This week we jet across the city, for TV-famous hot pot out in Minhang to international craft breweries on the rapidly developing stretch of Yuyuan Lu, to the restaurant heart of darkness, Xintiandi, to suss out a new Singaporean entrant.
What It Is: Song Yuxin has emerged as one of Shanghai’s most innovative Chinese restaurant owners and designers in the last couple of years. He broke the Sichuan restaurant mold, creating a chain of spice houses draped in Tiffany Blue, and then went absolutely crazy on the design for Yu Ba Xian, a ridiculously opulent Cantonese chain that opened to long waits, before teaming up with designer Andy Hall for the sleek Peacock Room. He has now turned his attention to Southeast Asia. Particularly Singapore. Lion is the result.
First Impressions: This is a very Xintiandi restaurant. It’s glamorous, opulent, clubby and, despite the fancy surrounds and price tag (400rmb per person and up), kind of mass-market. It’s Singaporean food for people who want those strong flavors toned down a little bit. It’s Singaporean food for people who want to drink cocktails and a bottle of wine at the same time.
That is not to say it’s bad.
I took a table of Singaporeans on the island nation’s birthday to suss it out, and while not everything was as they expected it, there were some definite highlights: a properly spicy black pepper crab; a mild prawn noodle with a light gravy poured on at the table; the kueh, little steamed squares of sticky rice cake, flavored with pandan leaf and showered with dried coconut, and the coconut kaya to dip them in. The chili crab, also nice. The Iberico pork done ‘satay-style’, which means not on sticks, but grilled and then smothered in peanut sauce – nice too. The otak, a grilled fish cake, for those Singaporeans wondering about that, was more Thai-style, with thin threads of kaffir lime leaf and crunchy cubes of water chestnut. To me, less well-versed in the regional variations of grilled fish cakes, it was perfectly fine.
There is another side to the menu, the Cantonese side, which we didn’t explore as thoroughly as we might have. That side was live seafood and stir-fries, and is probably the basis for the way the restaurant describes itself, as ‘Exotic Cantonese Cuisine’. There is merit to their description; much of Singapore’s Chinese heritage comes from Guangdong and southern China. I’m still not paying 2,500rmb for a fish.
– Chris St. Cavish
What It Is: Right next to the Cannery is the China outpost for California brewery Stone Brewing, a fiercely independent underground hit in the international beer scene. In Shanghai, it's an industrial-chic hangout (with a merch corner) for beers and families alike.
The kitchen, which stays open late, operates pubgrub with a left-field twist. "Hoho, how about avocado in your BBQ burger," the Stone Brewing BBQ Burger (88rmb) says. They also suggest beer pairings, which is a nice touch. Notable inclusion is the Garlic Dunk aka French Dip (88rmb), not common in Shanghai.
The beer list, ie. the main event, is fluid. Haha. I mean they're printing new menus almost daily because they cold-chain their beer in from overseas, so availability is literally subject to the tides. When we went it was 28 of their international offerings, like the Arrogant Bastard Ale, the popular Tangerine Express IPA, the Tropical Lager and the Farking Wheaton beer, made in collaboration with Star Trek's Wil "Shut Up Wesley" Wheaton. It's that kind of a brewery. Prices oscillate wildly from 35-100rmb for a 300ml glass, but most of them hover on the lower end. They also sell growlers. Naturally!
First Impression: Stone Brewing has made a beerpub and it's a-okay. Top-notch beerpub. I don't want to call it a gastrolounge but they do serve duck confit spring rolls for 68rmb. The burger could poleaxe a dairy cow, the French Dip will ruin your shirt if you're not careful, and the vibe is welcoming. Whether you dig this place depends on if you like Stone Brewing beer, which is unapologetic about its beeriness, but the variety's broad enough that there's something for everyone('s dad).
– Alex Panayotopoulos
What It Is: Xiaoyu is a Chongqing hot pot joint that was catapulted into its fifteen minutes after a feature on TV sensation A Bite of China in 2014. Zhang Ping, who founded the place in 1997, has been called a “grassroots hot pot hero” (Chinese), going from an eight-table operation to 100 calls a night after the episode’s airing. And now it’s in Shanghai — well, Minhang. But it’s famous!
Xiaoyu landed on A Bite of China’s top 50 list of “best Chongqing hot pot” — not bad for a city said to have more than 20,000 hot pot restaurants. Their signature move is adding beef fat (molded in the shape of Peppa Pig) that melts quickly into spicy broth. But when we asked for the beef fat in the Minhang strip mall version, the response was basically, "Yeah, we don’t do that."
They have held onto their infamous deal though: if one person weighs over 80kg, the whole table gets a 22% discount. They are playing this deal close to the chest — you have to ask for it. The scale is near reception.
Xiaoyu does get points for having the classic offal-heavy menu of Sichuan hot pot restaurants: cherry red duck’s blood, goose intestines as long and thin as linguine, and cow stomach.
First Impressions: Decent hot pot, but nothing special. The two hot pot lovers I was with (one Sichuanese) were left disappointed with the broth, which they deemed not spicy enough. That raises the question: is it ever spicy enough for Sichuan people? Is that just a perpetual disappointment? Perhaps, but in this case, even for me, the broth wasn’t super spicy and was noticeably bereft of Sichuan peppercorn. Save this one for A Bite of China superfans, people looking for real financial benefits to gaining weight, and hot pot completionists.
– Sarah Boorboor