salad-days on Bldg 1, Lane 161, 465 Zhenning Lu, near Xinzha Lu RSVP via web only Tai'an Table (Zhenning Lu) Price per Person: 1,843 Rmb
Atmosphere: Nigh on perfect. With just 24 seats, the majority of them surrounding the bar/kitchen, the seating arrangement and room design is very well-thought out. There are also two booths facing the front of the bar. Even when full, this restaurant doesn't seem too busy or crowded. The room is centred around the the kitchen. Chatting to your dining companions, your eyes are drawn to the chefs, in almost reverence, as they create and fine-tune the dishes you're paying top dollar for. The lighting is finely balanced, bright enough in the right places to see your food in striking clarity, whilst also dim enough to afford you some privacy in a small room with thirty other people. Two minor qualms came in the shape of an annoying draft from the door – we were on the corner of the bar nearest the door, so whenever it was opened we got an icy blast of winter air. The second was the champagne bar upstairs. On the night of our dining, there was a particularly boisterous posse of ladies getting their drank on. The occasional piercing cackle of laughter from upstairs slightly dampened what was otherwise a pristine air of class.
Food: After we were treated to a few welcome nibbles and a glass of champagne, the 'Tartar of Dutch Veal Loin' kicked the main dishes off in style. My teeth sank into the tender veal. Coupled with a crispy beef tendon, it was an interesting and exquisite dichotomy of cooked cow. Next up was the 'Cold Cappelini Pasta Salad', consisting of hairy crab, caviar and lime. This was a refreshing treat, the tiny morsels of hairy crab being a 'Brucie Bonus' on top of the already delicious combo of cold pasta and sumptuous roe. This dish was perhaps inspired by the common Chinese dish of Scallion Oil Noodles, a nice nod to local cuisine.
The 'Cauliflower Mousse' with sea urchin gelato was an absolute treat, perhaps the pick of the bunch. That is, until the 'Foie Gras Custard' was presented to us. The Chef reeled off descriptions of corn prepared in around five different ways, topped off with some foie gras (at the bottom). He summarised 'If you don't like corn, you probably won't like this dish'. Fortunately we did and I'd probably stick with this as the best of the dozen dishes on offer that night. The 'Sichuan Mountain Trout' with grilled celtuce (Chinese lettuce) and seaweed was also noteworthy. A really quite excellent piece of fish.
The accompanying wine pairing will set you back a hefty 780 RMB. I'd say it's well worth it though. If, after demanding “We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!”, this assortment was presented to Withnail and I, in the Penrith tea-rooms, I feel they would have been placated. As it was on this night in Changning, as an accompaniement to each couple of dishes, they were wonderful. For your money, you get four glasses, on top of your champagne on arrival. We even got a couple of aged, ethereal rums to finish the meal off after the magnificent desserts.
The 'Australian Angus Beef Sirloin & Cauliflower' with air dried beef cheek, smoked egg yolk and brown butter Hollandaise was tasty enough, but one of the less memorable entries on the lengthy menu. It was the lamb that was the pick of the meat offerings. The 'New Zealand 'Te Mana' Lamb' comprising lamb saddle, BBQ roasted shoulder, accompanied by artichoke and red pepper was unlike any meat I've ever tasted. According to their website, this type of lamb is the result of 'discovering sheep with a different type of fat, an intramuscular fat, higher in Omega-3 with marbling on a micro‐scale'. This unique type of lamb was truly beautiful; fortunately it's on the fixed menu.
Having a sweet tooth, I opted for an additional dessert, along with the two on the main menu. The 'Purple Shisho Sorbet' was described to us as a palate cleanser. It was a showy effort, employing the use of liquid nitrogen for an intended 'wow' effect. Whilst it felt like it was mainly for the aesthetics, it did serve its purpose of freshening one's mouth. The 'Lemon Tart', made up of Italian meringue, Jasmine tea and Limoncello, was even better.
The 'Confiit Mandarine' with chestnut, mandarine sorbet and ginger rounded off a superb meal off with a flourish. Another splendid dessert to cap a pretty much flawless meal.
Service: The service was first-class. I heard Chinese, English, French and German being spoken by the staff, and that was just in our little corner. This well-trained, knowledgable and friendly team introduced each dish and type of wine succinctly to us before serving. The Chef de Cuisine brought several of our dishes over and was as welcoming and chatty as his colleagues. The founder, Stefan Stiller, wasn't here on this occasion. Perhaps next time.
salad-days on 275 Lujiabang Lu, near Zhongshan Nan Lu 134 7272 7211 Xinjiang Ali Price per Person: 50 Rmb
Let me introduce you to a man, a myth, Xinjiang Ali. Catch him whilst you can, because he might not be here for much longer. When I arrived in Shanghai as a young buck back in November 2015, street food was common place all around Shanghai. I lived in the Wuding Xi Lu community, and in this area alone, there were several options just a stones throw away from my apartment.
Fast forward four years, and finding any street food in Shanghai, let alone good stuff, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The continuing gentrification of Shanghai has all but eradicated the great cultural practice of eating on the streets. But in the summer of 2019, I heard a rumour. There was a glimmer of hope, possibly a mirage in the desert. Like a wolf stalking its prey, I followed the clues and was rewarded with the best street food I've ever tasted.
I heard about this place from a friend of a friend. After seeing the screenshot on WeChat Moments, I was instantly intrigued and had to find out more. After tracking down the person who shot the photo, he explained how a Shanghai chef of many decades had recommended these as the best skewers he'd had outside of Xinjiang.
Full of hope, I went down the the meeting point, (which isn't fixed) to discover if these sticks of meat were all that. This time it was at 275 Lujiabang Road, located near a bank under Nanpu Bridge. I've been told this can change weekly, depending on a number of factors, which you can probably guess, or be closed suddenly without warning.
Onto the food, the options were limited to meat. No vegetables, no nonsense. The lamb skewers are 10 RMB a pop and looked pretty good even raw (more on that later), other options were various cuts of mutton, stomach and other assorted offal. Chicken and beef are also available. The 'nang' bread (馕) is 5 RMB a piece.
I came with a mate and we got 8 pieces of meat between us and a piece of bread each. The skewers exceeded the hyperbole I'd already built up inside my head. They were cooked to perfection, big chunks of tender meat coupled with lumps of fat that melt in your mouth It doesn't get much better than this. Putting the lamb inside the bread to form makeshift sandwiches, as well as letting the skewers soak the bread until it's soggy, oily and delicious are absolute winning combinations.
The first time I came here during the summer, they were even selling ice cold beers from Xinjiang (Wusu, 10 RMB a can). These are still on offer during the winter but not chilled, although it'll be cold enough soon. In short, the food on offer here is outstanding. The nostalgic feeling of eating and drinking on the streets of Shanghai is also well worth going out of your way for.
salad-days on 595 Yongjia Lu, near Wulumuqi Nan Lu 3368 0676 H2 Cafe Price per Person: 0 Rmb
H2 is a cute, cosy 'Western style' cafe/restaurant located on the tree-lined Yongjia Lu, very close to the intersection of Wulumuqi Nan Lu. It's been here since 2010, a valiant effort in Shanghai years.
The place is small, seating perhaps 12 people maximum downstairs, upstairs has a few more tables. For this reason, it can get very busy, with large groups gathering outside to wait during peak hours.
The fare being served here is focussd on pizzas, pastas and sandwiches. I've been frequenting here for three years now, and would have to say the Lasagna is absolutely top-notch for the price. At 36 RMB, it's an absolute steal. As good as any I've had on various trips to Italy, it's worth trying this arugula heavy version. Lasagna is listed as one of their 'specialities', as is 'Curry Chicken Rice' as is 'Hungarian Beef Filet Goulash', which I've yet to sample.
That's about as it good as it gets though, the other pasta dishes are nothing really to write home about. As for the sandwiches and wraps, same story, nothing special. I have seen a lot of people eating salads here, they could be worth a pop, but not by me.
The pizzas aren't really pizzas, the bases being wafer thin, but they do have some merit. Priced between 28-38 RMB for a pizza for one, you can't really go wrong. There's 9 to choose from, the usual suspects, plus some left-field entries such as blue cheese and durian. Pepperoni does the job for me.
Drinks-wise, they have a few bottled beers available, as well as Carlsberg on draught. Simple mixed drinks can be got, in addition to soft drinks and juices. Red and white wine are also on offer.
This chilled spot is great for a cheap lunch or dinner, it has a loyal following and plays some laid-back tunes through the speakers during the day.
Go for: Lasagna
Avoid: Tuna Ciabattas/ Any of the wraps
Good for: Casual meetups, quick lunch, cheap dinner.
Cost: 61 RMB for person (1 Lasagna, 1 glass of red wine)
La Mesa is part of the bustling Julu 758 complex located on Julu Road, near the Fumin Road intersection. I visited on a Friday evening with a friend, the place was absolutely buzzing, very busy with a great atmosphere on a Friday evening. Originally the plan was to go to the little Izakaya in the same complex, but the prices there are to be sniffed at.
So we ended up at La Mesa, a cosy Mexican restaurant located in the corner of the food hall. We were lucky enough to get a couple of seats by the window, people watching and hopefully some good food were on the cards. Three beers were available on tap: Asahi, Vedett and Boxing Cat (Right Hook).
Onto the menu, the main body of it is dedicated to tacos, 16 different varieties covering Fish, Vegetarian, Chicken, Beef and Pork. Priced at 28 RMB each, or 2 for 50 RMB, the value matched the variation. I went for the ‘Lengua (Beef Tongue)’ and ‘The Seoul Sister’ options, as did my mate. A mixed bag indeed. The former was a soggy effort, the quality of the beef was nothing to shout about, and there was something a little off about the texture. The onion and coriander didn’t add much flavour and the ‘spicy chili sauce’ wasn’t spicy at all.
In contrast, ‘The Seoul Sister’ was a delight. Rated at 3 peppers on the Chilli-o-meter, I was expecting spice. Whilst it wasn’t as hot as expected, it did give just the right amount of kick. Tender pork belly, kimchi, red onion, ranch dressing and spicy hot sauce all combined to great effect, the result being a very tasty taco. The kimchi was the most powerful of the ingredients, and alongside the juicy pork, it made for a really unusual, yet exquisite taco.
The flour taco shells underwhelming; corn ones are offered on request. Will go for that option next time. Other options on the menu include a couple of burritos, three different Cuban sandwiches, a few salads and some churros. A decent array of options for sides too, including nachos and empanadas. We went for the ‘Spicy Beef Cheese Fries’. These were pretty tasty, a good dish to share. Heavy on the cayenne pepper, the cheese could have been melted more.
There were a few cocktails on the menu, although I didn’t look beyond the Margaritas, and rightly so. A wise choice, they delivered. Excellent effort. The staff were very friendly and diligent, would definitely return here.
Go for: Tacos (Recommend: ‘The Seoul Sister’, Margaritas.
Good for: Casual meet up with friends.
Cost: 440 RMB for 2 people (4 Tacos, 1 Side, 6 drinks)
Pistolera first emerged in Shanghai in 2010, and has a been very popular ever since. As we close in on a decade of Tex-Mex temptations, here is a summary of the place. It’s owned by True Legend Hospitality Group, the guys and girls behind Big Bamboo and the Blind Pig. Currently, there are four branches around town: Xuhui, Changning, Jing’An and Pudong.
Having visited all the branches, I would say the best, which also happens to be my local, is the Hengshan Road location in Xuhui. A few tables out front, along with a large rooftop terrace, make it a great spot for al fresco dining. Space inside is plentiful too, you can often catch live music in the evening, and salsa nights regularly.
Onto the food and drink anyway. The tacos are always a winner, for this visit my partner and I had some Rib-Eye Steak ones, as well as the delicious Grilled Fish Tacos. The tacos range from 65 to 78 RMB for a pair. You can also mix and match 3 for 95 RMB. Other options include Pork, Carnitas and Tinga (Potatoes and Chicken).
The Rib-Eye steak tacos are a delight, a thin slice of flash grilled steak topped with guacamole and pico de gallo salsa. Simple, but very tasty. The piscis of choice for the fish tacos is grilled Tilapia filets. Again topped with guacamole and pico de salsa, with added cilantro and chopped cabbage. These really are exquisite, I find myself returning to their ‘melt in the mouth goodness’ all too often.
Drinks choices are plentiful, with several beers to choose from, craft and others. There is an extensive cocktail menu, where the Margaritas are the pick of the bunch. Coming in four flavours, regular lime, mango, coconut and strawberry. These can be got for 38RMB instead of 55RMB on Mondays. My partner opted for the Mexican Sunset which I’m told was also pretty good.
Had some Churros to finish of the meal which were absolutely outstanding, 60 RMB will get you 5 ‘Mexican Youtiao’s’. These doughnuts are sugar heavy, with a sprinkling of cinammon, with a perfect texture. They'll hit the spot if you have a sweet tooth. They come with a choice of three sauces to dip into, including chocolate.
Go for: Burritos, Tacos (Recommend: Fajita Burrito), Margaritas, Churros.
Good for: Dates, Friends, Drinks before/after the cinema adjacent to the restaurant.
Cost: 417 RMB for 2 people (6 Tacos, 3 drinks, Dessert)
SmartReviews is SmartShanghai’s crack squad of amateur reviewers, eating their way around the city and writing about it. They have been chosen from a large pool of applicants and given a set of strict guidelines to follow to make sure their reviews are honest, informed and fair to both potential customers and the restaurants themselves.