is almost as sacred as his mother, went back two days in a row. He also, however, ordered two or three bowls each time because the portions are sized for Venetian dolls.
The space is beautiful: there’s a geometric, Art Deco aesthetic and a cozy line of booths opposite the bar. They have their own distilling equipment on display, too, adding a Steam Punk frisson. The urbanity in the main space almost makes up for the external bathrooms. Drink more cocktails to make the memories fade more quickly (but opt for shorts so you don't have to go back as often).
Speaking of cocktails – they’re as good as the pasta. There’s a Happy Hour menu of classics and house mixes, from an Aperol spritz to a strawberry and mint short, which go for 55rmb before 7pm. Then there’s the full menu, on which drinks range from 85-110rmb, and are centred around a key ingredient. Don’t expect mind-blowing presentation, but the flavours are often knock-outs. Mango and balsamic, light coconut, beetroot – try the lot if your balance allows.
The only thing to criticise about the food menu, as mentioned, is the paltry portion size. It isn’t all that major a criticism, though, because the food is so fairly-priced that it’s defensible to order two dishes instead of one. The hand-made gnocchi and ravioli were particular stand-out dishes, along with the superfood salad. Appetizers, especially the calamari and the chicken with sweet potato fries, shouldn’t be flipped past either. We were there as a group of eight who ate and drank a lot, and our bill came to just over 3800rmb – fair game for the quality and quantity.
Arch serves small but lovely plates and drinks. Most things are priced more than fairly considering the quality. It’s a great spot for a suave date or the start of a good night with a small group.
Oh, Bird. You’ve been on my to do list since you opened. I was really looking forward to trying your stylish small plates in your trendy little space. You’re so near my apartment that I hoped you might become a regular treat venue.
Bird – we need to talk.
Flavours, Bird. You’re good at flavours! Our BBQ corn came with a lovely butter and the perfect smokiness. The mapo tofu, topped with mashed potato and melted cheese, was deliciously hearty. That honey, with the goat yoghurt cheese and spiced crackers, worked beautifully. I’m not picking at your flavours, Bird.
It’s the other stuff we need to talk about. The fact that our BBQ corn arrived so cold that the butter on top wouldn’t melt. The fact that our little plate of cheese cost 98rmb, and that a tiny bottle of soda is 35rmb (we paid 304rmb in total for three small dishes and two sodas). The – and I’m sorry about this, but it’s true – absence of customers on a Sunday evening, when you were almost impossible to get a reservation at a few months ago.
Bird – you’re not perfect. Neither am I, though. Let’s give it another chance.
Bird is a cool, minimalist little place with the perfect roof terrace. It’s good for small plates, wines and spritzes. It would make a good date venue, especially if you wandered next door to Bitter after your meal.
Walking into the entrance lobby of the Shanghai Edition feels like a serious undertaking. The whole place is dusky and stylish, and the dark corridors encompass several restaurants. I’ve been to two, and they’re both so much better than a hotel restaurant needs to be. Go to the Shanghai Tavern, downstairs, for solemn food on little plates. Canton Disco upstairs, though, is incongruously fun. I loved it.
Look at the cocktail selection. Mine sounded pedestrian but came topped with a little stretch of the fizzy space belts I used to scarf down as a kid. There’s one containing cough syrup and coffee, as well as the obligatory booze, and it actually tastes good.
Then look at the food. There are some serious and heavy options, like the house short rib, but the best dishes are those that sound… playful. The prawn toast x okonomiyaki is an absurd, deep-fried package of chubby prawns, crispy bread and batter. If it doesn’t make you happy, I’m not sure what to suggest. Unless you’re allergic to seafood, of course, in which case I’d probably order one just to look at anyway.
The light and crispy salt and pepper tofu bites, the fat shrimp wontons, the – oh man – crispy ham hock with its impeccable accompanying sauces and lettuce for wrapping. Everything was great. In total, we paid 778rmb for the dishes and drinks mentioned here, including a 75rmb bottle of water. (I wouldn’t recommend the water.)
Canton Disco’s sultry décor forms a piquant contrast with its disco soundtrack and irreverent menu. Michael Janczewski and his team cook up a storm of fun, and the cocktails taste as good as they sound. It’s a perfect date night destination.
It had been an impossibly busy few weeks, and my friend dragged me out of work on time one Wednesday for dinner. Normally, when things get stressful at work, all I want to do is shovel down noodles in front of my laptop screen. It turns out that, actually, going to Lago after work is a brilliant way to unwind.
Firstly, it’s really quiet on weeknights. You can sit anywhere! We got a prime table with a view of the Bund and, because we hadn’t waited until a more normal dinner time, we were there for sunset and the illuminations. Service is always great (apparently all staff are given three months’ training), but there was a particularly conspicuous surplus of shirted servers at 5:30pm on a Wednesday.
It’s also good for drinks. If you arrive before the restaurant has actually opened, you’re basically obliged to get a cocktail at the downstairs bar. Great for oligarch-spotting, and the alcohol also takes off the slight edge of frustration when they don’t have any of the listed wines you order upstairs.
You can also take your time with the food, which you’ll definitely want to do. We ordered four starters, two mains and two desserts to share. The wagyu carpaccio and aged ham came first, along with a little bread basket and a lovely tomato spread. We had the burrata next – decadently creamy with a puddle of raspberry sauce – and finally the octopus. Mains were fairly small, which was a relief. The truffle risotto is very truffley. The ravioli is very pretty.
Desserts are pretty, too, although perhaps a little nebulously plated. Excellent macarons, in particular. In total, we paid just over 2000rmb for two people, including two very expensive glasses of wine.
Lago is a very refined option for a blow-out meal, with great views and excellent service. The Italian menu is all well-made and plated to perfection. Good venue for impressing dates, clients or out-of-towners.
Polux is part of the Paul Pairet package. He’s the Ultraviolet / Mr and Mrs Bund guy, and he opened Polux as a more casual, bistro-style restaurant this year. Predictably, Polux received a “Bib Gourmand” in the 2020 Michelin Guide. Predictably, it’s both absolutely decent and a little flat.
The bistro-style stuff tastes and looks good. Crispy shoe-string fries, toasted club sandwiches, and brunch hashes for hashtag brunching. There’s a lot of very competent cooking of fairly basic stuff going on. Shout out to the coconut latte, too – my friend said it was probably the best coffee he’s ever had, and I’m inclined to agree.
Décor and service are both stylish. I have a lot of love for the incongruous floral napkins, and a little less love for the brown waistcoats. Prices aren’t bad, either. As a general rule, small plates are around 80rmb, brunch dishes around 110rmb, mains 150-180rmb, and desserts vary. In total, we paid 1067rmb for four people at brunch time – no booze but a lot of coffee and tea.
I wouldn’t race back to Polux, though, for a couple of reasons. I know it’s fussy, but the choice to finely chop my burrata before serving it was bewildering. Part of the joy of eating burrata is the moment of ooze – that lovely moment when you break the outer layers and the interior spills out. At Polux, they pre-mince your burrata. Odd decision. I also found certain dishes, such as the soft egg or the iced tea, a bit empty.
Polux is a beautifully-designed bistro with a beautifully-designed menu and some beautifully-executed food. It’s fairly expensive as a brunch option, but fairly cheap for Paul Pairet. Go for a coconut latte and some fries, if nothing else, and watch the beautiful people chat away their mornings.
F.Date is tucked away down a little lifestyle alley just out of exit 2 at Changping Lu station. It’s half flower shop, half coffee shop, but it didn’t seem to be selling much of either when I visited, despite its 5* Dianping rating. I’m not really surprised – everything, down to the bottle of soda water, tasted stale.
It was disappointing because there was so much I wanted to like about this place. The slightly cluttered interior, with its nooks and background music, seemed like a great place to work or meet a friend. The service is great – friendly staff, everything on little wooden trays, a miniature flower display with my cake. The cake, by the way, was vegan. Brilliant! Love a vegan cake! Go F.Date!
Unfortunately, it was a strange, almost musty-tasting vegan cake, and it cost me 38rmb. It was allegedly a vegan mango cheesecake but it tasted largely of nothing, with a faint tang and the slightest hint of something caramel-ish. The base was okay, but it had about the thickness of a metro card. If you’re going to charge 38rmb for a cake, it’s got to be bomb. This was not.
F.Date is an aesthetically pleasing little place that, to its credit, offers vegan options. Coffees start at around 20rmb, but the cakes are pricier. It’d probably be cheaper to buy a bunch of their flowers instead, and they’d almost certainly bring you more happiness.
Look, I know it’s a bit of an obvious suggestion for dinner, but Ben Jia is just really reliable Korean BBQ food. They probably don’t have the punchiest kimchi, or the creamiest mashed potato, or the sesame-est salad. They don’t even serve kimchi bokkeumbap. They do, however, consistently deliver consistently good, crowd-pleasing meat for the masses.
If you’re not sure what to order from the massive menu – the kimchijeon (big vermilion pancake) and the japchae (translucent sweet potato noodles) are great. Lovely Korean comfort food. The kimchijjigae (stew involving kimchi, tofu and meaty chunks) isn’t incredible, but it isn’t bad either. The meat’s all good. Get anything – pork or beef, naked or braised. It’s all going to come off the grill in a sizzling, charred tangle, and it’s all going to get eaten, however much you order.
They have the usual range of drinks, too: soju, makgeolli, and beer on the alcoholic side; soft drinks and free-flow tea for the virtuous. Prices are also inoffensive: we paid 600rmb for four hungry adults and a lettuce-munching four-year-old, including a couple of visits to the Haagen Dazs freezer.
Ben Jia is a decent Korean BBQ for first timers and old timers. The food’s all of a pretty good quality, and the service is whatever you want it to be – staff will normally do the cooking if you don’t say anything, but they’ll leave you to grill your own meat if you ask. It’s always a good option for group dinners.
A year or two ago, an Urban Thai visit meant a queueing session or an advance reservation. Last weekend, we got a same-day Saturday reservation for 8:15pm, and we were the only people in the restaurant when we left around an hour later. Slightly harder times for this tiny Thai spot on Changle.
The food’s alright, but there’s an ever-growing list of competitors in the city now – plus I’ve fairly recently been to Thailand, and UT didn’t make for a great comparison. Starting with the good – the curries are bomb. We had a veggie red curry with a little portion of their rice, and we ate every last scalloped carrot slice.
A lot of what we had was average, though. The pad see ew was okay, but I forgot we’d ordered it until I looked back at my pictures to write this review. We ordered a papaya salad, too, and it was so sweet. There wasn’t enough lime or heat in anything we ordered, which left it all feeling a little flat. They’d also run out of Singha, which should be a fineable offence for a Thai place. We had to drink Chang instead. The horror. In total, for three dishes and two Changs, we paid 245rmb.
Despite its boutique size, Urban Thai’s food feels a little impersonal and perfunctory. The whole place is a little shabby, too – badly-covered bench seating and a kitchen-side bathroom to cringe at. It’s worth a trip if you’re craving a good Thai curry, though.
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.