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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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  • The Breakfast Company, as its name suggests, serves all-day breakfasts fulfilling your cravings of brunch, brinner, etc. because let’s be real, bacon and eggs tastes amazing no matter what time of the day it is.

    The storefront isn’t too big, with around 9 tables (most of them two seaters) and a couple of bar stools. Opening at 10:30a.m., this place starts to fill up at 11 a.m. on a weekday, and by lunch, there’s a small group of people waiting to be seated. Because of how high demand this place is, I wouldn’t say this is the best place to sit down and chat, because you will feel pressured to eat fast and go by the presence the line.

    When ordering, I went straight for their signature Full Arashiyama Breakfast Set which contains a healthy serving of bacon, beans, eggs, sausage, bash, and tomatoes. The Set can be bought by itself, or alongside a lunch set (ordered from 10:30-16:00), which gives you a starter of salad or soup, with an additional drink (free refills for coffee). Food came fairly swift, and everything was cooked to just the right amount- the bacon was not too hard, the fried egg had just the right amount of yolk, and the beans tasted amazing with toast. My avocado banana smoothie also tasted creamy and amazing, but left me feeling quite bloated after the meal.

    Overall it was a very solid brunch, with the lunch sets (confusingly named I know) coming out to be 98rmb/ person.

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  • I stumbled upon this gem close to Nanjing West Road and came in during dinner rush hour on a weekday night. Although the place was quite packed, I didn’t have to wait for a table. Steams filled the room from the pots of peppered pork stew, that the restaurant is known for, on every table. In fact, even the Chinese name of the restaurant reflects their stew specialty, 肥仔文澳门猪骨煲. The aroma is intoxicating, but be warned, you’ll probably leave the restaurant smelling like pork stew too.

    Aside from their signature pork stew, we also ordered their eight-flavoured tofu (another signature dish), shrimp paste spinach, and sausage claypot rice. Their signature dishes taste absolutely amazing and truly lives up to its title. The pork stew comes in a large pot, and is filled with pork bones, corn, winter melon, and some chicken feet, all dosed in a rich creamy soup flavoured with peppered spices. The pot comes in at room temperature and is placed at the center of the table on top of an electronic cooker that heats up the pot, usually a wait of around 10 or 15 minutes before you can dig in. Although the stew is delicious, I can’t really pinpoint what other flavourings (curry perhaps) might have been added for it to have such a rich texture, because pure pork soup is not that heavy. The signature dish tofu was out of this world, with perfectly fried crusts and incredibly soft insides; it really needed no sauce to top its natural flavour. By the time I got through with the pork stew (I had at least 5 bowls), I really had no more stomach for the spinach and claypot rice. A taste test tells me that the claypot rice also deserves an honourable mention for the snack worthy rice crust on the sides, a delight and must-have for any claypot rice dish in my books.

    Overall bill came out to be 220rmb, with the pork stew making up for more than half the bill.

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  • Hungry, fatigued, and soaked, I came into Bistro Burgers on a raining day not only expecting to fill the void in my tummy, but also to escape the gloominess of the rain with a nice brighten-me-up meal. High expectation that Bistro Burger has both managed to fulfil.

    Located on the intersection of Fumin Road and Changle Road, Bistro Burgers is at the center of it all, attracting both foreigners and locals alike at its doors. I’ve heard that they served mean burgers, but what really drew my eye was their proclaimed rating on dianping for having the best smoothie shakes in Shanghai. Critical at first, I knew that I had to try for myself to confirm.

    The store front is welcoming enough with both outside patio seating and cosy inside seating surrounded by brick walls. The service here was great, as the servers were very friendly in greeting us and helpful towards answering our questions. I ordered the classic Bistro burger, that came with either sides of fries or salad, and the Monkey Business milkshake, which was made up of fresh bananas, peanut butter, and vanilla ice cream. The burger both looked and tasted pretty darn good, with its tender beef patty, fresh veggies, and glazed buns. The milkshake, in the end, lived up to its name, leaving me craving for more. At first, I wasn’t too sure if adding peanut butter to milkshakes were a good idea, but they’ve really made it work with the peanut butter adding to the richness of the shake and perfectly balancing the otherwise overly sugary taste of the vanilla ice cream. Got to really watch out for those carbs though when ordering this shake, but nothing a trip to the gym can’t fix.

    Meal came out to be 130rmb/person.

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  • Pierogi Ladies is basically a hipster haven. Hidden inside a small alleyway alongside some lane-houses, the walls are decorated with colorful paintings, the shelfs are lined with books (most are in Polish), and some of the chairs serve the multi-purpose function of a swing. The cherry on top is the cute in-house cat that roams around drinking water from the decorative flower glasses on the tables. Seclusive and quiet, Pierogi Ladies is the perfect place to catch up with friends.

    The place was quite empty when we came on a Thursday night, and my friend and I were the only two around. The place started to fill up more as the night came around, and the crowd being all foreigners. As its name suggests, Pierogi Ladies specializes in polish dumplings with a variety to choose from, and they had a pretty extensive drink menu as well. I ordered the quesadilla pierogi and having never tired pierogies before, I was quite excited for the meal. An avid eater of Chinese dumplings, I was used to dipping my dumplings in vinegar. Who knew that fried dumplings could also taste so good when dipped in yogurt and cream. The cheddar cheese sprinkled on top of the chicken quesadilla dumplings gave it an extra boost and I loved how all the flavors melted in my mouth.

    A good round of dumplings called for some desert, so we ordered their apple pie with ice cream. We were happy to find that they had a buy one get one free deal on the apple pie that day, but I think deals like that should have been mentioned at the start, when we were looking through the menu. In the end, the desert came out to be quite disappointing. The apple pie was too hard both on the crust and filling, and was a bit dull in flavor. Unfortunately, the scoop of ice cream on the side was too tiny in portion to balance the dull flavor of the entire pie, so I finished desert feeling not quite satisfied. It was very filling though so I’ll give it that.

    Overall, would come back again for the pierogies and relaxing vibe, but will happily give deserts a miss. Overall tab was 160 rmb with the desert deal and without drinks.  

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  • Lanxin Restaurant is an old Shanghainese staple that’s been around for over 20 years. Having read about the restaurant in a food blog, I knew I had to check it out. Although there’s always a line outside the restaurant, I don’t think they have any plans of expansion. The first floor is quite crammed, barely fitting 5 tables, but the owner made the exception of opening up the second floor as well when the queue proved too long nearing closing time.

    Speaking of operation hours, they close in the afternoon at 2pm, and usually stop taking orders at 1:30 pm so do make sure to arrive early. As with all really delicious hole-in-the wall restaurants, do not come expecting anything above a 2-star service. Usually the restaurant owner will usher you in and impatiently wait as you choose to make your order. We’ve made it just in time to wait out in line and make it in before the afternoon closing time.

    As a party of three, we ordered the red braised fish, red braised pork, scrambled egg with crab powder, spinach, and a type of vegetable translated to be “toothed burclover .” The red braised fish and pork are pretty much staples of Shanghainese cuisine, and although delicious, I found them to be a bit too sweet for my liking. The scrambled egg gave me the greatest surprise. Although the name suggests the egg is made with crab powder, I tasted no traces of crab, but rather a mixture of sweet and vinegar sour flavor, which although sounds like the worst combination, tastes absolutely amazing. The top dish as listed on dianping however, was the “toothed burclover.” Having never tasted this vegetable before, I found it to quite the treat, leaving a refreshing and fragrant trace on your taste buds.

    We stuffed ourselves full, with the overall meal coming out to be about 300 rmb.

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  • Located on the second floor and third floor with a small and discreet doorway entrance on Shanxi South Road, Encounter is not the easiest place to locate, and I suspect that’s part of the appeal of this forest themed restaurant. Walking up the see-through glass steps peeking down at a layout of green grass and animal caricatures, the restaurant had a nice element of surprise. We choose to sit outside on the second-floor balcony, under a fake cherry blossom tree and overlooking a nice view of the streets below, but the real gem in this restaurant lies in the third floor, which sits a make shift tree house that reaches the ceilings. Surrounded by fairy lights, and wood decors, it’s as close as to feeling like you’re dining in a forest as you’ll get in the middle of downtown Shanghai.

    The menu has a wide variety of Southeast Asian cuisine, with the usual tom yum soup, papaya salad, and whatnot. Feeling a bit adventurous, we opted away from the tom yum soup and decided to get the coconut chicken soup. Having never tasted the dish elsewhere before, I found the coconut chicken soup to be a pleasant surprise- just as stimulating on the taste buds as the tom yum, but with a nice addition of coconutty richness. The Pineapple seafood fried rice and the water spinach, although nothing spectacular, proved to be great companions of the soup. Service was great and the food arrived rather quick. Overall price per person was 100rmb.

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  • Hungry and tired, we stumbled upon this Japanese restaurant after failing to grab seats at another nearby popular restaurant. The inside of the place is decorated with streams of manga strips covering the walls, and a myriad of other Japanese decors.

    Our group of 4 found a great deal on the Dianping App that included a wide variety of items- sashimi platter, salmon sushi, tuna sushi, California roll, salmon cheese roll, eel egg roll, mango salad, potato stewed beef, sardine, and iron plate beef. In addition, we ordered 2 plates of pan-fried dumplings, and 3 helpings of avocado cheese salmon rolls, along with the side dish of green bean sprouts. That might sound like a lotta food for 4 people but Japanese food isn’t the best at filling a person up so we had to dig in.

    Starting with the sushi here, I’ll say that they aren’t bad but they are also not great either. What I don’t understand is why almost every sushi roll on the menu here has to have some sort of cheese inside or a drop of cream sauces on top. Perhaps to adapt to the Western appetite? The sashimi platter made for a great display as the smoke of the dry ice spewed about but I can’t really comment because I don’t really like to eat completely raw seafood. The beef here platters are not disagreeable but are served in really small portions. In the end, I’ll have to say that I liked pan fried dumplings the best out of all the dishes, because it is fried to just the right amount, with a nice vinegar sauce on the side to dip with.

    On to service- for relatively small place that is not too crowded, getting the waitress’s attention proved to be more of a struggle than necessary. This was quite frustrating throughout the meal. Overall, price is around 120 rmb/ person, with the platter deal being 168rmb, a discount from its original price of 399 rmb.

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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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