Suzy is originally from Wales, and loves cooking and dining out, especially for vegan and vegetarian food. She has an ever-lengthening Food Bucket List which often inspires her travels.
Atmosphere: We arrived pretty late on a Saturday, and it was immediately clear that there are a number of people in Shanghai who see this as a place worth travelling for. It was buzzing - expats, locals, and Big Names In Shanghai. When we casually mentioned that we'd recently visited Union Trading, the manager pointed over to a woman eating a few tables away. 'That's the owner. She comes over every week or so.'
Al Borgo is incongruously situated in this massive complex out in Qingpu called FEAST WORLD that also houses the standard selection of fast food places, pizza joints and izakayas. It's a little awkward to reach on public transport (Panlong Road metro station then a 45 minute walk south-west), but easy enough to get a long, long DIDI to if you're coming from downtown. Once you get to FEAST WORLD, head through the ground floor to the line of restaurants that faces the river at the back of the complex. Al Borgo is the westernmost place on that strip.
Once you get inside, the vibe changes considerably. Coming in from the vast, neon-embellished food mall, the terracotta flooring, industrial-style light fixtures and raw surfaces are quite the contrast. They've done well on the decor here; it's almost, almost like walking into a little Italian city restaurant, complete with a gelato counter.
Food: Simple but good. Handmade pastas and imported cheeses make for Italian classics done well.
Everything about this place felt calm. You won't find the big, heavy flavours of Scarpetta or the flabby, anxiety-inducing prices of the Bund's Italians. Instead, you'll get a lovely, light plate of subtle baccala mantecato (whipped salt cod on crisp black breads) or a sweet little caprese salad. For your primi piatto, there's a little selection of ravioli, pasta or gnocchi, all made in-house, and some other classics made with dried pasta. They're all good - gentle but full-flavoured sauces and just the right chewy texture on the carbs. We ate slowly.
We couldn't make it to the mains, but we did try one of their top Dianping-recommended dishes for dessert: the ubiquitous tiramisu, a little jar of freshly whipped cream and not too much coffee. Lovely cooking all round.
Service: Staff were perfect. The owner came over to say hello and geek out about food photography with me when he saw me whipping out the light box. The barman talked us into digestifs even though we were terribly hungover - a real achievement.
The only minuses for this place are minor. The toilets are outside and, therefore, chilly, and it's a pain to get to. I'll be making the trip again, though, for sure. If our pasta courses were that good, I'd love to see what they do for mains.
Atmosphere: Busy. Here's the deal:
You go in through the green-framed glass doors to the crowded little entrance lobby, where you can get a ticket from a greeter (unless you've booked). Then you wait. In our case, you wait and wait and wait. To be fair, we came at a busy time, but we were only a group of three.
Once you're in, things are much calmer. The whole place is decked out like a swanky hotel from... some time in the twentieth century? I found it hard to put a finger on a definition for the decor, but it feels like a very salubrious place to sit and eat your well-plated Shanghainese food.
It's an excellent option for out-of-towners if Old Jesse is booked up or not smart enough for your needs, and if Moose is too expensive.
Food: On that note, the food is a very safe way to experience Shanghainese cuisine. There are some pictures on the menu, and some English translations. If you don't speak [much] Chinese, though, I'd recommend scrolling through the pictures on Dianping and just pointing at what you want.
The most famous dish here is probably the hongshaorou, which is purportedly among the city's best iterations. Unfortunately, it's so popular that it had sold out when we visited. Everything else we had was very well-executed, though.
Highlights for me were the black noodles, apparently made using a type of fern. The tofu with crab was also good; here, it comes topped with little crunchy nubbins of crisped rice. I felt like it was heavier on the tofu (and, sadly, lighter on the crab) than the Old Jesse version - a famous dish like this is bound to face comparisons with competitors - but I really enjoyed it.
We also ordered rice with fatty chunks of sausage, the classic "eight treasures" in its gloopy sauce, a very rich soup with offal and pork belly, and some vegatable dishes. In general, the food felt lighter and fresher than at most of the other Shanghainese places I've visited. The only thing that wasn't great was the fish in sweet and sour sauce. It felt over-cooked and mushy. The sauce was still decent, though.
Service: Service was very good; you'll need to wait if you haven't booked a table, but the staff are great once you get inside. Our waitress patiently talked us through certain dishes, alerted us to the fact that we'd ordered two tofu dishes, and gave us a good tea recommendation.
Do note that most staff don't speak English. As I mentioned earlier, Dianping pictures are your friends here (if you haven't chosen to visit with anyone who speaks Chinese).
Atmosphere: Surprisingly busy for a Wednesday evening. Such is the draw of their weekly cordon bleu night, I guess. Can't deny the allure of a breaded meat slab and a drink for 108rmb. If daily specials are your kind of economical party, they have one for almost every day of the week (88rmb burgers on Thursdays!), as well as a Happy Hour with cheap-ish drinks. Wine will still cost you around 40 kuai, though.
The clientele when I visited were exclusively American and European expats. There’s sport on the TV, a smoking area outside and a classic selection of gummed-up Heinz bottles to splurt on your fries. Essentially it’s exactly what you’d expect from a place called Abbey Road, except that the food leans more towards the European than the classically British.
Food: Abbey Road’s menu almost exclusively offers cheesy, creamy, meaty foods. Want a schnitzel? Get one stuffed with cheese! Ordered the rosti? You’ll need to dig down through the car tyre-thick layer of melted generic cheddar to find the oily potato shreds.
If your cheese obsession has moved beyond simply using it as a garnish, they also offer fondue sets for 248rmb, so you can eat an entire pot of the stuff for dinner. What a time to be alive in Shanghai.
We tried the vegetable rosti for 75rmb, which absolutely fulfilled its cheesy depiction on the picture menu, and a schnitzel topped with a creamy mushroom and bacon sauce. One thing I quite enjoyed is that, instead of fries or wedges on the side, you can ask for spatzl (little buttery dumplings) instead. They’re very cute and fairly good.
This was unsurprising considering the sheer amount of dairy on both plates, but we found the food very oily. Both plates needed ketchup to take the edge off. If you’re into Eurostodge, though, this could be just the spot for you.
Service: Staff were absolutely fine, and exactly what you’d expect from this type of place. Food and drinks were pretty prompt, and they helped the table behind ours to choose different drinks when the women there mentioned that their first choices were a little too strong.
I’d note that the price is a little high for this sort of food. Mains start at 75rmb, but they shoot all the way up to 200+ if you’re going for steak or a fondue. At that level, I’d expect something a little smarter and better-executed than the very chain-pub-style food on offer. It’s just around the corner from me, though, so I’m sure I’ll go back at some point if I need a melted cheese fix.
Atmosphere: Never judge a restaurant by its entrance. I’d been walking past the nondescript, plastic-curtained door to the Baoqing Lu branch of Dim Sum Garden at least twice a day for four months before a friend finally encouraged me to check it out.
Inside, it’s much more genteel than the frontage, with its faded advertising boards and supermarket-style insulation measures, would have you believe. Think marble floors, round tables draped in white and a series of semi-private rooms connected by a larger, central area. It’s more bustling than refined, with a reassuring, relaxing hum of activity and lunchtime chatter.
Food: It’s dim sum (with additions), and it’s mostly great. My introduction to Dim Sum Garden came when a friend brought over a little plastic tub of their black, gold-brushed, molten custard buns. They were so good that I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d be dragging people there to try them fresh from the steamer.
We ate in a big group, ordering plenty. The fairest way to judge the food, I think, is to consider what we ordered seconds of. The custard buns – yes, of course. They’re amazing. I’d also highly recommend the crispy shrimp rolls. If you’ve ever had British fish and chips with scraps on top, imagine that but in a chewy wrapper. If you haven’t – well, go and try the Dim Sum Garden shrimp rolls, and you’ll get a fair picture.
There were some other highlights, too: the char siu buns were fluffy and claggy and delicious, and the sweet and sour pork – deep fried then packed in ice to crisp the coating – was worth the trip alone. There’s also a good range of vegetarian options, from rolled green pancakes to little translucent dumplings and a fluffy fried tofu dish.
I wasn’t crazy about some of the textures and flavours: the ribs were too chewy for my taste, and the cold turnip cakes came with a particularly cloying sauce. One of the wonderful things about dim sum, though, is that there isn’t too much of anything, so it’s easy to ignore the less satisfying dishes.
Service: Menus show pictures and/or English translations, so the only difficulty in ordering is deciding between all of the excellent options. Dishes arrive as soon as they’re ready, which is generally fairly quickly. The staff were good enough to let us bring our own wine in for a birthday lunch, too.
We ate as a table of seven and ended up paying about 120rmb each for an endless succession of plates, platters and steamers. Great value for this dependable, convivial dim sum spot. It isn’t the most refined iteration in the city, but it’s a great option if you’re local and hungry.
Atmosphere: It’s a little difficult to find The Pine, especially in darkness. It’s in the beautiful complex fronted on Fuxing Zhong Lu by the InterContinental. If you take this entrance, follow the road that curves around to the left. If you enter from Ruijin Er Lu, turn to the right through the gate, and follow the road around.
Once you get inside, it’s murmur-or-get-stared-at quiet. There’s a slightly jumpy, eclectic soundtrack that meanders from jazz to electronic, but the white tablecloths and the proximity of the other patrons are very Michelin. Very tasting-menu-or-die. I wasn’t immediately comfortable.
The place is divided up into different rooms, both public and private. Décor is mostly understated but, incongruously, there’s CitySuper merchandise everywhere. Those bright green cushions were a very strange choice in the context. Perhaps it’s a sponsorship deal, but it rather jars with the general aesthetic.
Food: You can go a la carte, if you really want to, but it’s obvious that the focus here is on classic tasting menus. These are often focused on a key ingredient: crab, steak or truffle, for example. We chose the entry-level menu, because the others were wincingly expensive and also because it looked the best. It gave us two options for each course, too.
And so we ordered, and the food started to arrive, and it was absolutely divine. I relaxed, even in the starched surroundings, because it was clear that we were in good hands. Brioche was brought first, fresh and soft and meltingly-rich from the kitchen. We said no to more, and I have few more potent regrets this year.
To start: oysters or a cold dish of beetroot, cheese and hazelnuts. The latter, in particular, was beautiful both to sight and to taste: dancing, light flavours. The fish course, which came next, was a crisped fillet of Japanese white fish with one of those decadent, buttery sauces imbued with technique. Someone teach me.
Next, the meat course. (There is no vegetarian menu, as far as I know.) There was a preposterously overpriced Wagyu plate, but we both chose the chicken – a neat, chubby ballotine with freshly podded peas and, this time, two of those excellent, deep sauces, served with a boned and foie gras-stuffed crispy chicken wing.
Things lightened up considerably after that, thank goodness. We were served a light, pineapple-y palate cleanser before our dessert: black truffle ice cream (potent) with green melon. It wasn’t a highlight, but it was a suitable way to end a heavy meal.
Service: Staff were professional and warm throughout, explaining each dish. The server went to the kitchen at one point to ask, as we’d enquired, what the crisped topping on the fish was. I’ve forgotten the answer, but it was very good of him nonetheless. Wine was promptly poured, and the still and sparkling waters were always served to the right person. Full marks.
You can see into the kitchen on your way to the bathrooms, too, if that’s your thing. (It’s my thing. I love it.)
In total, we paid around 2390rmb for two people. Note that we chose their lowest-priced evening tasting menu. To be fair, though, we did also drink a very nice bottle of Riesling and two big waters.
Atmosphere: Look, it's in a mall. They're trying hard with the stylish, muted colours, all bronze, blue and dove-grey, but it's still in a mall.
More specifically, Khan ChaCha is up on the 5th floor of thee Westgate Mall off West Nanjers, with a clean, shiny, chrome-filled kitchen that you can see into through a large window, and an entirely open front which makes every seat feel exposed. It's hard to get the lighting and atmosphere right in a space like this.
This is a shame, though, because it feels like the owners are working hard to make this place a success. In terms of feet through the door, they seemed to be succeeding when we visited on a Friday evening. It was packed out - every seat was full, from the lang tables in the middle to the bar-style seating in the corner. Everyone seemed to be having a great time; it must've looked lovely to all the people walking past and gazing blankly in.
Food: Starting with the good: the Chennai Express chicken thigh curry was comforting and decadent as hell. I was tempted to ask if I could buy a few tubs to freeze for bad days, but - joy - they say that they deliver! I struggled to find them on Elema when I looked, but their website promises they do, so perhaps I'm just not looking hard enough.
Also, curries come with a naan bread included. They're not at all bad - it looks like they've got professional tandoor ovens in their kitchen, so the breads come out with those classic crispy bubbles. They're perhaps a little on the thin side, though.
Having said all this, we were unimpressed by the other things we tried. They serve a saag paneer, one of my favourite dishes, but it's too cream-heavy and under-spiced for me. We also tried one of their signature appetisers: a sesame-encrusted potato log stuffed with paneer, cashews, almonds and raisins. I know - the description sounds incredible. The dish just didn't live up to it, though: the seedy coating needed longer to toast and the filling needed... excitement? A night out on the town? Something fun, anyway.
Service: I feel bad writing this, though, because the staff are super keen to please. It really feels like a new restaurant right now, and that's partly down to the behaviour of the servers and the owner. I have no complaints - it was good service - but it was good in an unpolished and slightly stumbling way, as if they really wanted to help but hadn't quite worked out how to work best together as a team yet.
They're good people, though, and they're working hard. I hope it works out for them. I'd go back if I was in the area, but they need to nail every dish if they're going to draw customers from the big hitters on Shanghai's Indian cuisine scene.
Atmosphere: Way back in the noughties, when I still had the time and curiosity to browse Reddit, I read a thread about the best burger in the world. Like literally everything else on Reddit, right down to the merits of oxygen for humans, this was a hotly contested topic. Shake Shack was the phrase that lodged in my mind, digitally chanted by a thousand typing fingers and upvoted to Mars. I added it to my mental bucket list.
I’d like to thank the city of Shanghai, right here, for understanding that a lot of people are too lazy to queue at the wanghongest places in the city. Since the original branch opened early this year (this year!), two more restaurants have launched their own concrete flavours and taken some of the queuing strain off the Xintiandi branch. At least, I’m guessing they have. I still haven’t risked the time drain and elbow hazards. I went to the Jing’an branch instead, and walked straight up to the counter. Bliss.
Food: So, I tried the Reddit-approved best burger in the world. It was fine, but not fiiine. The crispy-fried, cheese-filled mushroom burger was at a similar level but ten times messier to eat (90% of the cheese ended up congealed at the bottom of the superfluous paper burger bag), as were the fries.
I even tried the signature concrete – a sesame and chocolate concoction called Happy 2 Be Home (grim) – just to make sure I’d fully experienced this cultural, gastronomical institution. It’s hard to make a sesame-chocolate combination bland, but they’ve somehow managed it at the Kerry Centre Shake Shack. I needed a Snickers afterwards to make me feel alive again.
Service: Surprisingly, placing an order was pretty quick. Staff spoke a little English, and there's a big menu to point at if you don't want to stretch your Mandarin with the concrete names. Once you order, you're given one of those little flashing pucks that vibrates when your order's ready. It took about as long as a Beef and Liberty burger to arrive, it cost about the same, and it wasn't as good. It does give you plenty of time to try to find a seat, though - it's more competitive than a rush hour metro carriage in there.
Atmosphere: If vegan, you’ve probably already heard of If Vegan. If not vegan, consider this your introduction. It’s a friendly, upstairs restaurant with a sort of scuffed IKEA vibe and a whole load of lovely, mostly healthy plates. To get in, find the little door on North Shaanxi, ten paces north of West Beijing, and head up to the very top floor. When we visited for a weeknight dinner, it was almost full of smiling, healthy older vegans and younger, v-curious hipsters. There's a bakery / patisserie counter by the entrance full of impossibly dairy-looking things, which you can presumably get to go. Also, it’s one of the only places I’ve found that does a good vegan version of meat floss, which is a selling point in itself.
Food: You can get the abovementioned meat floss in the summer rolls, which also contain dragonfruit and come with a sauce the colour of grasshoppers. (It doesn’t contain grasshoppers. They’re not vegan.) We also ordered a lovely braised aubergine dish with a chilli kick, some not-too-slimy okra with a thin, soy-based sauce, a perfectly nice quinoa salad with fresh, steamed and roasted vegetables, and – regrettably – some purple whirls that reminded me of the food fight in Hook. The menu alleges that they’re made from purple sweet potato and coconut. They were the last thing left on the table, and were only really good for the novelty factor.
Everything else was great, though. the food is fresh, well-considered and often imaginative. I'd go back to try more of the menu, not only because it's well-made but also out of curiosity. What do they top their vegan pizza with? I haven't yet found a good vegan cheese substitue in Shanghai, but I'd be game for trying whatever they've chosen.
Service: The staff are sweet as hell, and very attentive to refilling your bai kai shui glass. Orders are placed through iPads, which have pictures and English translations for each dish. It's all very convenient.
The Godly restaurant brand has been around since 1922, and don’t they know it. The year is plastered all over the restaurant, like an incantation against rising rents and an increasing abundance of more interesting vegetarian options.
I’m not knocking it; it’s hard to make something last almost 100 years. Look at the state of the EU after just 26. I’m just making the point because Godly has clearly enjoyed a lot of respect for a long time and – honestly – I’m not entirely sure why.
They do mock meat, but it’s normally buried in some gelatinous sauce, like in the “beef” noodle dish we ordered. They promise spicy Sichuan dishes, but our tofu was saccharine and fangless. There are similarly disappointing curries, too, like the mushroom one we didn’t finish.
Having said all this, it’s not a bad restaurant. The claypot vermicelli noodles were delicious, and the spring rolls – despite their gloopy, orange sauce – were nicely crispy. I’d also recommend the mushroom floss dish, too, although it was nothing like what I’d expected; it bears absolutely no resemblance to meat floss. In total, for four people with a beer, we paid around 400rmb.
Godly is a good place to try classic Chinese vegetarian food. It’s worth a visit for the vermicelli noodles and the novelty of eating cruelty-free “eel”, among other things. There’s a fully bilingual menu, staff are helpful, and prices are fair.
I’m going to come right out with a conclusion in the first paragraph: the pastas at Arch are so good that my Italian friend, to whom pasta is almost as sacred as his mother, went back two days in a row. He also, however, ordered two or three bowls each time because the portions are sized for Venetian dolls.
The space is beautiful: there’s a geometric, Art Deco aesthetic and a cozy line of booths opposite the bar. They have their own distilling equipment on display, too, adding a Steam Punk frisson. The urbanity in the main space almost makes up for the external bathrooms. Drink more cocktails to make the memories fade more quickly (but opt for shorts so you don't have to go back as often).
Speaking of cocktails – they’re as good as the pasta. There’s a Happy Hour menu of classics and house mixes, from an Aperol spritz to a strawberry and mint short, which go for 55rmb before 7pm. Then there’s the full menu, on which drinks range from 85-110rmb, and are centred around a key ingredient. Don’t expect mind-blowing presentation, but the flavours are often knock-outs. Mango and balsamic, light coconut, beetroot – try the lot if your balance allows.
The only thing to criticise about the food menu, as mentioned, is the paltry portion size. It isn’t all that major a criticism, though, because the food is so fairly-priced that it’s defensible to order two dishes instead of one. The hand-made gnocchi and ravioli were particular stand-out dishes, along with the superfood salad. Appetizers, especially the calamari and the chicken with sweet potato fries, shouldn’t be flipped past either. We were there as a group of eight who ate and drank a lot, and our bill came to just over 3800rmb – fair game for the quality and quantity.
Arch serves small but lovely plates and drinks. Most things are priced more than fairly considering the quality. It’s a great spot for a suave date or the start of a good night with a small group.
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.