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

    The Beef: Firstly, loved the vibe. Casual yet still upscale with an open kitchen and wood fired oven. Service was exceptional, not like Michelin 5-star level, which can be overbearing but just a friendly smile and warm attitude.

    The food – wow. So down-to-earth, with no need to be ostentatious (as are the prices)- just simple, good quality ingredients done well. Definitely my new go-to Mediterranean spot.

    Complimentary bread, a perfectly puffed pita, was served while we waited for our cold and hot starter. Mixed mezze platter (68rmb) consisted of hummus, tzatziki, and a tomato salsa dip served with ample carbs for dipping. Amongst the trio, the tzatziki was the standout as you could really taste the richness of the Greek yogurt. Zucchini pancakes (55rmb) were the lightest, fluffiest, and yummiest we’ve had in recent memory.

    Another must-order dish that made us go OMG – Minced Beef & Lamb Pide (76rmb, they have several options on the menu). This one was oozing with such melty-cheesy-doughy-meaty goodness with just the right amount of crispy crust.

    And to top it all off, you’ve not fully experienced Turkish cuisine until you’ve washed it all down with a cup of salty yogurt water (literally the 3 main ingredients)– aka ayran (38rmb). So refreshing and good for your gut bacteria.

    The Gang: We got there for a late lunch the weekend with only a few tables – small groups and families, mostly Chinese with a sprinkle of laowai.

    The Motive: Extremely well-executed Mediterranean food in a simple yet lovely setting, which would be befitting for a casual lunch or elegant date night. Specials on most days of the week – Tues: 50% off main dishes after 5pm; Wed: BOGO Burger; Thurs: Rib eye steak & glass of wine for 198rmb (dinner).

    The Damage: 299rmb for 2 for a late lunch. Did not order alcohol, but we did manage to overstuff ourselves with food.

    The Down n’ Dirty: The loo here is shared with the office building next door, so you have to exit the restaurant and take the flight of stairs – a modest post-meal exercise. Cleanly kept on the weekend, not too sure what the weekday situation might look like when the office bees are around.

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  • I first had Yolota back in 2008, when all I knew about beef noodle soup was dishwater Shanghai Lanzhou La Mian. Back then, Yolota was a revelation: thick beef cuts that tasted expensive, hearty soups – red wine soup! tomato soup! – and side dishes like braised tofu and braised vegetables with bits of pork. For someone who didn't grow up with this food and was eating gai jiao fan or Shaxian Xiaochi pretty much every day, it was incredible.

    In 2019, Yolota is more comforting than mind-blowing. They still charge around 30 to 40rmb for a bowl of their noodles, which you can order thick or thin. The menu is probably the same, the broths are still rich, and the ingredients remain high quality. Some noodle experts might fault their cooking skills, but it's consistently decent, the staff are nice, and they play some obscure jazz radio shows in the small dining room, which also has a bit of anime kitsch strewn about.

    In a word: reliable. And on a rainy day, it's way better than Shanghai Lanzhou La Mian. Some of their deeper cuts, like the curry noodles and cold noodles with shredded chicken and sesame are worth exploring too.


    ***

    In Short: Reliable beef noodle soup and snacks spot that's been around for over a decade. You can order your noodles thick or thin, and the rest of the menu is worth diving into as well. Clean with good ingredients plus nice jazz selections on the stereo sometimes. Less than 50rmb per person.

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  • You would never guess one of Shanghai's finest sushi spots is on this sketchy street a few blocks north of People's Square, just around the corner from Jiajia Tang Bao. And you wouldn't find the shop on Dianping, because it's not listed there. Haiyu Sushi was on Dianping, but too many random walk-ins made it hard for the boss's regulars to get a table.

    Regulars – like the chef at Mercato, who wrote about this place in Industry Nights – go here for good reason. Haiyu Sushi is an anomaly in Shanghai – spartan environment, high-end food. While clean, there is nothing fancy about this place. Just a counter, a few tables, a TV, and two friendly chefs who will gladly drop knowledge about fish and Shanghai if you ask. Basically the equation is this: if you remove the fancy decor, the dozens of staff, some frilly ornamental ingredients, and the prime location, your customers can enjoy high-grade sushi for mid-range prices. Indeed, on a recent Sunday night, a couple spent 390rmb and ate an extremely memorable meal of fresh fish and beer that would probably cost upwards of 1000rmb in many restaurants here.

    If you're into sushi, this place has choice cuts for much less than you'd expect. Make a reservation though, and be sure to follow the boss's Moments for all the fish photos.

    **

    Summary: No frills, minimal sushi spot with excellent fish and friendly staff, a few blocks north of People's Square. Not fancy, very good, and memorable. Reservations essential.

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  • I heard good things about the original location of Slurp! from friends, so I went in with relatively high expectations. I had never managed to visit Slurp! in its original location over on Wulumuqi Road, but was glad to discover that it had recently re-opened fairly close to me on Maoming Road (close to Weihai Road) so I made the short trip over for lunch. 

    The location is...cramped. The kitchen itself is all alone on the first floor with the reception and all the seating is on the second floor. The seating area itself was fine, clean and well ventilated with 4-5 small tables, but it still felt a bit claustrophobic. 

    The service was infuriatingly clueless. We played that game that Chinese restaurants like to play on you sometimes, where they actually don't have 30-40% of the items on the menu, but they don't tell you anything in advance and let you randomly ask for things and then inform you that it's sold out. After I was informed for a second time that a chosen item was not in stock, I asked her to point out all the items on the menu that were unavailable. This is the second part of the game, where the server swears there are no other unavailable items; everything else is fine to order. This is inevitably turned on its head a minute later when you choose something else that's out of stock that she forgot to tell you about. 

    Silly service aside, this also meant that my top choices (and most recommended dishes online) could not be ordered, so we had to second choices all around, which is always a shaky note to start the meal on. We got the xiao guo mi xian (little pot of rice noodles), roasted tilapia, fried Yunnan cheese, Yunnan mashed potato and pork mince stir fried with herbs and flower buds. 

    Everything was...ok. The fish had a TON of tiny bones in it, super annoying to eat, but decent flavor. The mashed potato was very good, with some Yunnan herbs folded into the potato. A bit odd to have such a waxy texture to a mashed potato dish, but that's Chinese potatoes for you. The fried cheese was fine - not a ton of flavor on the cheese itself but I liked the rose petal jam for dipping quite a lot. The flagship product, the pot of rice noodles, was pretty boring. Rice noodles don't really pick up a lot of flavor when they're in a broth, so it was all about the broth, which was fine I guess, but didn't really pack any special punch of flavor. 

    I guess if you're craving a certain type of Yunnan flavor and you live nearby, it's worth a try, but I wouldn't seek it out from afar, and I didn't find myself very satisfied after the meal. Prices weren't too bad; we spent something like 180 CNY for our 4 dishes, so there's a positive. I'll give it a cautious three stars, cause it wasn't bad, but it wasn't really good either. It just...was. 

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  • With the huge variety of restaurants we have available to us in Shanghai, I rarely find myself going back to the same place more than once or twice - there are just too many good options for every meal. Last month, I reviewed Currify, which is a restaurant that breaks the trend for me. This month, I must do the same thing again for Saigon Mama. 

    First let me say that I've never been to Vietnam, so I'm not qualified to comment on the flavor of Saigon Mama's pho or banh mi compared to authentic goods from the source. I can only compare to my experiences around town at other Vietnamese noodle places like Cyclo and Pho Store, and in this regard, Saigon Mama is far and away my favorite. 

    The broth for the pho is rich, beefy, and utterly comforting. The meat portion is generous, especially if you order the full Saigon combo or the oxtail (which I did on my most recent trip, as you can see from the pictures). The oxtail is a nice mixup (if a bit pricy) and I don't get it every time I go, but it's a distinguishing feature for Saigon Mama. 

    My girlfriend usually gets the pho classic and loads it up with some of the house sauces or the sriracha, which I personally think is a bit of a misstep. The sauces are delicious, make no mistake, but they easily mask the beefy wonderfulness of the broth, and I would prefer a beef overload when eating pho. Speaking of beef overload - if you want to add beef, I recommend adding a portion of the shank for 15 CNY. 

    Along with my pho, I always get a banh mi sandwich to share. I prefer the pork, but the chicken is good too, beacuse they both have Saigon Mama's excellent pork pate spread on there. The bread is crispy and chewy, the pickled carrots and radish are crunchy and refreshing, and the pork is savory and rich - a perfect combination. You can eat it directly or dip in the beef broth for bonus points of deliciousness. 

    We usually get the wings or the crispy spring rolls as a side. It's too much food, but I do it every time anyway. The wings are very tasty, but quite fatty (not the highest quality wings frankly) so if that's not your thing, go for the spring rolls. 

    Total damage is normal for pho in Shanghai: 60-80 CNY for pho, 50-60 for banh mis and 40-50 for sides. My recent review is for the location in Shanghai Centre, but I've also eaten at the SML Center location across from Tianzifang many times and enjoyed it as well. 

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  • Every since the Shouning Road crayfish street shuttered its stalls for good, I'm sure you've been wondering where your inebriated group can go to crush a few kilos of chili-coasted crustaceans. Wonder no longer friend, I have you covered.

    In the far reaches of western downtown Shanghai, in the wild wooly wilderness known as Dingxi Road (I mean seriously, it's almost to Zhongshan Park, which is basically the edge of the world for those of us who live downtown) is the Dingxi Road night food street. It's basically just a little section of street at the intersection of Dingxi Road and the Yan'an Expressway, not really much of a street as much as it is a single block of restaurants doing crayfish, hot pot, noodles and other nighttime classics. Hey this is the night food desert of Shanghai...this is the best we've got. 

    Long xia feng bao (龙虾风暴, or literally "crayfish storm") sits right in the middle of the street. It's popular, bustling, and filled with chili odors. It's exactly what you expect from a crayfish resturant on a food street. 

    Dazhong dianping had a coupon for 250 CNY which gets you an order of 13-spice crayfish, an order of xia qiu, (虾球, which literallly translates as "shrimp balls" but don't be fooled, it's crayfish tails) an order of smashed cucumber in vinegar (拍黄瓜), an order of pickled green soy beans (毛豆) and two servings of cold noodles (冷面). 

    If you aren't aready into Chinese spicy crayfish, this is probably not going to the experience to convince you (but maybe?), but if you are into crayfish, then this is going to hit the spot. The 13-spice crayfish was savory, spicy, oily, everything you want from your midnight snack. My girlfriend complained that some overlooked aspect of the crayfish preparation resulted in the shells being too difficult to remove, and she has more experience eating crayfish than I do, so she's probably right, but I won't take off points for that. 

    I regret ordering the crayfish tails as ma la (numbing and spicy), because the taste was a teensy bit samesy with the 13-spice (although obviously the 13-spice wasn't numbing), so if I went back, I would try the garlic option instead. 

    The side dishes were all great, and the two large servings of cold noodles meant we were stuffed at the end, (which is wise, because crayfish itself doesn't have much meat really). The green soybeans in vinegar and chilis were especially good - my spicy-and-sour loving girlfriend commented that they're just the way her grandmother used to prepare them. 

    With a cold beer, the total damage was just about 290, which is a touch more than you would have paid on Shouning Road in the past, but this is the reality of Shanghai street food as it stands now. With slightly better value, or a little more wow factor to the crayfish tails, I would have given it 5 stars, but as it is, I give Crayfish Storm a 4/5. 

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  • Pure and Whole is vegan food for people who are vegan, but don't especially love food. 

    We dropped in for a late dinner on a weeknight, looking for something light and flavorful, and hoping to stay basically within my neighborhood. The restaurant was almost empty at 8:30pm (they close at 9). 

    The menu has a nice selection of choices, with appetizing names and descriptions. We ordered the pita appetizer with three spreads, (beet, mushroom, black bean) the Thai vegetable curry, and the most-recommended pistachio sauce pasta. 

    I don't like harping for a long time on bad food longer than I have to, so I'll jump right to the punch line: we did not enjoy our dinner at all. 

    The pita bread was so thin it was crackling after its roasting, basically no chewy bready texture whatsoever. The mushroom spread lacked seasoning, the black bean spread lacked seasoning, the beet spread lacked...you guessed it...seasoning. The natural sweetness of the beets kind of saved that one; the other two were just squishly texture in your mouth to spread over thin, dry pita. The purple carrots that were served with the spreads were horrible - completely without fresh flavor. 

    The vegetable curry tasted like it was made by someone who only knew two things about Thai curry: coconut milk and chilis. Those were the the only flavors it had, and not even those very strongly either. It was watery and bland and didn't deserve to be called "Thai". It was also served with cold, hard brown rice - clearly it was the end of the night, but how hard would it have been to steam up a single fresh serving of brown rice for us? 

    The pasta was also incredibly bland - it just tasted like pasta with a whisper of green vegetable flavor and no seasoning. After glumly swirling my pasta around in circles for a few minutes, I realized that the liquid of the pistachio sauce had mostly gathered on the bottom of the bowl, hidden under the pile of pasta. By dredging each bite through the liquid before eating, I was able to get a little bit of pistachio flavor, and moisture to swallow the pasta, and the flavor was actually alright. The sauce should have been creamier, to coat the pasta instead of sitting in a pool on the bottom of the plate, and it still needed more seasoning. 

    I get that Pure & Whole is upholding a healthy, vegan restaurant culture, but the food has to taste good too, and be prepared by a skilled chef with knowledge of how to coax great flavors out of mild ingredients. At no point in the meal did I feel I was eating food prepared with expertise and love for food.

    All of the dishes were around 70+ CNY each and the total bill was 228. If I had left full and moderately satisfied, I would have called it some decent value for the Shanghai Centre. As it was, I found myself hungry and ordering dumplings on Eleme two hours later. 

    Pictures came out pretty nice though. I think a lot more attention was being paid in the the kitchen to presentation than taste of the food. 

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  • Located in the famous Columbia Circle, Dawn City Books is the perfect place to spend time catching up on some work or getting lost in a sea of books. Essentially a bookstore, café and restaurant combined, this place has got you covered for all of your needs. This place is also extremely aesthetically pleasing for the design-savy, both inside and outside. Filled with books from corner to corner, with some tables hidden behind the sea of books, it’s a great hide-out to release your inner introvert. The beautiful white staircase inside leads to the second floor which has some comfy couches next to a large window, along with some vintage décor on wooden backdrops that gives the place a 90’s feel to it.

    I came in here one afternoon hoping to get some work done and ordered the ham and fried egg sandwich. The set came with a side of salads, your choice of bread (choice of ciabatta, panini or bagel), and was a great fill-me-up for a light lunch or an afternoon snack. The salad was super fresh, the eggs were fried to just the right amount, and the whole wheat panini was a great filler. Feeling healthy and light, I was ready to get on with work.

    The plain grilled beef bagel is not a bad choice either, although they lacked a wide variety of bagel options and sauces. I would opt for going to places that specialize in bagels in you happen to have a specific bagel craving, but in any other times when you’re just looking to fill an empty stomach, Dawn City Books perfectly does the job.

    This place has definitely became one of my favourite places to chat with friends or spend a quiet afternoon by myself in Shanghai, because no where else beats its great open atmosphere. Overall price for a quick meal is 60-80rmb. Coffee and drinks go for around 30-50 rmb.

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  • Not feeling too hungry and trying to be healthy one day, my co-worker and I went into the Sproutworks located at Xintiandi’s commercial area for a quick lunch. Not too crowded during the lunch hour, we were able to waltz in, order at the counter, and find a table fairly easily. Most people dining there looked like they worked around the area, and there’s a great outside seating area for a sunny day. The place is set up like a salad bar, in which you can choose a variety of sides and salads to create a DIY meal. I decided to order the kale salad, baked cauliflowers, mashed potatoes, along with some marinated tofu.

    Once I’ve put the food into my mouth, I can’t even begin to describe how bland each of them tasted. Maybe I ordered a bad combo, maybe healthy food isn’t for me, or maybe Sproutworks’ food isn’t made for those with heavy taste buds like mine. I don’t know, but either way, not wanting to waste food, I had to force myself to eat the rest of the meal. Around 2 hours later, I felt a surge of hunger as if I’ve never eaten lunch. I’m not sure how but the meal has actually managed to make me feel more hungry.

    Needless to say, I probably won’t be giving Sproutworks another try. Although they had a wide variety of healthy options, it wasn’t a feel-good healthy option for me, unlike other light food joints like FitBee. Overall price was quite affordable at 60 rmb/person .

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  • Located on the 4th floor of the SML Plaza, Yan Yu Hua Xiang is a great place to host a gathering, where you eat the traditional Chinese way: around a large round table. As its name in Chinese suggests, you are made to feel as if you’ve walked into a secret garden upon entering the restaurant, although the low hanging flower-shaped lights and fake birds perched on fake branches can tend to look a bit tacky.

    Our group ordered the lotus roots soup, scallion chicken, soy-sauce eggplants, spicy cabbage, and topped it with the deserts double-layered steamed milk custard with red beans. Our waiter strangely served our deserts before any of the main courses, but we were too hungry to care and dug in. Out of everything we’ve ordered, what’s especially mentionable is the lotus roots soup. The rich aroma of the lotus blended in pork and peanuts does wonders on the taste buds and soothes the tummy. It’s the kind of dish that’s not only healthy for your body, but also makes you feel great when consuming it. The scallion chicken was an alright cold dish, but lacked much taste, but then again, I haven’t ate enough scallion chicken to know what the authentic version is supposed to taste like. The eggplant & cabbage went great with rice. After the main course, we ordered another round of milk custard desserts because after a wholesome meal, you can’t say no to some sweets, and also because their custards were on made on point.

    The best thing about this meal? It only costed around 70 rmb/ person. What a deal for a place like this.

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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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    Originally from the UK, with 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Globaltraveller has worked on four continents and opened seven hotels in Asia for hotel groups in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, the Maldives and Malaysia.
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