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The Brunch List: November 2015

This month: good times at Paris Rouge and Shanghai Bakery, bad times at Daliah and Mr. Pancake Plus.
Last updated: 2015-11-10


408 Shaanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu | 陕西北路408号, 近北京西路

Good for: Families with energetic children and a wide open schedule.

We've got no problem with the whole whimsical, getting-in-touch-with-your-inner-child thing. But it's one thing to build a restaurant/café concept around a corkscrew slide and playground swings, and another thing entirely to -- you know -- deliver on the basic nuts and bolts that delineate an actual functioning restaurant. We're talking food and service here. The basics. Because everything that could possibly have made brunch at Daliah -- this self-styled "celebration of food and weirdness" -- charming and whimsical, was undermined on our visit by poor service and unremarkable food.

We reserved a table for 12:30pm on a Saturday and arrived on time only to wait 10 minutes to even be acknowledged by staff member and seated. Not an auspicious beginning, especially when you're wrestling with caffeine withdrawal and a slight hangover. Maybe thats our fault not theirs, though. At first blush, the menu is promising, with a nice decent balance of sets and a la carte options. You've got a few Benedict variations, like Eggs Daliah (spinach, tomato, mushrooms, hollandaise), Eggs Hemingway (spinach, salmon, hollandaise), or just the regular Benedict, which is a variation itself because it comes with bacon instead of ham. Order one of those in a set (118–142rmb), and you get a salad, yogurt, and gugelhupf, a traditional ring-shaped Austrian pastry. They also do a big brekkie with an Austrian twist, potato roesti. That's 115rmb.

But to fully sample just how abjectly bad the service can be at Daliah, we recommend the Shakshuka set (96rmb). It's three courses and starts with its namesake dish, which is supposed to be a thick, slightly spicy, cumin-scented North African tomato stew topped with eggs.

Instead, the eggs float pale and lifeless in a thin, watery, flavorless tomato soup. The next course is a waffle, which comes with the following caveat: "It takes a long time to cook." Translation: "You're not getting your waffle for an hour, and that's provided that we even remember you're still in the restaurant." Never once did it occur to the server to simply bring the third course out while we waited for our waffle. Surely, Bircher muesli doesn't require the same intensive preparation. Then again, who knows at this place? Nor did we stick around to find out. After finishing our waffle, we settled our bill with the server seemingly oblivious to the fact that we never even got our muesli.

Nevertheless, if we could say anything positive about brunch at Daliah it's this: It's great for kids. The protracted ticket times will afford your youngsters plenty of play time on the slide.

- Justin Fischer

Brunch served Sat & Sun, 12-3pm (though this is coming from Dianping because no one picks up the phone at Daliah). Sets from 96rmb.


Shanghai Bakery

425 Yanping Lu, near Changping Lu | 延平路425号, 近昌平路

Good for: Freshly baked cakes and conversation

The last of the hot weather may be whistling out of Shanghai, but if we still have one or two warm weekends in the city, this tiny little bakery is a chilled place to kick back. At first sight, it looks little more than a coffee kiosk, set up beneath a modern office in the yard where Gold Cider used to have their clubhouse and Fat Mama II: Even Fatter Mama briefly opened. On inspection, the tiny kitchen churns out a welcome array of freshly baked cakes, bread and pastries.

Shanghai Bakery was set up by a former ad director called Harauld Sextus, known to most as “Ox”. You know Ox; everybody knows Ox. Originally from Guadeloupe, he grew up eating homemade cakes baked by his grandmother. On moving to Paris, his passion for baking continued, and he developed a fetish for sourcing, and using healthy, natural ingredients. But arriving in Shanghai in 2002, his career took him into the world of advertising professionally, with projects often connected to Shanghai's budding arts, film, and music scenes. When Ox tired of making shampoo commercials he quit the business and now cooks full-time, and everything from the bread to the mayonnaise at the Shanghai Bakery he makes in-house.

The cafe has a hand-chalked menu featuring four sandwiches and a list of coffees, beer, and wine. The weekend brunch deal gets you a sandwich, an espresso, a salad and a choice of cake or panna cotta for dessert. However, the menu changes all the time and largely comprises whatever Ox has had the ingredients and passion to create that day. On our visit, he put together an off-menu, open-faced sandwich with egg, avocado, salad, and a homemade citrus dressing that really made the avocado pop. His "Bad Boy" sandwich (sausage, cheese and vegetables) was sold out -- apparently it sells out every week -- but the Parisian was a good replacement, with high-quality ham and Parmesan cheese served on hearty, freshly baked bread. Each came with a salad served in a jar. Add dressing, put the lid back on and then shake to mix everything together. The panna cotta was equally imaginative, with apple slices and caramelized vanilla.

Shanghai Bakery has just two tables, with seating for around 12 people in total. All the seating is outdoors so it’s not a place for a rainy day. It is, however, an ideal location if you like to talk about food -- Ox loves to chat about his recipes and inspiration, his background, his favorite pastry chefs and his plans for the future. He's got a mind to a second, larger space that may open in the coming months when the winter weather bites down. Before that, towards the end of this month, he'll be launch an evening event called “Videoblanket”, screening art films and handing out blankets to keep his guests cozy.

- Nick Taylor

Brunch served Sat-Sun, 11am-3pm. The set is 88rmb.


Mr Pancake House (Hong Kong Plaza)

Suite SL1-01, South Tower, 238 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Huangpi Nan Lu | 淮海中路238号南楼SL1-01, 近黄陂南路

Good for: Pancakes, and possibly the omelet combo. NOTHING ELSE.

Mr. Pancake House has lasted seven years because they open early and serve cheap, mediocre American diner style breakfast and weak, bottomless coffee all day. It's a sub-Denny's kinda place where people take their one-night-stands or smash hangovers with a simulacrum of a proper breakfast. Their staff have been in seven-year competition with the Buddies Ayis for not giving a fuck. But the restaurant stays busy, and has produced several sequels, many of them illegitimate.

Mr. Pancake's newest branch appears real, and sits on the bottom floor of Hong Kong Plaza, downstairs from M2, just down the block from Xintiandi. For a Mr. Pancake, it looks decent: open kitchen, button sofas, wood floors and chairs, and the addition of the term "Plus" to the name (and about 20% higher prices than other branches). And that's just about where any decency stops.

The menu diverged in two paths,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood...
And I choose the chicken wings and eggs Benedict.
And that was a really bad decision.

- Raul B.

The only path to take at Mr. Pancake house is the pancake path, or maybe the omelet combo (still a bit watery, the omelet). Really, the Apple-Cinnamon pancakes or Chocolate banana pancakes -- not bad. Somewhere between McDonald's pancakes and a posh diner. What you definitely do not want to order here is their eggs Benedict experiment, which comes served on a dry pancake placed on a sheet of paper, topped with some greens.

Hollandaise should not be solid; salmon should be fresh; serving any kind of gooey food on paper is clearly a bad idea.

The chicken wings were so undercooked that the waitress remarked, "those are really raw", and then just walked away, as a Fetty Wap tune on the speakers competed with the elevator jazz coming from the mall. To be fair, she took the wings off the bill upon request. If you must go to Mr. Pancake House, stray not from the pancake trail or omelet combo. Otherwise, you have so many better options for diner-style breakfast in 2015.

- Raul Bernardi

A la carte brunch available daily from 10am-10pm. Selections from around 38rmb.


Paris Rouge

Room 102, Bldg YWCA, 133 Yuanmingyuan Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu | 圆明园路133号YWCA楼102室, 近北京东路

Good for: More food than you’ll require.

For two years, this brasserie on Rockbund has done a brisk business with well-heeled, artsy locals. The service is warm and attentive. The food, in our experience, is solid. The aesthetic appeals to one's romanticized notions of France, with a big copper coffee maker, trolley service, lots of dark wood, and Edith Piaf on the speakers. Of course, there are the stock Chinese characteristics thrown in, too. Look up at the rafters; they resemble something you'd see in the Forbidden City.

Brunch here is a generous offering of three massive courses for 268rmb. You can start with one of several styles of eggs (Benedict, cocotte, omelet, poached, scrambled) or a Specialité Française like French onion soup or a country paté platter. The latter is pretty decent, with a rustic paté de champagne and a creamy chicken liver paté.

Course two offers some choices that veer from strictly French cuisine, like a pounded, breaded, and fried veal Milanese. It's good but unnecessarily huge with a superfluous side salad that you won't even touch. Other options include fish and chips, roast beef, grilled pork sausage, or seared tuna with a mustard sauce. Finish any of these, and you won't like have any room for one of the dessert choices, like crème brulée, chocolate mousse, or their homemade yogurt topped with a fruit coulis (recommended). All of this comes with a choice of beverage and a selection from their pastry trolley.

It’s decent and yeah… filling.

- Justin Fischer

Brunch served Sat–Sun: 12–3pm (last order 2.30pm). Sets are 268rmb.