Artsy, fartsy, fashionable and hidden way down in the depths of a Jing'an alleyway. Checking out GumGum for some ribs and burgers.
GumGum's back story, as I understand it at least, is that it's the brainchild of a group of Shanghai lifestyle media mavens who supplemented their saved up hongbaos with some outside investment. Judging from the looks and the location, they're trying to tap Shanghai's fashion-conscious twenty-something set. It fits that bill, I suppose. The place is minimal and modern with amoeba shaped mirrors on the walls. Each table has a heavy brass cylinder that serves no discernible purpose — a paperweight for your napkin in the unlikely event of a gale force wind, perhaps? A makeshift weapon for visiting blunt force trauma upon a hapless diner, maybe?.
By setting up shop deep in an alleyway and providing no visible signage on the street, it seems the owners are hoping for a "hidden-gem" effect as well.
Well, they accomplished the "hidden" part, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "gem." Still GumGum does some decent food. It's not a broad menu. This is probably good. When places like these get too ambitious with their food they open themselves up for some serious suck factor. To that end, all you'll get here are burgers, ribs, salads and a few accompaniments.
The ribs are considered by many to be the main event. This is what at a "large" order (on a scale from "large" to "extra extra large," which actually makes it a "small") portion looks like.
I come from the southern United States, a place where barbecued ribs are religion. My standards are probably unfairly high for this city. But GumGum meets the minimum criteria for a proper plate of barbecued pork ribs. The meat is tender and falls off the bone and it's got a pronounced and pleasant smoky quality to it. The sauce is pretty alright, too — a judicious balance of sweet and spicy. Though I'm not sure who gets the credit for that. It's not clear if they make it themselves or not.
The burgers have enjoyed high praise
in the user reviews. I however, am not so convinced. They're good, not great. Points in their favor: They're just the right size for handheld consumption, and they remain intact from start to finish. They don't dissolve into a soggy, saucy mess halfway through eating them. So Gumgum does a structurally sound burger. Lots of places can't even achieve that. But is there a wow, factor? Well, there wasn't with my "Seoul" burger (68rmb) at least.
It's a solid concept, mind you. Kimchi, fish sauce, and sesame scallion mayonnaise all seem like they would be great on a burger. And they even managed to cook the beef medium, like I asked, which is also a rarity. But nothing about it made me pine for another visit. Perhaps the "Mexico City" (jalapeños, green chili, pickles, American cheese, roast garlic mayo) or the "New York" (American cheese, bacon, pickles, barbecue sauce) are more inspired choices.
After mains, sides leave something to be desired. You have two options: fries and roasted corn on the cob. The fries: Meh... I'm pretty sure they're pre-packaged and just rescrisped in the fat vat. They just dress them up with Parmesan sprinkles (36rmb) or black pepper (26rmb).
The Mexican-style roasted corn, or eloté, as they call it in Mexico, is a missed opportunity. This is one of Mexico's greatest contributions to the world of street food. No one else in Shanghai does it, and it's so easy to make! When done right, it is quickly parboiled and then charred almost black. And that smoky, charred flavor combined with mayonnaise and cotija cheese sprinkles are what really make this dish. GumGum, unfortunately, just gives you a boiled ear of corn smeared with mayonnaise and dusted with cotija that seems cut heavily with Parmesan.
If you're a vegetarian who has been dragged here, they also do salads. They're fairly conventional mixes: spinach, arugula, pine nuts, blah, blah. I didn't try either. I don't do salad where barbecue and burgers are served. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Desserts, however, might be worth a look. They serve ice cream made with porter beer and put it on espresso sponge cake with candied almonds (48rmb). Inventive. Fun. That actually sounds pretty good.
So, yeah. Gumgum. Perhaps not a destination restaurant but a decent option if you find yourself hungry in Jing'an.
For a listing of GumGum click GumGum
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