Jonas Noël came to Shanghai in 2016 as the executive sous chef of L'Atelier de Robuchon. From there, he opened his first place, Oxalis, at the now-closed Waterhouse Hotel. After taking a short break to search for a new location, he came back in October 2019 with a completely new look for Oxalis 2.0, bright and sunny, near the Natural History Museum. (See what we thought of it here.)
Noël is a big fan of Chinese cuisine, and pairing wine with Chinese food, among others, so I asked him to highlight a few restaurants he likes — including the times he's going for galettes or giant wedges of cheese.
Clay Pot Rice with Crab
An institution. Always busy. Service might be rude sometimes but the food never disappoints. One dish I have to order when I go there: Clay pot rice with crab meat. It's a big pot of rice and a sizzling pot of picked crab meat and roe. The servers pour vinegar and ginger on the rice and then generous spoonfuls of crab. Purely delicious.
The rich, oily crab is balanced by the acidity of the vinegar and the spiciness of ginger, all on perfectly cooked rice. And then at the end, you find those crispy bites of rice on the bottom of the clay pot. Think of how long it would take to pick all that crab if you did it at home... Last but not least, I once had an amazing Champagne Substance from Champagne grower/producer Jacques Selosse paired with that dish.
Pork and Egg Yolk Xiao Long Bao
This restaurant (related to Jia Jia Tang Bao) has one item that really stands out for me: the pork and salted egg yolk xiao long bao. It's one of the best in town. Thin skin, proper folding, well-seasoned and a good texture for the pork, plus the oily egg yolk. And steamed "a la minute".
A touch of vinegar with some julienned ginger and you have a legit lunch. Pretty good knife skills on the julienned ginger. Had to mention that!
Chinese Pickled Mustard Greens and Fish
This restaurant focuses on suan cai yu, and there's often a queue. You've got to be a minimum of two people for the big bowl of spicy fish soup with sliced boneless fish and pickled vegetables. You can add things like mushrooms or rice noodles; I just get a bowl of steamed rice on the side to soak up the broth.
It's spicy and numbing, and can set you on fire but the taste is complex. After trying it once, you either get addicted or you never go back. Funny fact: they don't accept tables of more than four people as they want guests to focus on food not socializing. As a chef, I respect that.
Chilled Mango & Sago Cream with Pomelo
I have some routines. One of them is ordering the same Cantonese dessert when I eat out. This dish looks simple but is easy to mess up with the wrong ingredients.
This dessert chain restaurant, in Sinar Mar Plaza, does a good one, for me: ripe mango made into a thick mango sauce, a good balance from the pomelo, which adds bitterness and texture, and freshly cooked sago. (We have all tried soggy, unpleasant sago.) Happiness for 22rmb.
Cheese might be what I miss the most. When I'm homesick, two generous slices of truffled Brie with a bread basket makes me instantly feel better. Imagine a whole piece of Brie de Meaux stuffed with truffle and cheese. Be patient when you get it — let it get to room temperature first. Cheese should be recommended as an antidepressant. And as Epicerie & Caviste 62 Le Bec is a wine shop, there is always something good to pair it with.
Dim Sum & Cantonese food
It's difficult to only mention one restaurant when it's about Cantonese food. At Imperial Treasure, my go-to is the pan-fried turnip cake, actually my favorite dim sum and a go-to anywhere. Plus the crispy taro puffs with pork and mushrooms. Their roasted pigeon is also one of the best I've tried so far in Shanghai.
Sui Tang Li is a good spot for contemporary, Instagrammable and still tasty dim sum. When I was there a few weeks ago, three items stood out: spicy shrimp wontons; shrimp & scallop dumplings with XO sauce; and chicken and abalone puffs with mushrooms. The last one looked really nice — a cylinder of puff pastry tied with chive and filled with mushroom, chicken and half an abalone. Beautiful and delicious.
Bao Li Xuan in the Bvlgari Hotel is a mix of classic and contemporary. I often order the classics and their siu mai & har gow do the job properly— thin skin, perfectly steamed, bouncy shrimp and good pork filling. For the more modern side, I like the steamed rice rolls with crispy shrimp, and the glutinous rice dumplings with chicken, dried shrimp and mushroom. I'm quite impressed by the glutinous dumpling shaped like a pear, deep-fried with a thin glutinous rice skin and a touch of five-spice. Damn tasty.
The Far West Galette
Shanghai is crazy about brunch, so doing brunch all day, every day is clever. I go for the Far West Galette: pancetta, egg, mushrooms, cheese & cream. The edges of the galette are crispy but the center stays moist, and you get that nutty taste from the buckwheat.
I mean, look at the ingredients — how is it going to go wrong? At night, I go for the sautéed chicken hearts and a bottle of wine from their large selection. Casual food, natural wines and good vibes.
This shop, owned by a Muslim family, is close to Oxalis and one of my afternoon canteens. It's cheap, tiny and there is no English menu. They have a lot of noodles. I get the shaved one.
I like the thickness and the chewy texture of the al dente noodle. It comes in a big bowl of beef broth with sliced beef shank, pickled vegetables, chili sauce, coriander & spring onion. If I'm in a veggie mood, I get their charcoal-grilled Chinese chives with Middle Eastern spices.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream
The place to go for salted caramel ice cream. There's a reason it's their top seller. Creamy ice cream, rich caramel flavor but not too sweet, crunchy pieces of caramel biscuit mixed into the ice cream and a pinch of salt on top to enhance the taste. Efficient & straightforward! Well done, Luneurs.
Coquillettes Ham and Cheese
I'm pretty sure every French kid ate coquillettes with ham and cheese at home. It's definitely a childhood memory and Pairet's version triggers that. His dish is much fancier than my mom's though. I like his interpretation because there is a good balance between acidity and richness. I can taste lemon, brown butter and even mushroom in that one. All those ingredients are rich in umami and that dish has a really long after taste. An important detail: The round tuile of Gruyere cheese that gives this dish its crunchy texture. Homey food brought to another level. Cooking simple food is never simple...