Was every new F&B venture that opened in 2019 a western restaurant, coffee shop or dessert shop? No. But, most were. According to this data, which analyzed Fengsheng Li, Xintiandi, IAPM and IFC, two-thirds of the tenants fit into those three categories. Yeesh! Shanghai, are we so predictable? Do we want anything besides a post-Starbucks coffee and a slice of wanghong cake?
Yes, yes, we do. And here’s the list to prove it. SmartShanghai added more than 900 bars, restaurants and clubs to its database in 2019. Granted not all of them were new this year, but at least half were, which means that this city is expanding way faster than it’s closing. (Scroll down for the full list of this year’s closures.) And this list doesn’t really include the far more dynamic Chinese restaurant industry. It’s just so big. Sorry!
I went through the list of openings and SmSh’s 2019 Dining articles and picked out some of the more notable things to talk about. Let’s get to it! The lookback!
Meat came in many forms this year. In the steakhouse world, we got to know Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, which I gushed about, and Phipps, which Paul Pairet apparently favors. Chef Jason Oakley also says good things about the Phipps' Philly cheesesteak, which is on Eleme. I’ve had it. Good stuff. They both technically opened in the end of 2018 but they didn’t pick up any street buzz until this year. Wolfgang’s, by the way, is 1,000 square meters and not having any problem filling its seats, where a porterhouse for two is about 1,600rmb. Add them to the list of Shanghai steakhouses.
Two newcomers tried their hand at barbecue this year. Chuckville was just so-so; Garlic Barbecue did a bit better. The latter brought in two monstrous steel submarines in which to wood-smoke their beef brisket, pork ribs and pork butt. When we went, they got some things right and some things wrong but I’ve heard they have at least re-painted the Texas flag the right way around. Hopefully the progress continues.
Stone Sal expanded into Lujiazui with Meatopia. The main man behind The Nest gambled on a Korean BBQ joint as his next hit. JUJU, which opened in the former CHI-Q space in Three on the Bund, does unlimited meats for less than 300rmb per person. No windows to the Bund but who needs that when bottles of soju are so cheap?
In the Other Meat category, Italian restaurant Senso became the first Western restaurant here to serve horse meat (and plenty more), and we sent one of our writers to scope out a couple popular frog hot pot and fried snake restaurants.
The Fancy Stuff
I thoroughly enjoyed the excitement and passion behind Elijah Holland’s Botanik. And then it closed. I didn’t enjoy Da Vittorio as much. And I questioned what was going to happen at The Puli’s Phenix restaurant after chef Michael Wilson left early in the year. But, hey, the new chef proved me wrong and kept the restaurant’s star in the 2019 Michelin awards. Must’ve been tough for him with all doubts (which I contributed to), so a genuine congrats to Pierrick Maire for staying the course. You won!
The Michelin Guide
The Casual Fancy Stuff
Austin Hu discovered vegetables and opened Heritage by Madison to prove it. Paul Pairet’s star power drew so many to Polux that they ran out of food in the first few days. They have since bought more and are constantly packed.
And coming in just before the clock, Charcohol is a new, moody bar/gastrolounge where they put a lot of onion ash on the food. Food! It’s the new black.
We didn’t stay very plugged into the Japanese circuit this year but still noticed that Tetsuya, the suitcase beef place with, gasp!, Japanese beef, closed (Grill in Peace). Fortunately, Nakama opened serving equally excellent yakiniku. And then that closed. Coming back in 2020 with a new name and a new location on Jianguo Lu.
Also, Three on the Bund added Japanese in the form of Shinpaku on the second floor.
Not new but have you been to Haiyu Sushi? The chef of Mercato (and the opening chef of Shinpaku) told us about this no-frills place for excellent fish and we’ve been back perhaps a dozen times since.
The Bund continued to grind along. New to it this year were Ce La Vi, a club-lounge-restaurant at the House of Roosevelt building; SakeMate, a Peruvian-Japanese (nikkei) entry on Yan’an Lu; and this crazy over-the-top hot pot restaurant called The Way of the Dragon.
The Food of the People
Finally, onto what the rest of us eat! Pizza! Joe’s Pizza opened on Nanchang Lu in December, behind IAPM, though closed in Sun Moon Plaza. Homeslice opened their third store, in Xujiahui, and are planning more more more. And under the radar, Pizzenella brought a fancy oven into the basement of 1788 Plaza for their 90-second Neapolitan pies. Not bad.
In the sandwich universe: Co. Cheese brought their cheese-melter to the same building as that Joe’s Pizza; Totino Panino began serving huge panini with a side of feel-good back story; Rou Rou subbed out the lobster in a lobster roll for crayfish (good idea!); Rye & Co did Danish open-faced sammies; Egg Bomb went for the breakfast sandwich niche; and still, there is no agreed-upon “winner” in the sandwich category this year. Investors! Fix this!
In the burgerverse, The Habit Burger Grill, which is the best burger in Shanghai, unless Shake Shack is the best burger in Shanghai, expanded to six locations while Shake Shack opened in Jing’an Kerry Centre and Lujiazui (but still refuse delivery) and White Castle put up hoarding for a 2020 shop in the K11 Artmall, their fourth in the magic city. Fatburger left Shanghai and left a black pall over our souls for weeks. Burgers go best with fries and Royal Patat tried to bring them to us a la carte, made-to-order and Dutch-style. We found them…
Also we made the end-all taco guide.
Noodles and Dumplings
Geeez, we wrote a lot about noodles and dumplings this year.
We found a relatively new Lanzhou la mian restaurant in a mall that promised greater authenticity, but mostly it made us question whether the northwestern noodle needs an image makeover.
We went back, a couple years after doubting him, to talk to the mystic owner of Cejerdary, the 360rmb crab noodle place. He was nice! He was down to earth! He has a WeChat sticker set of his illustrated avatar in various poses, complete with ponytail and wispy goatee! And his restaurants now have Jo Malone fragrance and Dyson hair dryers in the bathroom.
We checked out a couple stinky snail noodle places and found them… not that stinky. It’s not even the snails that give it the funk anyway; it’s the fermented bamboo shoots. Yummmmmm.
Meanwhile, fancy noodle house Jin Ya Ju opened in IAPM, doing wheat noodles in expensive soups, while Bun Cha Cha picked Lippo Plaza to sell Vietnamese rice noodles with excellent grilled pork. That opened in spring.
In dumplings: we suffered no fools as we declared Dong Tai Xiang the King of Shengjian Bao; put up a spirited defense of Din Tai Fung; and found that the revamped tourist trap in Yu Gardens does very respectable xiao long bao.
Boxing Cat Brewery gobbled up the Cobra Lily space in Xintiandi to become one of the few places in that tourist lane to sell reasonably priced beer. Eduardo Vargas just keeps keeping on, opening another Colca in Sinar Mas Plaza, near the W Hotel. It’s good, that one. Nice ceviche and big balloon glasses for the happy hour drinks.
Nicolas Le Bec seemed to be having a moment this year, with everyone I know raving about his original location and its consistency. He branched out, though not too far, to open Le Bec & Charlie’s, adding a bit of Thai to his classic French repertoire. That’s on Xinhua Lu, giving him three restaurants in two blocks. Why? “So I don’t have to walk too far to visit them”, he told me. Smart guy.
Camden Hauge tried her hand at Thai with KIN Urban Thai Kitchen on Yongkang Lu. And the Funkadeli Group peoples took over a second floor right about their Fumin Lu original to open a stylish restaurant and lounge named Italo.
The Big Chains
Red Lobster racked up 1,250 comments on Dianping since opening in, well, actually, um, December 2018. But we went in January to find delicious oversized sea bugs and cheap, cheap drinks. Wagas cleaved off yet another sub-brand, Funk & Kale. Twelve months ago, it didn’t exist. Today there are three and, no doubt, many more on the way. Starbucks, our new lord, opened a new Reserve Bakery and Café in Grand Gateway. Two facts: Shanghai has the highest number of Starbucks in the world of any city (750+); and our Starbucks Reserve Roastery is no longer the largest in the world, since Chicago stole our crown in November. Sad face.
In some consolation, Chili’s opened a wellspring of corporate Americana and cheap margaritas in a primo location on the Pudong riverbank. We bowed to its mighty American cheer. Tim Horton’s, dba Tims Coffee House in China, went from zero to almost 30 stores this year, which is, just, like, wow. Brands are always promising to enter China and expand like that and they almost always fail. Good job, Timbits.
Lots happened but the ones you need to concern yourself with were Luneurs, which opened new branches on Huashan Lu and in IAPM, serving their addictive salted caramel ice cream; and Cendol, a Malaysian cendol place that we went to bat for, declaring it “better than ice cream.” Separately, we surveyed all the new ice cream places that popped in 2019, so if you’re like the type of person who likes cold food with cold weather, that’s gonna be useful.
The Ones Who Didn’t Make It
Shanghai is, like any major city, a difficult place to be in the F&B industry. There are no tenants’ rights groups here, no long leases, no guarantees that your street front shop is not going to be taken back in the middle of your lease, and no formula for what us, the customers, are going to like. We like change! We want the new.
And, like in every city, some of you business people land on the right answer, and many more of you don’t. For whatever reason, plus maybe the simple fact that you’re not making enough money, you can’t keep on. It’s sad. We’re sorry. We are pro-business. We want you to do well and survive and fulfill all your dreams.
But reality. Reality is hard. That’s the takeaway from this next list, which we have been tallying up over the course of the year, so we can all reminisce about the places that said goodbye over these past 12 months.
Consider it a reminder to go out more. To patronize the places you like and vote with your money who is going to be around at the end of 2020. With that said, rest in peace. Better luck next year!