Joy City, the core brand of China’s largest food manufacturer, COFCO Group, is the perfect example of how brick-and-mortar shopping malls in China have transformed in recent years in order to compete with online shopping. To get shoppers to stick around a bit longer, they have four major food courts, a large space dedicated to workshops, a movie theater, a "bar street", and, of course, a "Sky Ring" -- a gigantic Ferris wheel that serves as the show-stopping centerpiece to an escapist capitalist celebration. We'll discuss that elsewhere in another article soon enough.
Anyway, it's basically a whole city within a city -- a "Joy" city, if you will. A city of joy. That's the idea.
Massive story a bit smaller: Beijing has two Joy City malls and this is the first in Shanghai. It’s not as upscale as IAPM or IFC, and not as baroque as Global Harbor. They aren't pumping a pleasant scent out into the general facilities, and they don’t even have toilet paper in women’s restrooms. (Yet? ...Not sure if they plan to, but someone should get on that.) Each floor has been given a unique (off-putting) name: "Fahionista", "Icon", and "Cool Player".
Guess what they sell in the "Hipster" floor? Accessories and underwear. Just what hipsters need, I guess?
All that aside, Joy City North Mall isn't exactly tacky or cheap. Stores here mostly fall into the mid-tier category, and there’s an emphasis on sports brands and trendy streetwear shops. As to food courts, average expenditures at the restaurants can easily go over 200rmb per person, and the workshops might cost 300–500rmb for a 2 to 4-hour session. That makes the 60rmb Sky Ring adventure looks like a steal.
In terms of food, it’s like a combination of Sun Moon Light Center and Xintiandi’s Soho Fuxing Plaza; you've got larger chains like Mo-Mo Paradise, Faigo Hotpot, Cloud South Yunnan Ethnic Cuisine, Aniseed Saigon, as well as smaller eateries like Dog House and Jingang Wonton & Noodles. Quite a few newcomers have already been tearing up locals' WeChat moments -- the great indicator of hype in our age.
Here's a look at some of the main restaurants in Joy City:
1. 誉八仙 (Yu Ba Xian)
Specialty: Cantonese / Dim Sum
Price: ~ 150rmb
Restaurant owners usually aren’t so willing to admit they've "borrowed" concepts from other restaurants. Yu Ba Xian is the exception to the rule. They openly pay tribute to Hong Kong’s famous old-school teahouse, Luk Yu, serving some of their iconic dishes and mimicking their regal colonial-style decor. Waiters and waitresses flutter about in white uniforms and the traditional Southern Chinese opera Nan-kouan emanates softly from the speakers. The tableware is in the classic Eight Immortals theme.
With red ribbons and inscribed dark wooden board, the place is a bit out of step with its neighbors. While Yu Ba Xian does indeed look like it’s been taken out of an old TVB drama, the food is certainly not a match for the iconic Hong Kong tea house. Some of their signatures -- shark fin soup dumplings, sha tin pigeon, and crab roe dumpling -- are just passable. Points for service, though, which is quite attentive. If you're looking for an atmospheric meal, it's worth a shot. At weekends, quite a lot of guests had queued for two or three hours trying to get in, so better book ahead.
2. 度小月 (Du Xiao Yue)
Specialty: Traditional Taiwanese food
Price: ~ 60rmb
Du Xiao Yue doesn’t need to copy or pay tribute to anyone. The restaurant is quite a legendary name, almost on a par with Din Tai Feng in terms of classic Taiwanese. They started in Tainan around 1895 and are most recognized for their Ta-a noodle and for providing affordable Taiwanese traditional dishes and streetfood with consistency -- over a century of consistency.
Its time-honored identity is well reflected in the decor, which is classic and clean. The restaurant is not very big and neither are their dishes. Like all the other eateries in B1, Du Xiao Yue is affordable, although perhaps not all that competitive in terms of quality. The minced pork rice, the touchstone of a Taiwanese restaurant's worth, is quite mediocre. They replaced radish with sliced cucumber pickles, and the rouzao (minced pork) doesn’t contain any fat, so that the rice gets rather dry towards the end. Still, the place is alright if you go with one or two friends who prefer a lighter taste.
3. 天辣绿色时尚餐厅 (Spicy)
Specialty: Sichuan cuisine trying to be green
Price: ~ 100rmb
"Spicy" -- quite a catchy name, right? Unlike the other restaurants listed herein, this Sichuan chain has been around for awhile and has shops at Sun Moon Light Center, Arch Walk, Takashimaya, and Global Harbor; so yeah, strategically avoiding the busier parts of Puxi and Pudong. Believe it or not, Spicy is among the highest-ranking Sichuan restaurants in Shanghai. Two of their branches have over 10,000 reviews on Dianping and their simple dish, "big bowl cauliflower" was even a "star" on TV.
So, what’s so special about this Sichuan chain? Well, they don't reuse their frying oil, basically. Sichuan food uses a lot of oil, and Sichuan restaurants are so notorious for using "gutter oil" or recycled oil in their commercial food preparation that it's become a viable selling point to actively promote that one's own restaurant does not do so. And… boom, a Sichuan restaurant catering to local hygiene standards is born.
4. 梅园春晓 (Miss Mei)
Specialty: Creative Shanghainese dishes
Price: ~ 150rmb
If you’ve been in Shanghai long enough, you might be familiar with Mei Yuan Cun (梅园村), a famous Shanghainese cuisine chain. Miss Mei was founded by, actually, a Mrs. Chen, who’s the daughter of Mei Yuan Cun’s owner, the wife of famous Shanghainese footballer Sun Xiang. So, another Shanghainese culinary story that finds success at the crossroads of wealth, celebrity, and status. As a female entrepreneur, Mrs. Chen is very well aware of feminine psychology -- trend-chasing -- and she made quite an effort to inject a new style-conscious vitality into her father’s two-decade-old brand.
The restaurant is massive, with a couple of discreet VIP rooms and a great view. The interior is elegant yet casual, with lots of white and champagne gold and a hint of Old Shanghainese style. On the menu, plenty of delicate, photogenic benbang cai, and quite a few non-Shanghainese -- even foreign -- adaptations appear. See: the melting chocolate ball that’s been taking over the Internet in the last few years. Seems like a place to bring your girlfriends who aren’t so picky about food as long as it makes for some photogenic moments.
Miss Mei also has a small dim sum shop right next to the main restaurant, with two digital menu boards and a mini open kitchen. Well done, sister.
5. 金刚馄饨还有面 (Jingang Wonton & Noodle)
Specialty: Bone broth noodle and traditional small eats
Price: ~ 40rmb
Jingang made its name with a successful noodle shop on Mengzi Lu. Soon afterwards, their second store opened up in Xintiandi’s Hubin Dao, and now this, their third. Owner Lu Xiaoxun is a veteran in both local media circles and the Shanghai F&B industry as a whole. His previous works include Marienbad Cafe and Mojito Heaven (which just became Bar Beagle). Jingang Wonton & Noodle is on the way up and was heavily hyped last year in local critical circles as one of the best new noodle shops in the city.
It's hard to live up to expectations, of course, and it's a mixed bag. In addition to noodles, Jingang is most well-known for its fried pork cutlet (cooked Japanese style) and their xiao hundun. They’re also one of the few places that sell Chinese-style pork cracklings as a single item.
6. Petit Prée
Specialty: Real fruit, alcohol ice-cream, and macaron ice-cream
Price: ~ 30rmb
Petit Prée is the new branch of Xintiandi’s expensive handmade ice-cream shop Prée. They look a bit like Stickhouse and pricing is similar. Their flavors are mostly fruit-based, with a few interesting varieties like dried fruit rum. The fruit-based ones are probably not as tasty as you expected albeit healthier.
They thoughtfully labeled how much percentage of real fruit juice a popsicle contains and each come with a paper cup. The fruit slices layered on the surface might give you the false illusion of fruity depth, but they're actually just on the top. We've seen lots of good things on Dianping about the kiwi mojito flavor and the cheese flavor soft serve. Hey, that's alright.
Joy City’s north hall has a surprising amount of workshops. Not many places in Shanghai are doing this concept, except maybe Himalayas Center. On the 8th floor, they've got a bunch of lifestyle shops, including a painting studio, a tattoo studio, a jewelry workshop, a vape store, a ceramics store, and more. It's decked out in fake brick neon, simulating a city street. Because malls are cooler than real city streets?
Working on jewelry in a shopping mall.
"Geeky" vape shop.
Decent-sized area for slot-racing on the 6th floor
The 6th floor contains a similarly random cluster of businesses as well. They have gaming areas, a bookstore, and a couple of multi-concept design and beauty stores. These are the ones I tried out.
1. Coookie 9
Coookie 9 is a medium-sized, industrial looking open bakery and cookie / cafe shop. Signs outside proudly proclaim "maybe the most expensive ingredients for cookie" (sic) and "Since 2015". Oh, the optimism.
They claim to use Cacao Barry, Valrhona Grand Cru’s Guanaja, Kyoto Uji matcha powder, and lots of other imported ingredients. Each of the nine flavors comes with a number. Chocolate chips (No.1), raw chocolate (No.3) and matcha cookies (No.7) are absolutely delicious, "Mini Izakaya" (a wasabi dried shrimp flavor soft cookie) and “Chongqing Forest” (a spicy satay beef dacquoise) could be good prank ideas for April Fools’ Day.
Expensive ingredients plus quality packaging equals steep price tags: 10 pieces costs 99rmb and 20 is 188rmb. That’s almost 10rmb for one Oreo-sized cookie. The rate for a 2-3 hour workshop is equally lavish -- 368rmb on weekdays, and 500rmb on weekends.
2. Zowoo (作物)
Also founded in 2015, of course, is the spacious, second Shanghai location of Zowoo’s DIY carpentry and crafts workshop. The wooden room with large glass windows is completely open and equipped with ample wood lathe tools, models, and kits. They provide multi-level classes and charge according to the items. Entry level classes range from 58rmb/30 minutes for a coaster to 188rmb/90 minutes for a Ruban lock. The advanced level class covers larger pieces like stool construction (688rmb) and side cabinet construction (1580rmb), and require 6–15 hours of work to complete.
The people working there all look quite professional with their protective denim aprons and 3M masks. Might be wise to invest your money on this indoor hobby when the weather gets colder.
3. The Master Handmade (手工大师)
Even larger than Zoowoo is The Master Handmade, up on the 6th floor. Here you can create crafts with clothes, leather goods, and DIY notebooks. They sell all these handmade goods as well, but you can add a couple hundred RMB and your own personal time and then you get to make them yourself. A simple satchel bag will cost around 399–599rmb and requires 3–4 hours of your time, materials and tools included. Reviews on Dianping are generally quite positive, though they've been accused of being a bit understaffed.
4. Splendid Suns (千阳森活馆)
There’s a couple of clothing shop / cafes and gift shop / cafes on the 6th floor, Splendid Suns being the most popular due to their fair prices and interesting terrarium workshops. A 1.5-hour terrarium class costs 58rmb -- not bad. Dried flowers are around 18–45rmb, drinks are around 18–26rmb. Definitely a good price for Joy City.
So far, the north hall is not fully opened, but expectations loom. There are quite a few bars and pop-up shops moving in and the soon-to-open Magnet, Urban Diner, and MYLK on the rooftop. A recent skateboarding tournament called ProJam just ended, and they also might play host to similar events in the future as well.
Luxo Jr.'s big brother. The book near him is a phone charger. Samsung only. Occasionally serves as an ashtray.
The simplest way is taking Line 8 or Line 12 to Qufu Lu exit 1. If you're in the area, OCAT gallery is just across the street as well. Joy City is quite empty during weekdays but can attract a ridiculous amount of people on holidays. Avoid. That said, if you go at the right time, you will have the whole shopping mall pretty much to yourself. Or, do the opposite and soak up some of that fantastic local mall culture.