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  • It’s a bit sad about Egg, because apparently they used to have a really good vegan bowl on the menu. They’ve rehashed it now, so it’s hard to order anything without their eponymous ji dan as a feature. You can get the avo toast without parmesan, and it’s pretty good, but it still feels like a lazy vegan option.

    They are really good at eggs, though. We tried them in a dense and flaky shaobing with homemade sour plum ketchup, cheese and an undetectable (but advertised) tofu scallion mayo. We had one in a muffin with a slow-braised pork chop. Presumably, there was an eggy presence in the divine milk cereal and white chocolate cookie I ordered. You can even get a Vietnamese-style egg coffee, if the mood takes you, and order anything (possibly even the coffee) with an extra egg on top, cooked any way you flipping like, for 8rmb.

    Honestly, there are some egg-free options. The avocado toast (minty!) isn’t egg-topped, and neither are the slow-braised “cloud beans” (hearty!). The coconut iced coffee doesn’t contain egg either, in case you were wondering. In total, for six people, we paid 490rmb – not-at-all-bad pricing for a not-at-all-bad brunch.

    Egg is a bright but cozy neighbourhood brunch spot with a mix of classic and more interesting menu options. Prices are on point, and waiting times are fairly average. It’s worth a visit just for the cookies, but you should probably try at least one egg dish too.

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  • I don’t know why Elijah Holland didn’t call Botanik ‘Persephone’ instead. It’s only around during the summer months (May – October), its food seems to come from the heart of Mother Earth herself, and it’s about as difficult to find as a kidnapped goddess.

    On that last point, there aren’t any signs to Botanik. In Tianzifang, follow the arrows for The Plump Oyster instead. When you get there, look around for the verdant vertical garden growing out of the staircase wall, and climb up to the rooftop. When your surroundings feel like a particularly charming scene in a bucolic fairytale, you’ve arrived.

    We started with some cocktails, which showcase the focus of the restaurant. Everything is based around foraged ingredients, and the flavours are bold: from truffley and mushroom-infused to sharp coconut. They also have a great wine selection, including some natural and orange wines, and bar staff so friendly I almost expected hand-woven bracelets and hugs with the bill.

    At the table, there was a folded menu for the evening with its own little Botanik wax seal. It was long. Seventeen courses long. The menu changes every week or so, and I’m not going to spoil the surprises, but there was some beautiful cooking. The mushroom and jujube charcuterie made us both laugh out loud because it was just so good. The sprouted coconut heart with black garlic was unreal – smokey, soft and comforting. And the ice cream. My goodness. It involved bay leaf, bee pollen and buffalo milk, and it was one of the best moments of my year.

    There are so many lovely little touches at Botanik. Until you speak to the chefs, it’s hard to imagine how this tiny, rustic open kitchen is turning out things like delicate, cheesey cracker “shells” for its razor clam course, or the lightest little peach jelly with Thai basil seeds. It makes sense when they come over to introduce the food, though. The whole team is committed to Holland’s magical vision, and they’re delivering it to their twenty guests each evening with finesse. The tasting menu is 688rmb per head; with drinks, we paid around 2600rmb for two.

    Botanik is a magical little rooftop garden serving gorgeous, pretty, clever food. If you can’t get a dinner reservation this summer, go along for some of their idiosyncratic cocktails anyway, and set a reminder to book early when they (hopefully) reopen next May. It’s more than worth the effort.

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  • Cactus is a Mexican restaurant most notable for its weeknight “value” deals, which aren’t even particularly great value. When I visited, for example, it was “Taco Thursday” – any taco for 10rmb. Tacos are tiny. Most Mexican places in the city wouldn’t charge you more than 30rmb for two, even when they’re not on offer and they’re filled with foie gras. Less than tempting.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a single vegetarian taco. Not a solitary spicy mushroom option. Pretty much the only veggie option on the whole menu is a taco salad, which was just a crisped tortilla bowl filled with iceberg lettuce, peppers, onions and tomatoes. The meat and fish options were okay as drink-accompanying canapés, but nothing to shout about.

    Unsurprisingly, they also have drinks offers. On a Wednesday, it’s “Teachers’ Night”, which means free drinks for teachers for two hours. I don’t know about you all, laowai laoshi fam, but my Thursday timetable is terrible. I’d rather not risk the bad-tequila double-hangover I got from drinking there last time. Happy Hour also gets you margaritas for around 30rmb. They’re okay.

    One of the only positive things about the experience was that they agreed to order in a cake for our friend’s birthday. It’s pretty unusual for a restaurant not to offer a birthday incentive on the house, though; we paid them 180rmb for the privilege. We ate as a big group and everyone ordered a lot of tacos, but – for my sad taco salad and three margaritas – I paid 135rmb.

    Cactus is too far north of the laowai fun zone to really bring in big numbers. They’re trying hard with the nightly deals, but the food isn’t good enough to travel for. It’s okay for a couple of margaritas and snacks if you’re in the area.

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  • Full disclosure: I visited Miss Fu in Chengdu (she isn’t, FYI; she's definitely in Shanghai) after a beer festival, which might have meant that I enjoyed the food more. I’d go back sober anytime, though, because it’s great and fun and cheap and fast and spicy as hell.

    There’s an English menu (helpful!) on which you use your little Miss Fu pencil to label each item with how many you want, like a gluttonous IKEA trip. We ordered a ridiculous amount and finished almost everything.

    First, you choose which broth you’d like your skewers to be served in. There are four different heat levels, plus some other flavours. We went with the medium, which was about right.

    Next, choose your skewers. Rule #34 of Chinese restaurants applies here: if you can imagine it on a skewer (and it’s legal to eat), you can probably get it – from tripe to seafood rolls to meat-coated, meat-stuffed meatballs. There’s also a good range of veggie options; the pumpkin, mushrooms and beancurd were all good.

    I know the skewers are normally the centerpiece, but the sides were the best part for me. The dumplings, drowned in chili oil and scattered with sesame and peanuts, were bomb. The topped noodles and crispy-fried, cumin-spiced pork were also great.

    The service is pretty quick, too. In total, we paid 491rmb for four people, but we ordered enough food and beer to feed a small battalion – and get them pretty drunk, too, especially if they’d already been to a beer festival. Oop.

    Miss Fu in Chengdu has several branches across the city, and it’s easy to see why they’re so popular. Its format means that dinner is endlessly customizable – perfect for group dinners. Go for the skewers, but don’t miss the dumpling and noodle sides.

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  • Grain's a new-ish little place on Changle that says it serves crepes. I hate to be a stickler for definitions here, but it doesn't. It serves chunky, meaty jianbing.

    They're not bad! Satisfying and spicy (unless you ask otherwise) and loaded with fillings that all look a lot more hygienic than they do at my local jianbing spot. There are no veggie options on the menu, but you can cobble together your own from the little pick-n-mix section. There are English translations, too. Handy! Laowai-friendly! I had the 'signature sausage and beef', because I'm a sucker for a signature dish. It was pretty good! Heavy and filling.

    There are drinks, too, mostly based around soybeans and/or oats. I mixed the two; my soybean and oat drink was thick and frothy and pretty good. In total, my little jianbing and drink set was 32rmb, which, look, isn't as cheap as my normal 6rmb jianbing, but it was packed with fillings and flecked with sesame seeds, so they do at least try to justify the higher cost. They're on Elema as 小谷仓 with some good deals, too.

    Grain is a safe option if you've wanted to try jianbing for a while but haven't mustered up the Mandarin to visit a real hole-in-the-wall place. They serve Chinese-style, traditional-ish jianbing and very thick drinks. It lacks personality, though, and it's much more expensive than your classic jianbing joints.

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  • A few years ago, the mention of a vegan option on a menu would’ve been enough to add at least a star to my mental restaurant rating. It’s 2019, though. Giving your diners the option of vegan pho isn’t enough. It has to actually taste decent. Come on, Pho Real. Revamp your recipe and make my lazy, part-time vegan heart happy.

    We tried the spring rolls. They’re greasy. We tried some crackers with a diced vegetable salad. They’re crunchy but not moreish.

    And we tried the vegan pho. Well. It’s a (to be fair) generous bowl of noodles in a (to be fair) not-awful broth. To be even fairer, I went to Hanoi a few weeks ago; the pho there, vegan or otherwise, is a very hard act to follow. This, though, was blander than water. It comes topped with some discs and balls of unidentifiable and flavourless mush. There’s some coriander on there too, and it comes with a plate of garnishes that you’ll need to add if you want your tongue to actually realize you’re eating something.

    For the above, with a diet coke and a side order of disappointment, we paid 156rmb.

    Pho Real exists, and will probably continue to exist, and that’s about the most exciting thing you can say about it. It’s great that they offer a vegan pho, but it’s a shame that the vegan pho isn’t great. It’s fine for a quick lunch if your only criteria is an English/picture menu, but it isn’t worth making a detour for.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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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  • American

    A China expat since 2011, David moved to Shanghai for work in 2014. So far, his quest for memorable food has taken him to 22 different Chinese provinces and territories. When not actively hunting for delicious morsels around town, he is a director at a clean energy strategy consulting firm in Shanghai.
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    Anita is a twenty-something Kiwi navigating her way bite by bite around Shanghai. She's passionate about food, the story it tells and always eager to learn about new flavours. Some of her favourite gram accounts are: The Australian Gourmet Traveller, Symmetry Breakfast and The Dogist.
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  • Shanghai is the 10th city that Ting has called home. She works at a Chinese social enterprise and loves immersing herself in new cultures and chasing new experiences, particularly food.
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