Born and raised in America , Ajay is a food enthusiast who spends a lot of his spare time walking the streets of this ever changing city. He moved here in 2014 to experience an underrated city. A man of many dreams (opening a restaurant, screenwriter, remembering more than two Chinese words) he’s found its better to stop worrying and have a bowl of noodles instead.
Atmosphere: It's a spacious cafe, with variants of table sizes throughout. Good for catching up with friends, business discussins, or working on the next great screenplay, it meets all your cafe needs. There’s even an open kitchen with six soufflé ovens so you can watch the magic happen.
Food: Cafe overload. These days, seems as if on every corner of Shanghai a cafe is opening up. It’s always a treat, however, to see a cafe that’s not a Starbucks or Baker & Spice. That’s why I was intrigued to visit Caffaina, a newly opened, spacious cafe near Hanzhong Road metro station.
Pre-made sandwiches and pastries greet you as you make your way to the register. There’s no doubt that the specialty of this cafe are soufflés, though, as pictures and plastic replicas bombard you from different directions.
On my visit, I ordered a flat white, smoked chicken panini, and the classic soufflé. You could spend a good fifteen minutes just deciding between the eight varieties of soufflés (from classic, to sesame and even blueberry) but seeing that this was my first visit, I had to go with the classic.
The flat white is pricey, coming in at 39 RMB. It’s too light for my preference. However, they have a huge selection of coffees to choose from, so it’s worth another shot. The smoked chicken panini lacks any exciting flavors. No smokiness in the chicken, a piece of lettuce that seems to have lost its way, and a slice of cheese that doesn’t bother contributing.
But then there’s the soufflé. Each soufflé takes twenty minutes to make. The wait is absolutely worth it. It’s just as a soufflé should be: delicate, fluffy, creamy, with just a hint of sweetness. The edge of the crust just crunchy enough to provide a balancing mouthfeel. A side scoop of vanilla ice cream and two sugar cookies accompany the dish, but the star here is the soufflé. They even thoughtfully provide instructions on how to eat the soufflé in case it’s your first go around. If the classic is this good, it begs to wonder how the other seven compare.
I doubt Caffeine will make a dent in Starbucks’ or Baker & Spice’s domination, but it’s a pleasant deviation nonetheless, if only for the soufflé. Skip everything but the soufflé. You want this soufflé. You need this soufflé. Simply put, Caffaina is an unexceptional cafe with one exceptional dish.
Service: The service staff are very friendly and deliver food with a smile.
Atmosphere: Spacious. Wooden, sometimes wobbly tables. TVs showing Aussie sports. This is an expat institution, where single diners can enjoy as much as a big group. Wanna drown your sorrows with some shots? Saddle up to the bar. Play some darts or pool? They got a few tables. Eat a decent steak at a decent price? Come on by on Monday nights! The Shed is one of those places that when you enter, you know you’ll be in good hands.
Food: It's not going to win any awards for the steak. You wanted medium rare, but the steak arrives medium. They might give you the wrong side of sauce. Does any of that matter at The Shed? It’s not a place to complain. It’s a place to have good food without any fuss. Easy on the wallet. Tasty, daily specials. I make many return visits on Monday nights for their half-off steak specials. Two steaks, with that perfect char taste, choice of two sides, a side of sauce, and a glass of wine each for no more than 250 RMB. New York Strip, Ribeye, to a more expensive Rump - it’s all delicious.
The sides are hit and miss, but I highly recommend the side of Mexican rice. I don’t know what they do to it, but it has a certain chew to it that makes me happy. The sauteed mushrooms are spot on. They added what seems to be a new side item: baked cauliflower with cheese. The cauliflower was barely baked and the cheese lacked the cheesiness that's often missing in Shanghai's Western bars.
With the side sauce options, the bbq is servicable, but the onion gravy is like eating Thanksgiving gravy. Considering I missed Thanksgiving this year, it's a welcome addition to the steak.
Service: Completely acceptable. The staff speaks English quite well. Maybe a few minor mistakes when taking the order, but this is not a place for any gripes.
Atmosphere: Though the restaurant is in another one of those stale malls on Nanjing Xi Lu, the restaurant itself has a pleasant ambience. It's smaller than your typical Indian restaurant, but also boasts a see-through window that shows the chefs in action.
Food: King Khan (Bollywood star Amir Khan) has ruled the Chinese cinemas for several years. Can Khan Chacha, a new Indian restaurant with a touch of Persian fare, be the next King of Khans?
Recently opened on the fifth floor of Westgate Mall, I went during lunch to take advantage of their lunch specials available through DianPing. 58 RMB for a choice of curry or wrap, rice or naan, and nimbu paan or coke. I opted for the Achari Chicken Tikka Masala with Naan and nimbu paani, a refreshing drink made with freshly squeezed lemon. The first sip of the paani took me back to the scorching summers spent in New Delhi when there was no way to cool down than chugging ice cold, freshly squeezed nimbu paani.
The chicken is not your standard tikka masala. No creamy tomato sauce here. It’s served in a thicker, onion-tomato based gravy topped with sliced red peppers. A good rendition of the classic masala dish. The naan is standard issue, isn’t slathered in butter as in most places, and holds up well as a ladle to shovel the gravy into your salivating mouth. Though I came in for the lunch special, I had to tack on an order of daal. Here, the Daal Bukara, a rich and creamy lentil stew, is served with a dollop of butter. Simply satisfying.
No Indian meal is complete without a cup of masala chai. The chai here doesn’t disappoint, though I wish it was served in a bigger glass. The fennel and cardamom are the stars of the milky beverage as their aroma lingers throughout each sip.
I was intrigued by a few of the other dishes that the neighbouring diners were having: a beautifully presented Hyderbadi Briyani, steamed rice topped with dough, and a Persian fried phyllo dough stuffed with ricotta. This restaurant begs for a return.
Overall, it’s a pleasant addition, even if in a mall, to the ever growing Indian culinary scene. Dishes are presented with thought and well executed. Watch out Amir, cause a new Khan is threatening to take over the hearts of the Chinese.
Service: The service is as it should be: fast, friendly, quick on the refills.
Vietnamese restaurants aren’t as rare in Shanghai as they used to be just a few years ago. More choices means more opportunity pho you to find a good Vietnamese spot (I do not send my apologies for that terrible pun). Ha Tien joins the crowd in the Taikoo Hui mall off West Nanjing Road. How does it compare?
The pho sells itself. It’s aromatic broth hits you even before the server sets it on the table. The peaks of the pink, uncooked beef like icebergs piled in the beef broth. The beef and star anise linger on your tongue after every sip.
The grilled betel leaf wrapped beef is a treat. An item that I’ve never seen on a Vietnamese menu outside of Ho Chi Minh. Though it can’t compare to the real deal in Ho Chi Minh, it’s a dish worth ordering because it’s so different.
The dry vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls is a hearty dish. The spring rolls are the star, as they maintain their crispness no matter how much chilli sauce or hoisin you douse on the noodles. The dish comes with a side of home-made chilli sauce that provides an unexpected tang. Bottle that up and sell it please!
Overall, it’s one of the better Vietnamese spots in town. A menu that’s less than twenty items with a few good noodle choices and some items that aren’t so commonly found on other Vietnamese menus. Meal for two, without drinks, runs about 170 RMB.
Eating in a grocery store has, in my lifetime, never been a fulfilling experience. Disinterested staff preparing mediocre food that’s nearing fine-inducing temperatures. Needless to say, I was much too hesitant to try the seafood at HeMa, Alibaba’s supermarket that’s popping up all over Shanghai. But hey, different country, different experiences, right?
Things start off with a bang. HeMa’s seafood section is as fresh as can be. Large tanks display copious amounts of sea creatures: fish, clams, mussels, shrimp, big lobsters and giant crabs barreling over one another. Choose your victim, the helpful staff bags it up, and walk it over to the register by the kitchen. Select your cooking style and choice of flavor, find a seat, and wait patiently until your number is called. Then just devour the goodness.
Dinner started off with razor clams coated in a spicy sauce consisting of five different kinds of chili peppers. I couldn’t help but lick the sauce off the shells. Next came the plump mussels which were covered in a thick ginger and scallion sauce. Pluck out the meat, then use the shell to scoop the sauce onto your bowl of rice. It’s that good. The showstopper is the fresh Boston lobster. Split in half, plentiful meat steamed to perfection, and topped with a slightly sweet vinegar sauce.
It’s fresh, messy and extremely budget friendly. Razor clams, mussels, and a whole Boston lobster cooked to order all for just under 150 RMB. Your Alipay account won’t even feel a pinch. HeMa is not your typical grocery store experience. You definitely want to eat here.
Nothing beckons indulging in some American BBQ when the dog days of summer are in full force. Enter Chuckville, a newly opened BBQ joint in what looks like to be an up and coming F&B complex near Laoximen.
The menu contains a variety of meats you’d expect at any respectable BBQ place. However, there are two standouts. First, the melt-in-your mouth brisket that begs repeat orders. Second, the beef ribs that would make Fred Flintstone proud. Not shy on meat, it falls right off the bone. Kissed with the essence of smoke that takes me back to the backyard bbq’s of my youth.
When eating BBQ, don’t skimp on the sides. The potato mash with burnt ends is an unexpected hit, though I wish the pieces of burnt ends were bigger. The coleslaw is creamy and the creamed spinach is rich in its butteriness. The corn bread, as tasty as it is, is served in a minuscule portion.
The only gripes I have about this place is that 1) there is no homemade bbq sauce to speak of. There is only one option of sauce, and I wouldn’t doubt if it’s of the bottled variety. Come on, Chuckville, you got to step up your sauce game! 2) No baked beans on the menu? Blasphemy!
Overall, a better-than-expected American BBQ restaurant that really serves up some moist and delicious barbecue. The staff is friendly with never-ending smiles. Chuckville can be a bit pricey, but if you can limit yourself to one beef rib shared amongst friends, it shouldn’t be too excessive.
It’s creamy. It’s smooth. Simply put, it’s heaven in a bowl. Move over ice cream, because there’s a new king of summer in town. Xibei Yogurt House has just taken first place on the podium of summer desserts.
Grab a bowl when you enter. Pour in a ladle or two of your choice of sweet or unsweetened yogurt. Top it with your choice of toppings that range from fresh seasonal fruit to corn flakes to tiny chocolate morsels. Have it weighed by the friendly staff, grab a seat and indulge in the new summer treat. Who knew that yogurt could taste so darn good!
Be careful though. If you get too liberal with the toppings (and you definitely will) your bowl of yogurt may top out at nearly 60 RMB. Manage it carefully, and you’ll satisfy your sweet tooth at roughly 25 RMB.
Xibei Yogurt House has savory food on the menu too, and in all honesty, I didn’t bother trying it. I was here for the yogurt. And this place doesn’t disappoint. My new rankings for Shanghai’s delectable dairy treats: In third place is the classic and budget friendly ice cream bar, Dong Bei Da Ban. Kicked to #2 is the always reliable Italian gelato spot, GROM. And now, until further notice, Xibei Yogurt House stands confidently on top of the charts, clutching gold, with its luscious, and oh-so-creamy yogurt.
The burgeoning coffee scene in Shanghai has introduced many options to get that caffeine fix. Sometimes it can be too much of a burden deciding where to get that addictive beverage. Akimba, primely located on ever-changing Yuyuan Lu, is a cafe worth a visit.
Along with the standard coffee options, it offers three fruit coffees served on ice: lychee, grapefruit and pineapple. Weird at first glance, but I recommend giving them a shot. The pineapple coffee is not shy in it’s sweetness, but the bitterness of the coffee helps to cut through. Served with a slice of pineapple and sprig of aromatic rosemary it could definitely work as a cocktail. BYO vodka or rum!
The latte is just how I like it: strong and creamy. They have a variety of instagrammable desserts that are quite pricey, many hovering over 80 RMB! The coconut tart is encased in a dark chocolate shell and topped with passion fruit cream that combines well with the sensibly sweet and light coconut mousse.
Overall, Akimba serves up some interesting coffee options, over-priced desserts, and good seats for people watching on Yuyuan Lu. Try one of the fruit coffees for a different experience.
As soon as it hits your tongue. That’s when you know you’re in good hands. The gnocchi melts in your mouth, the bright and herbal pesto lingers, and the subtle funkiness of the blue cheese jabs at your taste buds.
It’s unconventional that the first thing mentioned in a review for a cocktail bar is a pasta. However, Arch is not your typical cocktail bar. You come here for the drinks, but you stay for the pastas. And what a wonderful selection of pastas to choose from. The aforementioned gnocchi with pesto and blue cheese, orecchiette with a meaty and zesty lamb ragu, spinach tagliatelle with bite-sized meatballs and peppery arugula. It’s hard to decide which one is the clear cut favourite. Not to mention a perfectly charred octopus starter, served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, that prepares your mouth for the onslaught of flavours that’s about to be experienced. The pastas at Arch are, unequivocally, the best pastas I’ve ever eaten in Shanghai.
The cocktails are nothing to be sneezed at, either. The drink list is imaginative, beginning with a selection of aperitivos that opens up your palate. One recommendation is the refreshing Campari & BBQ Orange served with a burnt orange wedge. The presentation of the Saffron & Ginseng, refreshing though potent, is highlighted by a glass dusted with pumpkin powder. Tell the bartender what kind of drink profile you prefer and have them come up with something on the spot. I wanted something a bit strong so the bartender whipped up a coconut Old Fashioned. Who knew that could be a good combination, but sure enough, just about everything works at Arch.
Arch is a well executed cocktail bar where the food menu sneaks up on you and takes you on a journey you never could have expected. Hats off to the team here because they know what they’re doing and it shows in each sip of imaginative cocktails and each indulgent bite of perfectly cooked pastas.
As I walked past this small cafe not too far from Ruijin Lu, the exterior bar-stool seating beckoned me to come and take a rest on a beautiful spring afternoon. Having visited Paris not too long ago, I was hoping this cafe might transport me back to the gluttonous city.
The first thing that acknowledges Paris is the small display of five to six croissants by the register. The menu offers up a simple selection of sandwiches, salads, smoothies and coffee. I ordered the Le Parisian Ham sandwich, an espresso to get a pick me up, and the Paris smoothie.
The sandwich is presented showing off all the layers of tomato, cucumber, lettuce, ham and oregano-seasoned fried egg drizzled in mayo. The toasted bread quickly falls apart upon biting into it. It’s best to resume eating it by scooping up the ingredients with the toast, Indian-style.
The smoothie looks like ice cream as it’s served in a blue-tinted mason jar. Perfectly cold and refreshing, though lacking much of the strawberry-banana flavor promised from the menu. The espresso is invigorating. Dark, bitter, with a subtle fruitiness. The perfect pick-me-up.
While it may not make you feel as if you’re back in Paris, Meet in Paris does offer terrific seating for people-watching and a cozy atmosphere to pass time on a lazy afternoon. The food may not stand out, but the espresso, brewed by an ever smiling barista, is on par with that of any decent cafe in Shanghai.
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.