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Living in this city of constant change, we often opt for the novelty of convenience over preservation of the past. The grandeur of bigger & brighter is sometimes interpreted as better and Shanghai is no stranger to this notion. We have all seen how iconic mainstays here are not immune to a simple refresh or even complete closure. Thus as its noisy neighbors on Fumin Lu come and go, it is gratifying to see the doors of Guyi remain resolute.
The ambiance of Guyi and your first impression of the place won’t be classic, “old-school” Chinese: there are no wooden or plastic stools and no shouting whatsoever. The white-tablecloths speak sophistication and the bright lights from the chandeliers will make your forehead glisten after indulging in one of Shanghai’s best tributes to Hunan cuisine. The space & the spice are elevated and so should be your expectations of the experience.
As for the food, Guyi will always be in the conservation for the best cumin rib in the city, but in terms of fish head in Shanghai, there is no debate. The green and red chili fish head is definitely one of the best I’ve had in China—almost reminiscent of the times when working in Iron Chef Morimoto and the sushi chefs would broil the bluefin tuna head for meal after closing. You have to be a fan of gelatinous goodness and would highly recommend taking the plunge if you haven’t already. Many chefs attest to the heads being the best part of the animal and fish is certainly no exception.
Nonetheless, as the cumin-crusted ribs and the fish head are what you go for, the whole chili prawns on a skewer and frog steamed in bamboo are adequate compliments to the main event. I would probably skip the wok-served shortribs next time as there is better out there and you’ll need to order a vegetable for the table to add a break & balance to the fiery protein dishes.
Guyi does its part to remain relevant in the transient trends of the Shanghai scene. It will always be a great place for dining with out-of-town guests and provides an intimate, honest look into Hunan mainstays. Your friends and family will have to be appreciative & tolerant of the spicy nature of the cuisine— but if they are, they will be pleasantly rewarded. In this city, it is often difficult to find original places of the past. Sometimes, bigger & brighter is not synonymous with better as when a restaurant like Guyi is just simply this good.
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