Industry Nights is a semi-regular column featuring the haunts of chefs, restaurant owners, F&B managers, and other marginally sane people with good eating recommendations.
Stefan Lange has had many a finger in many a pie in Shanghai. He served stints at the Shangri-la, House of Roosevelt and Sakesan before striking out on his own with a cafe and kitchen by the name of Fat Mama.
"The place is part of a small chain. They've tried to turn a little fancy over the years but their Iskender Kebab (bread, tomato sauce, grilled meat, salty yogurt) is still my personal happy meal. The place is buzzing with shoppers from Xujiahui, people who eat halal food for religious reasons or for the taste, students from the Jiaotong University dorms down the road, and between 5 and 8 it takes about an hour to get a table. Most of the food is average Xinjiang but their grilled chicken is also the best I've had in Shanghai. I would love to be allowed in their kitchen to see the chefs working the griddle but they won’t let me. I still want to go for my birthday because they switch off all the lights in the place and play the tackiest happy birthday song ever as a parade of waiters present a funny hat to the birthday boy or girl. Love it!"
"The worst dinner I ever had to cook was for a vegan party in New York. I strongly believe that if you don’t like vegetables they don’t like you either. I find bok choy one of the most overrated vegetables ever. But this place has proselytized me. There was a lot of theory involved when I trained as a chef in a two Michelin star kitchen in Germany and I did not know of the existence of half of the mushrooms they have on the menu. A dish will always only be as good as the produce it is made of. Whatever dish I pointed at on their menu tasted as if a chef went to pick the ingredients himself. They do a tofu that has a super thin crust of herbs and garlic. Ask for the printed menu. It looks pretty and it is much easier to read than the one on the ipad that they present to you. Whenever I go there with somebody who speaks more than three words of Chinese, the service is among the best I've had in Shanghai. Waiters seem to know the ingredients and preparations as if they were cooking the dishes themselves. Still, it's a real bummer that they don't serve alcohol."
"Every time I go there I try to figure out how they can pull off their massive menu in a kitchen that is smaller than one of my girlfriend's shoeboxes. Here you rub shoulders with Japanese business hot shots in suits that cost more than a kilo of fresh fish that flies first class from Osaka to Shanghai, creative looking people and the occasional laowai. Chicken donate their livers to be grilled by a grumpy looking dude who is working the charcoal grill. Any fresher and the mackerel sashimi would be alive. The croquettes with bacon bits are standing in line to throw themselves into the deep fryer. Their namesake, the soba noodles are good but, ironically, not a highlight."
The Pantry at The Park Hyatt
If you are sick and tired of climbing over baby strollers in three languages on Anfu, acrobats flying above your eggs benedict and mediocre Waldorf salads then this is your place. Gregor, former executive sous chef at Stiller’s, has worked in kitchens that have more stars than the Shanghai sky on a clear night. He just joined the Park Hyatt and is now in charge of the Pantry and the proper Chef’s Table next to it. This place is good (of course – it’s a Park Hyatt) but if he keeps doing what he did at Stiller’s it will be fantastic. The lobster brunch on Sunday is pure decadence. When you finish your a la carte entrée and main you have already eaten one Boston lobster and then you can start ordering as many dishes as you like. The aioli Gregor serves with a steamed lobster is so fluffy it believes it can fly. The Pastry Chef at the Park Hyatt is Luis, a local Chinese guy who easily beats many famed French bakers who sell bread loafs for 120 kuai on Wukang Lu by far. When you break their bread you can already hear how good it is. With the free flow Champagne option and service charge you roll out for just under 1000 kuai. Yes that is a lot of money but together with Yi Cafe at the Shangri-La Pudong this is the only place in Shanghai that comes close to the lavish brunches in Dubai or New York and is totally worth it.
Two Portuguese chefs open a hot dog shop in China... What sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke is Shanghai’s version of New York’s iconic Gray’s Papaya. Yes their dogs are that good. Tomas and Joao make their own sausages and their own buns and sell them opposite the campus of a university. Smart. Apparently it took them three months to create sausages they were happy with. Their Portuguese egg tarts are even better than their hot dogs. Not too sweet, creamy and a pastry that is crunchy outside and smooth inside. It is a rather long trip for a sausage a bun and a tart but so worth it. They have a tricycle that they turned into a barbecue. I saw it on the Yanping Lu market and the Taicang Lu flea market. The ones in the shop are even better though.
SML mall on Taikang Lu opposite the formerly cool and now tour group attraction Tianzifang is (together with Carrefour Gubei) one of the saddest places in Shanghai. But there is a massive food court on level B2 with all your usual suspects and this Japanese noodle chain store. The tiny kitchen is occupied by massive noodle machines, dough makers and pots with steaming broth. In between is an army of chefs working hard. It’s all about freshness and the noodles go into the water just after they have been made. During lunch and dinner the place needs more rope barricades to control the crowds than M1NT on a busy night.
The Pancake Lady
The Avocado Lady started it. Now there seems to be a lady for pretty much anything you can make at home and sell to people who don't care if you have a license to make it or not. Not sure how many decades this lady has been making pancakes. My girlfriend was seriously pissed off when the local authorities closed her down for two days. The ginger paste the pancake lady makes has a fresh, spicy kick and the cracker that goes inside the pancake is crunchier than at any other stall in town. Happiness for 3.5 kuai, and that comes with a big smile too.