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  • About 6 months ago a fellow smart-reviewer gave this place the ‘best brunch award’. Its fair to say that the Shanghai brunch game is getting pretty fierce so this was certainly a bold call, but with my curiosity peaked I was eager to see what set this place above the rest.

    The Commune Social is a beautifully designed establishment with modern, industrial-style interiors and a dreamy outdoor space. Scrolling through the menus my eyebrows were raised, there is clear sophistication and originality in what they are creating here.

    We turned up for a mid-week lunch and were given the choice of either the chef’s choice lunch menu; 3 dishes per person (which can include dessert/cheese if you want) for 188RMB, or the tapas menu which has a wider variety of dishes designed for sharing. 

    Dishes of mention:

    White asparagus panna cotta, smoked salmon & pickled asparagus – certainly a decadent dish but when paired with the other fresh dishes its just the right amount

    Roasted cod, tapenade, orange, grilled endive, aged sherry vinegar dressing – the freshness of the orange with the rich olive tapenade captures some of the best flavours of a European summer

    The dessert menu alone makes this place worth the visit. 

    If you’re after a lighter option that still hits the spot go for the lemon posset. Served with frozen white chocolate mousse and lavender meringue its not only a stunning dish but absolutely delicious.

    On the other hand if you’re ok with unbuttoning your pants a few notches go for the banoffee cake. A deconstructed version of the classic banoffee pie that uses banana cake as the base. Lathered in a toffee sauce and candied pecans this is not for the faint-hearted.

    Commune social offer diners a unique gastronomic experience without feeling pretentious. They have successfully captured what chef Jason Atherton describes as “the deformalizing of fine dining”. As for the title of ‘best brunch in Shanghai’, its certainly a contender…

    Price for 2 people: 376 RMB

     

     

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  • The corner of Wulumuqi and Wuyuan Lu is a weekend hotspot for expats. On one side of the road you’ve got people squeezing in and out of the The Avocado Lady for their lao wai cravings (bless her) and on the other you’ll find Bowl Bowl Bowl. The upstairs dining area has a chill minimalistic vibe where you can either perch up at the windowsill and people-watch/pooch-watch, or enjoy some peace and quiet.

    Summed up, BBB specialize in poke bowls, salad bowls and yoghurt bowls. I can only comment on the poke as they keep me coming back rain or shine, fresh or dusty – they always hit the spot.

    The selection of bowls you can order are named according to different Scandinavian countries. But I thought poke was from Hawaii? Although traditionally a Hawaiian dish, apparently poke bowls have also become very popular in Scandinavia because of the seafood element. The bowls at BBB resemble a classic poke make-up similar to deconstructed sushi where you can choose from different seafood options as your protein. They come lined with a slab of sushi rice, packed with a generous serving of edamame, cashews, avocado, seaweed, black sesame and topped off with a drizzle of the perfect spicy mayo. If you’re keen up the experience one more notch you can go to town on the self-serve soy sauce and wasabi.

    Dishes of mention:

    Northern Lights poke bowl – salmon is super fresh and complimented well by the spicy mayo

    No real criticism for BBB but perhaps they could offer the bowls in different sizes for those that want more of that poke goodness. Overall a reliable spot for a healthy, delicious meal.

    Price per person: <100 RMB

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  • Singapore has established a reputation for its selection of seafood dishes, namely the “chilli crab” and the “black pepper crab”. Fortunately for us the restaurant chain Jumbo, who have countlessly been awarded best chilli crab in Singapore, have brought these delicacies to Shanghai. Situated on the 5th floor of the IAPM, this is a drool-worthy feast that resembles that which you would be served at the original restaurant, using only the best quality crabs from all over the world.

    Disclaimer: This is 100% a feast of a meal so a light lunch or breakfast is recommended. Bib and crab crackers are provided - prepare to get messy.

    Dishes of mention:

    Chilli crab – although a Singaporean dish it is prepared with a combination of more Malaysian flavours; chilli, lemongrass, candlenuts, turmeric, married with a sweet tomato based sauce. (Despite the name not actually that spicy)

    Fried Mantou – in China these baozi are usually served steamed but in this variation they’re fried. A crispy exterior with soft pillowy centres, to be used as a vehicle for your crabmeat sauce. Before you know it your hand is on autopilot reaching for another..

    Cereal Prawns – another of their famous dishes. A dry dish of prawns coated in a sweet cereal crumb fried with fresh curry leaves. Delicious.

    Deep fried Cod with Chef’s special spicy sauce – another stand-out sweet and spicy dish. Fish was cooked perfectly.

    Kang kong garlic & Oyster broccoli – great vegetable options to cut through the richer seafood dishes
    I can confidently say Jumbo live up to their reputation for delivering an excellent spread of seafood. A great dining experience to share with a big group, one that’s sure to leave you feeling rather full but highly satisfied.

    Price for 2 people: 700RMB

     

     

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  • I often walk past Ferguson lane on evenings strolls; the shops and eateries here always seem to be humming and actually rather welcoming once all the bridal photo shoots have packed up for the day. Sichuan Citizen sits on the second floor decked out with all things fire engine red, think sitting inside a giant chilli. There is also a nice outdoor patio - just in case you want to catch a glimpse of the action down below!

    Happy hour provides some novel signature cocktails including their famous ‘basil drop’. It’s sweet and refreshing, but verging on basil overload.

    Dishes of mention:

    Dan dan noodle – Coated in a sweet and nutty sauce – delicious! But portion size was for an ant? (Ok fine a hungry ant)

    All of the other dishes were doused in sickly sweet sauces and sadly any spices that may have been in there were drowned out. Admittedly we chose majority dishes on the sweeter side but they easily could have passed as dessert (not in a good way). A classic case of fusion cuisine that over caters for the Western palate.

    Final grumble. I know they’re a thing in China but the pre-packed plastic cutlery/napkins have got to go. It’s 2019! Convenience, hygiene or whatever the excuse is not good enough.

    It’s rare for me to leave a restaurant with food on the table but on this occasion it was better there than on my hips.

     

     

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  • Take a stroll under the plane trees on Xingguo Lu and you will find this charming dining spot. A multi-storied establishment where you can choose to sit inside amongst the eclectic mix of contemporary asian wall paintings; or out on the wooden patio. There is also an intimate private dining area on the top level; tree hut style with colourful embellished cushions and tree stumps for stools. They describe the food as a collection of “exotic flavours curated from travels around Asia”. They have captured this vision well with a tasteful modern touch.

    Dishes of mention:

    Crispy garlic & peppercorn squid served with a housemade tartar – crunchy batter and not too oily

    Spicy Australian beef curry - a rich and comforting dish balanced with a sweet and spicy chutney

    Detox vegetable curry (vegan) – a lighter take on a classic Thai green curry but made with almond milk. As the name suggests, a perfect dish if your body is in recovery mode.

    Coconut sago with pandan ice cream – everything you’d want in a South East Asian dessert. Highly recommended.

    Its worth noting that the prices were on the higher side with entrees averaging at 100 RMB and mains at 200 RMB. The only suggestion I would have is to revamp the website as the current set up does not reflect what is on offer.

    Ginger is a restaurant that takes their guests on a gastronomical journey, so much so that you feel transported to South East Asia. I couldn’t help but fall in love with this place simply because of how well the food matched the aesthetic. If you’re looking for a casual and cosy dinner out of the city centre this is the place. I’d suggest heading there soon before the dreaded mozzie-monsoon season is upon us.

     

    Price for 2 people: 600 RMB

     

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  • Being relatively new to Shanghai I’m slowly building my knowledge on the different Chinese cuisines. I think many would agree that sometimes choosing where to go can be a bit overwhelming given the number of restaurants that feature from each region. Sometimes you just have to take a punt! This week I went to explore some Yunnan style cuisine located just off Changle and Maoming.

    Complete the maze and you will find yourself in a space with quirky décor and an open-style kitchen. The menu has an extensive selection of dishes from Yunnan province, well annotated with English descriptions (although I think a picture of a scorpion is pretty self-explanatory). Pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, people with stomachs of steel; you will find something on that menu that will cater for you. Keen to try honey bees, three bug platter or woodworms - you’re in luck!

    The dishes we tried certainly showcased the signature spice-rich flavours you expect with Yunnan cuisine. Prices are very reasonable but as a total dining experience there was something missing.

    Dishes of mention:

    Fried Yunnan goats cheese – lightly crisp texture with a soft centre

    Banana flower salad – hot and sour, but beware it’s a game of spice roulette

    Super hot prawns – a little sweet with good heat. The Yunnan chillis had my companions in the sweats.

    From what I hear this place has been a crowd favourite for years and I while I don’t like to criticize an OG I think they need a shake up. I can look past atmosphere and service if the food is outstanding but unfortunately this wasn’t the case.

    If you want a place that’s not too pricey and caters to the masses look no further.

    Price for 2: 250 RMB

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  • Since moving here I’ve been searching for a Western brunch that is a bit more inspiring than an eggs benny or smashed avo on toast (yawn). And by that I don’t mean throw truffle and lobster at it and charge through the nose. I’d heard many good things about the menu at Bird and they certainly delivered.

    Nestled in a quiet area on Wuyuan lu the entrance dons a modern black window pane that allows natural light to stream through and warm the rattan style interiors. You can either dine downstairs in an intimate area on stools overlooking the kitchen or climb the spiral staircase to the terrace and join the party.

    Greeted by a bold Aperol Spritz drink cart and the sweet sounds of 70s disco it’s a fun atmosphere. The menu has a selection of seasonal small plates with many featuring local flavours.

    Dishes of mention:

    • Tomato ratatouille, poached egg, basil, dark farm toast –beautifully sweet and buttery

    • Mapo tofu, mashed potatoes, cheese crust – Definitely the stand out. Unlike the rest of the menu this is a ‘go hard or go home’ dish. A Chinese style shepherds pie that has a generous layer of cheese with just the right amount of Sichuan sting that you can still function for the rest of the day.

    Service is worth noting as there was a slight delay to our meal (only because the guy next to us loved his meal so much that he ordered another!). The staff were very apologetic and provided coffees on the house.

    Bird is a good example of less is more. It reminded me of the type of creativity I used to see in some of the brunch spots down under. The minimalistic theme was evident from the décor through to the dishes. Heres hoping that come winter the mapo-tofu number is still on the menu!

     

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  • Being a vegetarian in China certainly is a challenge. As the words bù chī ròu (don’t eat meat) leave my mouth, I brace myself for an eyeroll or look of confusion. That being said I’ve had some exceptional vegetarian experiences in China and it was music to my ears when I heard there was a vegetarian tasting menu in town.

    Voted number 29 in the Asia top 50, and only 1 of 2 in Shanghai that made the cut, Fu He Hui exhibits an impressive celebration of Shanghainese cuisine.

    Step out of the lift and you are escorted into one of the many private rooms. These intimate spaces have a neutral palette with simple and elegant wooden décor. It only needed some slow mandolin and it could be easily mistaken for an exotic day spa.

    We decided to try the 9 course tasting menu with tea pairings and wine – hydration is key. Overall the menu featured a carefully curated mix of vegetables and fungi with the tea sets being a standout part of the experience. The flavours are subtle, but when coupled with the selection of teas its a treat for your tastebuds.

    Dishes of mention:

    Broad bean, lily bulb, garlic – well balanced and beautifully presented

    Claypot rice – wonderfully fragrant with pockets of crunchy rice (also the only source of carbs you’ll get all night)

    Chinese sweets –presented in woven baskets it features qiantuan (glutinous rice cake with sweet red bean) and an interpretation of a white rabbit. Delicious.

    My only criticism would be of the speed of service. Contrary to most restaurants here the transitions between dishes was a little fast. A little more time to enjoy the experience wouldn’t go a miss,

    Fu He Hui is not Chinese cuisine as you know it. An enjoyable dining experience where the atmosphere and flavours take you on a unique culinary journey.

    Price for 2 people 2400RMB

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  • Reigning champions of Shanghai’s annual Shanghai chili cook off, these guys know what they’re doing. They stick to the fundamentals of a Mexican food with a nod to some Chinese classics.

    Downstairs is cozy with an open-style kitchen and tequila bottle lampshades hanging from the ceiling. The terrace upstairs has a nice relaxed feel. Its probably one of the few suburban roof top spots in Shanghai where you can sip on a margarita and look out to some lush greenery. Bonus: You can take your pooch up there.

    Food menu is a nice one-pager. Snacks, tacos, ceviche and dessert. For the protein you can choose from some traditional meat and seafood options or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous there is Schezchuan twice cooked pork or mapo tofu.

    Call me boring for starting with chips, guac and salsa but it was worth it. The corn chips are lightly seasoned with a smokey cajun seasoning which is such a tease, that stuff is like Mexican MSG. The house-made salsa has good heat and laced with tequila giving it a nice punch. Not a huge fan of the guacamole. The texture was too creamy and personally I prefer it a chunkier.

    The Tacos. For 65 RMB (2 tacos) the portion is generous. We had the bean and corn and the fried fish tacos, which were filled with a mix of pickled cabbage, corn, house-made salsa and coriander. They come double-shelled, with a hard taco encased within a soft one. Whoever came up with that deserves a raise! Caution though, it doesn’t stop sauce from dripping out of both ends. Overall I think they nailed it. Spice – tick, crunch - tick, fresh – tick.

    If you’re looking for a mid-week flavor kick I would recommend trying Tacolicious. The service is great and value for money high. My only advice before you go: Don’t wear white and load up on napkins. These tacos are messy so be prepared for a drip fest.

    Price: ~ 250RMB for 2 people

     

     

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  • Known as one of Shanghai’s top breweries this popular spot also offers an ambitious fusion dinner menu. Located in the Julu complex, Dream Brewers occupies 2 floors, formal dining (Level 3) and a rooftop bar (Level 4). 

    We were pretty hungry so decided to go straight to the restaurant. Dimly lit with simple concrete interiors topped with 90s slow jams, think Atomic Kitten, Mariah etc. The mood was set for a cute date night. 

    Overall the menu is pretty heavy on red meat and seafood dishes, so not a great spread if you’re vegetarian. We grazed on a bread and cheese platter to start.  Not bad, but not memorable. Next up a scallop ceviche, beautifully presented (see photo) and served with a seaweed type cracker – yum! Which is where they should have left it. Unfortunately the ceviche was heavily garnished with a rose flavoured jelly - let’s just say Ottolenghi would not be impressed. Final dish was a cuttlefish tagliatelle. Now here I was expecting a plate of tagliatelle pasta with cuttlefish IN it, but in fact the cuttlefish itself had been ‘tagliatelled’ (I don’t know – is that a thing?). Drenched in a basic buttery sauce with a few herbs, this was pretty uninspiring given the price. Come 9pm the tables are decked with large neon bulbs and the tempo starts to pick up. The rooftop bar has a great vibe. We didn’t spend much time here, but I liked the modern design of the booths looking out across the Shanghai skyline, a nice place for Friday drinks over summer.    

    At the end of this experience I think I was just left a little confused. The quasi-italian inspired restaurant is yet to fall in sync with its humming rooftop bar and extensive craft beer list. A few tweaks to the menu and the place will certainly have potential.

    Price: 500-600 RMB for 2 people

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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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    Delfina joined the Argentinean Foreign Service in 2012, and was posted to the General Consulate in 2016. Her hobbies are taking photos, traveling and cooking all sort of dishes. She aims someday to open a small restaurant based in organic, regional and self farmed ingredients.
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    Michael Russam, from Leeds, England, first arrived in China to live in Wuhan, before coming to Shanghai to work in copywriting and marketing. He is particularly interested in regional Asian cuisines, and when he can, travelling to find them. Other hobbies include debating the merits of Shanghai dive bars and burger deals.
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