After last month's trip to The Bund and Julu Lu, we're up in Jing'an for luxury and Wukang Lu for crepes.
Good for: Crepes!
Available: Friday, 6pm-10pm; Sat & Sun, 11:30am-10pm.
No one will be surprised the day Franck Pécol opens a hotel, spa and eventually an entire self-sustaining French commune on Wukang Lu. It seems inevitable at this point -- he's already got a café called Grains, a very, very popular ice cream joint called WIYF, and an alright burger place called Rachel’s, all clustered together in a little Francophile’s paradise. He’s the Amélie of central Shanghai.
FarWest only offers crepes, so good thing the crepes are delicious. Sweet crepes aren’t so hard to nail down: you take a soft, warm crepe and dump some appealing toppings on it: items like Nutella, caramelized apples, and Grand Mariner-laced candied oranges. By far the star is the crepe with salted caramel ice cream, sauce, whipped cream, and delightful crunchy almond bits.
Now, getting savory galettes right is quite a bit harder. Many a sad, floppy envelope of ingredients has been doled out at crepe stands around the world that would have been better off just as a pizza. It is a universally acknowledged truth that a thin crepe and crispy edges a good savory galette make. FarWest’s version more than delivers. The Complete epinards with ham, egg, cheese and spinach, is a lighter option, or go ham (sorry) with the Suzette: smoked pork, egg, mushrooms, cream cheese, and more cheese.
The space is spare and utilitarian, with wooden French farmhouse tables, huge windows, and courtyard outdoor seating, tucked away from the pedestrian traffic along Wukang. This is the kind of set-up that feels great in daylight, but looks pretty desolate at night.
Here's what's weird: there is no coffee. No. Coffee. Furthermore, there isn’t even tea. They do have ciders, juices, beer and wine -- but no coffees, no teas. Theoretically, you could haul your ass to Grains, order a coffee or tea, and bring it over. But when I imagine the conditions in which people usually go to weekend brunch (hungover, sleepy, both), I imagine that many may not have the mental wherewithal, nor the actual physical energy to do this. Also, it’s just not right!
I visited during a strange, twilight hour long after sunny afternoon cafe-time, but also well before dinner. The place was completely empty except for a couple of Korean chicks taking selfies over their salted caramel crepe. When asked about the lack of coffee, the waitress -- who spent most of the time loitering around chatting with the chef in French, both dressed in striped shirts, not even making this up -- didn’t say much because it took around five minutes to get her attention. Alors!
The takeaway: While FarWest offers sweet and savoury crepes that are most likely the best in town, the place falls short of brunch or light lunch glory due to a strange lack of caffeinated beverages (not very French) and dismissive service (let’s be honest: pretty French).
- Stephanie Hsu
Phénix Eatery & Bar (The Puli)
Good for: Endless wells of all your favorite foods, done right.
Available: Sunday, 12pm-2.30pm
Masters of understated luxury, the Puli hotel has always been one of the best brunch spots in town. So when their Jing'an Restaurant recently re-branded and transformed into Phenix, fans were wondering, "so…what's up with the brunch?"
They didn't even have brunch for three or four weekends in April, then the buffet pounced out of the corner in version 2.0 last Sunday and it's just stupid nice. Do you seek access to a bottomless well of king crab legs and oysters? Granted.
Stacks of rare French cheese, next to a bowl of honey that's still on the comb, straight out of The Jungle Book? Got it.
Perfect, freshly-baked breads ready to slather with tender pâtés? Foods you can't even pronounce? You get the picture. And the place, service, and pacing are relaxing. Waiters are like Secret Service agents – they're paying close attention, but you don't even notice them. The sun shines over the trees in Jing'an park, through Phenix's huge windows, and onto this golden buffet of Something Good For Everyone.
"As well as enjoying the selections on the buffet, you are invited to choose 2 main dishes and 1 dessert."
Oh? Judging from the duck confit, the John Dory fish, and a perfect Angus beef slider served with a mini-pot of freshly cooked fries, the entrees are on point. The light, homemade fries seasoned with just sea salt taste odd at first -- we're so used to industrial fries loaded with more chemicals than Zhong Nan Hai cigs. Only the baked eggs with chickpeas and chorizo felt like a work in progress. The sweets -- a cold peanut butter parfait and a lemon tart -- are good enough to come here just for dessert.
If there's any complaint, it's the acoustics. The room itself and the cliché, vanilla chansons playing softly in the background don't really block the conversations at nearby tables. One needs to talk low, like a mafia meeting, to have much privacy. Then again, with a full house and a few drinks, people may not notice or care much.
This experience will cost about 500rmb per person, out the door, including free-flow coffee, juice, and bottled water. And that still feels like a steal. Those who imbibe in the daytime can add free-flow Moët et Chandon Brut for about 300rmb more, or Moët et Chandon Rosé for about 400rmb more, including the service charge and tax. Everyone should eat like this once in a while – it's a culinary spa.
- Ian L
Jing Cai Xuan (晶采轩)
Good for: Impressive design and escaping the city – in a mall.
Available: Daily, 11am-2pm
Jing Cai Xuan is often discussed in the same breath as The Puli, for its ability to transport. And because it was designed by Jaya Ibrahim, the Indo-British star architect behind the Puli Hotel, and the Amanfayun and Fuchun in Hangzhou. Few other places in Shanghai can make you feel like you’ve left behind the racket of the city, and definitely none in a shopping mall. Jing Cai Xuan, with its modern Chinoiserie vibes, massive vermillion columns, and soaring roof spanning the third and fourth floor of the Réel Mall on Nanjing Road, is an upscale Canto-Shanghainese restaurant serving up some excellent roast meats and stylized Chinese dishes during the week. On weekends at lunch, they have a decent selection of dim sum, refined versions of all the classics, and a few of their own twists.
But you don’t really come here for the food. Seventh Son over in the Kerry Centre across the street has got dim sum on lock, as does Lei Garden in iAPM. You come here to spread your tail feathers, see and be seen, and impress your visiting parents-in-law. It’s restrained, which is nice. The finesse is in the details: grey slate and amber wood throughout, bamboo diffusing light through the floor to ceiling windows, ivory-tipped chopsticks, weighty iron teapots and understated service. Even the individual bathrooms feel spa-like – no second-class mall stalls here.
The dim sum is not bad either. Anything with shrimp is good; steamed hargow, prawn rice rolls, and runny egg custard buns are ace, and the braised homemade fish balls hot pot is tasty too. Coming away at under 150rmb a person for having massively over-ordered for three people, it’s a relatively inexpensive escape from the city for a couple hours. On nice days, request a seat on the patio.
– Jenny Gao
For more of The Brunch List, check out the whole column. Wanna see more brunch deals? We have a page for that too.