Frank Baugh

As Englishmen we joke that if D-Day hadn’t gone well, we would be speaking German now. For me it’s a touch more real. If the invasion hadn’t gone well I wouldn’t be here. My Grandfather, Frank Baugh, was right there in the thick of it, a 20 year old sailor in the Royal Navy.

Read more →
Hakkasan Shanghai Macarons

10 years ago I ate in Hakkasan London. Not just once. We’d eat there every few months, especially if clients were in town. As Alan Yau’s Flagship masterpiece, it was the antithesis of the hasty, sloppy cantonese food we’d munch over on Gerrard Street. Hakkasan was a sultry and considered affair. The dishes were familiar but they were refined versions of their poor relations. We believed this was an evolution of fine Chinese dining.

Read more →
F1 2014 Shanghai Sebastian Vettel Jenson Button

A couple weeks ago was the F1 Grand Prix in Shanghai. We’ve been every year for the past five because it’s one of the most accessible and cheapest F1 races in the world. I also harbor a boyhood fascination with cars. If engines and speed is cool to you, then there’s no better feeling as a spectator than being stood looking at the F1 starting grid when the flag goes down.

Read more →
Liquid Laundry Shanghai

Zoned with subway tiles, reclaimed wood and Edision bulbs, Liquid Laundry features a huge in-house brewery, cocktail bar and western kitchen. Another Boxing Cat this is definitely not. Liquid Laundry is an evolution of casual blended dining.

Read more →
Hyde Street

After living for a while in Shanghai we all have to admit it’s freaking flat. So flat that whilst on vacation in San Francisco, the idea of getting on a shopping bike in the rain and riding up the world’s steepest city streets sounds like a dream. The Argonaut Hotel is right at the bottom of a pretty big hill, and happens to have a few Public Bikes for free rental so I waited until the rain was right at it’s heaviest and put on a few too many …

Read more →
Carlton Towers by Triplefivedrew

A few weeks ago was my cousin’s wedding and we spent a couple of days there that I’ll never forget. Thanks to the power of television there are two words which will put it entirely into perspective.

Read more →
alcatraz

On a dry and moody afternoon we boarded the last Alcatraz express ferry to take a Night Tour of the prison.

Normally enjoyed by a constant rotation of a few hundred tourists, the prison night tour is a more intimate exploration with more facilities open to view. And it’s night time so feels way more spooky.

Read more →
Alcatraz Hospital Operating Room

Every so often, Alcatraz hospital is opened for public viewing. We were on a tour of the island and lucky enough to there on one such day.

It’s a truly eye opening experience. This was a facility for keeping notoriously troublesome life-convicts healthy without letting them get hold of anything sharp or dangerous

Read more →

Jinqiao has almost every global cuisine represented in six blocks of expat zone. Kebabs on the Grille’s third location in Shanghai is the Indian representative in the Biyun Green Sports and Leisure Center.

As it’s located in a family-oriented community, things are slow at night and it took a while for our Kingfishers (RMB45) to arrive. Perhaps if we were here for Sunday brunch, they would’ve been here much faster.

The food is the familiar Western-friendly take on one of the world’s most celebrated cuisines. Signature dishes are meat-focused and grand in flavor. Kebabs on the Grille knows just how to tame the flames to please the masses. A plate of mahi fish medallions (RMB150) is a mouthful of succulence in a tangy glaze. Wrapped in strips of mince stuffed naan (RMB45), it’s an expensive but rewarding duo.

Elsewhere on the curry list, a green lentil dahl (RMB50) packed a spicy kick but needed another dimension to bring its lentils to full potential. Also lacking is the saag chicken (RMB70), where the spinach and chicken needed to be stewed longer for more depth in flavor. The slow-roast mutton and crushed wheat haleem (RMB80) provided a succulent end to our meal.

To keep customers happy in a city of expanding wallets and dining choices, Kebabs on the Grille may need to deliver better to fend off increasingly fierce competition.

Unit A4 , Biyun Green Sports & Leisure Center, 633 Biyun Lu (near Yunshan Lu), 碧云路633号碧云体育休闲中心A4店(近云山路)
Tel: 5030-2005

This is from my review in Cityweekend – see the full listing here.

Never before have we been so confused or conflicted by a restaurant. Haru Kitchen looks like the latest installment of a certain successful Beatles-themed yakitori chain in town, but it is actually something of a copy-cat. On our visit, the staff was intentionally vague when we asked about their relationship with Kota’s Kitchen. A statement issued on Kota’s website, however, has denied any ties with this restaurant.

The door is swung open and a mountain of sharply-dressed servers scream Japanese welcomes. We recognize some of them from
Kota’s Kitchen branches. Everything is decorated in the Kota way; heavy wood, uncomfortable tables and combed stucco walls. Even Kota’s signature wonky projection of a Windows XP desktop screen is on the far wall.

The menu is also a carbon copy. They have the full range of yakitori skewers, sashimi, izakaya snacks and ramen noodles. The pages are exactly Kota’s menu in design, right down to feature items like the signature Japanese pork.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the food is Kota’s note for note. The pork and asparagus rolls (RMB20), quail eggs (RMB15), Japanese belly pork (RMB40) coddled egg and spinach salad (RMB45), fried dumpling stuffed chicken wings (RMB25) tastes almost exactly the same. A square of roast pork (RMB45) is just as rich and succulent. Though the food is acceptable in general, most chicken skewers fall slightly dry and are either over- or underseasoned.

Since our visit, we’ve learned that the history between Haru Kitchen and Kota Tsubuki is more complicated than Yoko Ono’s relationship with her husband’s bandmates. The man is reportedly no longer calling the shots in the three restaurants that bear his design. Perhaps, this is just part of a phenomenon that pollutes every industry in China.

1/F, 66 Shaanxi Nan Lu (near Weihai Lu), 陕西北路66号1楼(近威海路)
Tel: 6272-7117

This is from my review in Cityweekend – see the full listing here.

lemer furniture

I’ve already fawned enough over the Zhengzhou Le-Mer. If you didn’t read that post already then I gushed something about how the hotel represents the future of what a hungry re-emerging country can do with wealthy benefactors and good people.

All that being said, the hotel also has some pretty awesome furniture inside. It’s like a Vitra hospice, around each every corner is an award-worthy article barely touched. It’s no secret although I’ll get in trouble to say that NHDRO’s fairer, simpler half is a furniture creation and import business called Design Republic. When the two come together magic happens.

Read more →
Le Meridien

1,000 kilometers inland from Shanghai is Zhengzhou, another of China’s stinking huge and often downright stinking mega-cities. The 22nd largest in China, It homes ten million Chinese, ten thousand KTVs and as of recently, one massive Le Meridien Hotel. It’s a pretty special hotel. The Lemer ZZ represents China’s hatchling hunger for quality and style.

Read more →

Brothers Kebab offers something that Shanghai has been missing for a while: late-night shawarma. They’re good enough to eat during the daytime too, which is not something anybody will ever admit about chuan’r or Family Mart’s chicken legs.

It’s almost a surprise that this place exists. First off, it’s run by three friends (“brothers”) from Denmark, that classic kebab-making nation. And of course, the city is already teeming with off-the-road spit grills on every street. Yet when it comes to a genuine doner, some well sourced meat, a splash of salad and a squirt of garlic sauce make all the difference.

Which is why Brothers are making a brisk trade and often selling out halfway through the afternoon. They offer both pita (¥28) and durum doner wraps (¥38) in either chicken or beef, a few sides and cups of homemade lemonade (¥6) from a little spot on a well trafficked area of Changle Lu. The doners are where the goodness is though. Stuffed with succulent meat and fresh salad, they’re very much a guilty pleasure.

The real test comes after a few drinks around the corner on Donghu Lu. Open until 4am, Brothers have set out their stall as the clubbers’ choice. With a kebab in hand their clients are easy to please but perhaps a handful to control.

Brothers Kebab: 647 Changle Lu (near Fumin Lu) 长乐路647号(近富民路)
Tel: 5448-8174

Full listing on CityWeekend here.

Troubadour is a well-intentioned restaurant in a central but unfortunate space that will need more than a distinctive menu to draw the big crowds.

It’s almost like the owners wanted to give themselves a challenge. The restaurant feels wedged into a large but pokey space, up a staircase at the back of a complex, on probably the most un-walked stretch of Huaihai Zhong Lu. Exacerbating everything is that the always lively Kota’s Kitchen sits pretty on the ground floor, acting as a local landmark.

Which is a shame because there’s little we could fault on Troubadour’s menu. A curious mix of traditional bistro cuts and light, fresh Serbian dishes, we originally weren’t sure how they would go together. (The Serbian touch comes from chef Srdjan Petrovic, formerly the man behind Kangding Lu’s EXIT bar.) As a warm basket of freshly baked sourdough arrived at the table with spreadable appetizers, our qualms dissipated. A creamy pork rillettes pâté and full-flavored capsicum and garlic ‘ajvar’ relish are delicious together or apart. Laudable, too, is a plate of silky smooth thick-cut tuna carpaccio (RMB98).

Feeling bold, and spurred on by the particularly enthusiastic maître d’, we opted for the T-bone (RMB328), intended for two to share. It is exactly as buttery-succulent as a premium 30-day aged cut of steak should be. Alongside a slightly bland selection of potato and vegetable side dishes, it took a petite Sopska chop salad with feta (RMB48) to make it feel complete.

Such small misgivings, though, are easily rectified and insignificant compared to the bigger issue on hand: how to get on the hit-list of RMB300-per-head restaurants with so many attractive and even regionally similar options around the corner. If they can crack that, then it will be steaks and Sopskas all round.

Troubador: 2/F, 1333 Huaihai Zhong Lu (near Baoqing Lu), 淮海中路1333号(近宝庆路)
Tel: 5466-7182

Full listing on CityWeekend here.

There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting in a slice of somewhere or sometime else. The Boulevard, with its penthouse flair and speakeasy appeal, is one such escape from the humdrum of daily life to a time full of proper debauchery and corruption. The Prohibition Era spot serves a mean cocktail, but to be honest, the drinks play second fiddle to a couple of stars on the food menu. The highest roller on the inspired list is their Lobster Mac and Cheese (RMB88).

It is a little Le Creuset pot filled with a rich, creamy serving of soft macaroni drenched in American cheese, with chunks of lobster tail thrown in for good measure. Each mouthful is a teleportation to a time when adding spice meant a dash of Chartreuse and dancing the tango. Here is a dish which is about celebrating the American home-food staple of some pasta and some cheddar mixed in a bowl. Everybody had it. Not everybody put lobster tail in theirs though. Kick back at the bar with an Old Fashioned and on a clear night, those high-rises twinkling outside the windows could be downtown Manhattan.

What: The Boulevard: 7/F, 10 Baoqing Lu (near Fuxing Xi Lu)宝庆路10号7楼 (近复兴西路)
Tel: 6474-7979
Full listing in CityWeekend here.

For that go-to meal in a chic casual restaurant that’s just around the corner in Jing’an, The Magnet could be the answer. If only the food was worth going back for.

The eatery is the latest addition to the Nanjing 1788 Mall, which is far from finished and curiously only occupied by a busy food court downstairs and a couple of restaurants on the ground level.

Enter through the mall and The Magnet looks like it couldn’t be in a worse place. However, it does have its own entrance on the north face of the building and has a sultry, relaxed dining room with an outdoor terrace onto Yuyuan Lu. It almost feels like a secret find, fitting since the restaurant is run by the same team as The Shelter.

However, The Magnet’s smoked duck breast salad in a gloopy balsamic glaze (RMB68) is lettuce-heavy and bland. A penne pasta with chicken and truffle cream (RMB98) is also light on representation and one notch too far from al dente to be fully appreciated. They’re both probably better at Henkes down the street. Much better is a light dish of crispy butterfly prawns in wasabi and mango (RMB78), though they pale in comparison to Urban Harvest’s demonstration.

Where The Magnet shines is in their hickory honey baby back ribs (RMB158). They’re cooked to perfection with swathes of sauce-slathered meat falling off the bone. At this price though, they should be bigger. There should be bread on the table and water glasses by default.

The Magnet is in an emerging hot spot and has the street cred to succeed as more than just an after-dinner cocktail spot for The Shelter’s DJ crew, but it will need to up its game as the neighbors move in.

Magnet: Bldg F1-06, 1788 Nanjing Xi Lu (near Wulumuqi Bei Lu) 南京西路1788号F1-06楼(近乌鲁木齐北路)
Tel: 6289-0021
Full listing on CityWeekend here.

Nestled in the shiny new Kerry complex, Auto Bistro’s wide, pristine dining room is attractive in a mass-design way. That sea of ceiling lamps probably took an afternoon to factory produce and somebody should really have sat in one of the Vitra-style chairs before pressing the duplicate button. The communal looking benches are only slightly more comfortable.

Yet a broadsheet menu centers the options that any Mediterranean-loving heart desires. Bruschetta, fresh salads, wrapped kebabs and home made pastas. There’s even a separate drinks menu from their juice bar, Punk Juice, around the corner. This could be heaven.

It’s oh so close. The deep fried calamari is effortlessly delicious (RMB68). The lamb kebab (since taken off the menu) beautifully folds grilled meat with crisp leaves and tzatziki inside a fresh spinach laffa bread (RMB68). Supremely tender is a sliced tenderloin steak with Parmesan and rocket (RMB168).

It’s all so fresh and yet so simple, which is Auto Bistro’s distinction, and at the same time what makes it a culinary apparition. A shortcoming of creativity in the kitchen shows in the creamy, gruesome, pea-festooned spinach and ricotta ravioli (RMB88) and a bland lasagna (RMB85).

It all works together to lull us into a sense of style and consideration, yet did anybody working there really know what Tarator is? Why are permanent items written on the chalkboard as if they’re today’s specials? Those chairs really are too uncomfortable.

In the end, our qualms lie not with the restaurant itself but what it represents of the Shanghai dining scene. At what point in the history of decent cuisine in Shanghai did remembering who ordered what become a mark of distinction? We’ve been conditioned into believing that an above average plate of food in a slightly designed space with passable service, as it is here at Auto Bistro, is a noteworthy affair.

Auto Bistro: North Block, Jing An Kerry Center, 1515 Nanjing Xi Lu
Tel: 6252-1507
Full listing on CityWeekend – here.

As far as selling points go, declaring molecular gastronomy as a theme for your restaurant is high up the “go big or go home” list. The Cove, with it’s sous vide machine and ambition for something more than a quaint basement café has pulled off a little bit of both.

The truth is that most of the molecules being jiggled here are more in the atmosphere than the food. This 20-seat space is brimming with bookcase chintz, chalkboard cocktail-lists and, on our visit, tables of tremendously shrill youngsters. It’s almost too busy, fitting for a menu spanning Asian rice sets, noodle combos, pizza, molecular burgers and super-salads.

It’s the burgers indeed that take the mantle at the Cove. Not entirely molecular by most expectations, they are still quite something. A red curry snapper burger (RMB48) is a generous sandwich of slow-simmered fish in a zingy sauce surrounded by bacon, shredded lettuce, tomato and onion chutney. It is absolutely never going to stay together and will end up in a gooey heap but somehow it works (except the bacon) and is utterly delicious.

Similarly not quite accurately defined is a cheese and parma ham ‘tortilla’ pizza (RMB40). It’s a mini but generously topped pie with a flat, almost crisp base and plenty of fresh flavor. From the noodle options, a Cove interpretation of Pad Thai (RMB58) features plenty of prawns and squid and curiously fat noodles in a fitting peanut sauce.

Nothing at the Cove is going to win best in class, though they’re almost in a class of their own. Offering tasty and considered interpretations of global cuisine in a casual café environment is sometimes just what we’re looking for.

118 Xikang Lu (near Nanyang Lu), 西康路118号(近南阳路)
Tel: 131-6107-0713

The Neon Museum

There is one unmissable attraction in Las Vegas beyond the spectacle of the strip itself… the Neon Museum.

Over on the outskirts of town is graveyard collection of signs from Vegas’s past. It’s not free to explore, instead requiring a perky 45 minute tour. They run during the day and evening, we went at sunset which is really the best time to see the signs in all their glory.

Read more →

Las Vegas is almost exactly the unreserved, excessive, fantastical, gargantuan spectacle you expect it to be. Yet it’s still hilariously gratifying every time.

I suppose that’s only true if you come out winning or unbroken.. but to be honest, despite the legendary stories, the best analogy of this city is “Disneyland for adults”. Orchestrated hedonism. I think it’s actually quite hard to do anything worse here than lose all your money…. and people who lose all their money in Vegas should probably have seen it coming.

From the Encore

Perhaps the best night I’ve ever spent there was a relaxed walk from one end of the strip to the other, soaking in all the commotion and revelry as a bystander.

Starting in my room on the 30th floor of the Encore, the last hotel on the strip, Las Vegas Boulevard’s six kilometre stretch of hotels is compressed into a 30cm square of the window – half obscured by the Wynn next door.

The Wynn

Mizumi, Wynn

So it was time, after spending 5 days working in the Encore and barely leaving the building, to get out there and breathe it all in. It takes 3-4 hours to get from one end of the strip to the other at a pace which allows for dipping in and out of the hotels, attractions, sideshows, promenades and bars. Here are the highlights.

the Palazzo

The Palazzo.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island

The Venetian

The Venetian

The Venetian

Caesar's Palace

Caesar's Palace

Caesar’s Palace

Paris

Paris

Paris

The Bellagio

The Bellagio

New York New York

New York New York

New York New York

Luxor

The Luxor

… and there we have it – probably 20% of all the hotels along the way.. ending at the Luxor at around 3h30am having: Eaten at Gordon Ramsay’s pub in Ceasar’s Palace (quite average). Lost $50 at the blackjack tables in Paris. Neshed out of the Roller-coaster in New York New York and bought $10 cans of beer from some little ladies by the side of the road.

A taxi ride and 15 minutes later I’m back in my room on the 30th floor of the Encore feeling like we just ran a marathon.

Villandry is a decadent, stuffy and expensive French restaurant nestled within the grandly refurbished Science Hall JE on Nanchang Lu. It fits in elegantly, like the dining room of an archaic five-star hotel.

Accordingly, the place is dripping in staff. We were whisked through the lobby, along the striking garden-facing terrace and seated in barely a heartbeat. All that’s left is to decide through which nostril to pay. Indeed, something must pay for both the rent and Villandry’s Michelin trained chef. The menu is a curious collection of luxurious China-friendly sets, lists of oysters, caviar, fine ham, snow crab legs and cheeses. It sounds stupendous and costs as much, ranging from several hundred to several thousand renminbi.

We kept to the couple of a la carte pages and found a solid but not ground-breaking series of dishes. A rich and creamy chilled pumpkin gazpacho with lumps of crab meat (RMB68) outshone a bland Pistou (vegetable) soup (RMB68). Following suit, a crab meat salad with avocado and caviar (RMB150) proved far more textured and flavorful than a watery lobster terrine with truffle vinaigrette (RMB150).

The day’s special, a swathe of slow roasted beef carved tableside from a wheeled trolley by a beaming chef, proved serenely tender. It’s a little on the sickly side though, topped with a rich gravy and only a garnish-sized sprinkling of vegetables. It dominates alongside a serving of pan-fried sea bream in a clam sauce (RMB280), despite the latter’s more composed flavor.

Moving to the terrace to savor a fresh cheesecake (RMB78) and pineapple mousse with coconut sorbet (RMB78), we were almost a world away from the hectic streets of Shanghai outside.

Villandry 021 3126-8801
Science Hall JE, 47 Nanchang Lu, (near Yandang Lu) 南昌路47号 (近雁荡路)

Contrary to popular belief, good British grub comes in many guises. Shanghai is sorely lacking in strong offerings, and Mr. Harry does a fairly good job of representing the nation’s most clichéd dishes. If only the location, service and ambiance were in sync, it would deliver a more genuine experience.

The menu reads like a homesick Englishman’s dream. Pork scratchings, ploughman’s lunches and award winning ale. It’s with a nostalgic tear in our eye that we dive straight into a bowl of superbly tart pickled eggs (RMB18). A couple of petite non-regulation toad in the hole (RMB16) are not quite the masterfully simple sausages inside Yorkshire pudding we hoped for, but are full of flavor and will please anybody not from Yorkshire.

But this reviewer is from Yorkshire, and this kind of food belongs somewhere other than a pokey modern unit in a Nanjing Xi Lu mall. It’s a shame this isn’t a low-lit, wood paneled affair and full of character. With no draft beer we’re left in a spin.

Luckily, not long after a bland ham hock terrine (RMB58) comes an utterly wonderful plate of fish and chips (RMB98). Golden, crisp batter around meaty cod alongside boot-cut chips and pea purée leave no doubt that there are some experienced hands in the kitchen. Homemade bangers (sausages, to the uneducated) served atop a mound of creamy mash and swamped in thick onion gravy (RMB68) are a textbook performance. We barely needed the side dishes of steamed cabbage (RMB36) or bubble and squeak (RMB28). They didn’t enhance either dish anyway.

We also barely had room for dessert, a pity because whiskey and marmalade bread and butter pudding with custard (RMB48) looked like it could bring any man to his knees. We’ll save that for a brunch visit and a chance to try Mr Harry’s self-proclaimed best full-English breakfast in China.

Mr. Harry
Tel: 21 6203-6511
5/F, 819 Nanjing Xi Lu (near Shimen Yi Lu), 南京西路819号开欣商厦5楼(近石门一路)

Almost a Fenyang Lu institution, La Crêperie has made itself international in the last couple years and recently returned closer to home with a second location in the new Réel Mall. Now that the new-car smell is wearing off, we took a stroll over to see if their menu of galettes and crêpes are the order of the day.

There has been something of a pancakes invasion in Shanghai of late, and La Crêperie has dialed up the nautical theme to full-chintz-ahead. It’s almost Disney grade, with a glass walkway over a sandy beach, booths in the shape of boat-hulls and fishing tackle all over. We didn’t know which would come first, our oysters or a six-foot pancake mascot.

The oysters in question are imported from Brittany and served by the half dozen (RMB180). But alongside a plate of toasted rye bread, they’re a suitable warm-up to the main event, the galettes—buckwheat pancakes with a variety of savory fillings. We deviated from our go-to, the Complet (ham, cheese and tomato, RMB58) and opened our wallets all the way for the Marin (RMB108), featuring scallops, bacon, mushrooms, cream and white wine, and another of ground beef, potatoes and egg (RMB78). They are both exactly as rich and heavy as they sound, if not a little salty and greasy.

With barely enough room for dessert, we found some space in the reserve tank for the signature Defi Crêpe (RMB60). It is just as good as ever, with caramel ice cream, banana and caramel wrestling between the soft pancake sheets.

It’s good to see that the menu’s been successfully transplanted and that it’s business here as usual here at Réel; we’ll have to wait and see if the original location’s lively spark will be missed.

La Crêperie tel:021 3253-7978
Room D, 1/F, Reel Mall, 1601 Nanjing Xi Lu (near Changde Lu), 南京西路1601号芮欧百货1楼D座(近长的路)

As if going for the “What were you thinking?” award, Casamosaico offers high-end Italian on Yongfu Lu. Yes, where all those rowdy bars and night crawlers are. You can sit right in their window noshing on fine Italian while people stagger drunkenly past, chased by bouquets of badly drawn roses. You’re a world away inside, but it feels a risky move and out of place as we duck behind our menus when people we know walk past.

The menu is centered around filled pasta. Sheets are freshly made in-house and three different varieties including fresh and delicious bosco ravioli (RMB148), creamy zucchini and almond tortelloni (RMB140) and sinfully sweet parcels of ricotta and walnut (RMB140). We sampled all three in a tasting portion and found them to be on point, each matched with a strong but not overpowering sauce. Perhaps a pared-down sage and butter variety would have rounded off the selection.

Otherwise, it’s passable but inflated Italian. A vitello tonnato (RMB115) has wonderfully tender slithers of veal topped in a tomato-tuna sauce, expensive for what it is. So, too, was a tall but unimpressive cod loin (RMB210). Sitting atop a mound of slightly too bitter purple-potatoes and spinach, it’s not the mouthful of superior seafood it should be. All in all, Casamosaico is a curious restaurant in a curious part of town.

Our Rating: 3.5/5

DETAILS
Casamosaico 189-1890-3956
1/F, 47 Yongfu Lu (near Wuyuan Lu) 永福路47号1楼(近五原路),

In 2004 I visited Maui, Hawaii for the first time. Almost 10 years ago, the only good japanese food I’d eaten was in London. Experiencing the sea of good sushi counters across the island I was blown away. I was naive too; “what history do the Japanese have with Hawaii?” I asked our local contact. “It’s because they like golf” was his reply.

I’m not so Naive these days. Japanese food has followed the global spread of Japan’s three blades competencies. In raw seafood prowess they are yet to be surpassed and in Taipei I’ll stick my head on the line to say they’re ahead of the rest, including local gastronomy.

Addiction Aquatic Development

Addiction Aquatic Development is, in it’s constituent parts, a familiar offering. It’s a wet-seafood market, a sushi counter, a terrace BBQ and a Muji store all rolled into one… with a sprinkling of Japanese magic.

Addiction Aquatic Development

The magic comes in the form of high-grade slabs of sashimi and sushi meticulously chosen and presented to knock your socks off. They’re wrapped in an environment which will lead you alongside the bubbling tanks of dormant prehistoric crustacean and into a dining area surrounded by kitchenware to purchase.

Addiction Aquatic Development

Addiction Aquatic Development

It has a fresh, hip, market feeling despite being clearly engineered to a tee. The food is excellent and expensive and exactly what you deserve after traipsing through Taipei’s other food markets looking for something good in the fried food haystacks.

Addiction Aquatic Development

Unprepared is how I felt getting off the plane in Taipei. I had one night to get to the hotel, build my prototype road bike (for the first time) and double check that I had everything. Not that it would’ve made any difference if I didn’t – it was too late already. I guess that’s why I slept so well.

Also it’s not the first time we’ve done something like this. I’ve walked the length of Hong Kong non stop in 30 hours, rolled almost every road in Shanghai province and generally always know which way is north.

Still, riding 1000km around Taiwan is no easy task and there are some great touring lessons we learnt along the way. Here are our golden nuggets:

1. Pack light. The less you bring the easier it is to ride. Cycling gear is fast-dry so can be washed in the evening and ready for the morning. I travelled with two cycling shirts, one pair of bibs, a pair of swimming shorts and then as luxuries, a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a long sleeve t-shirt for evening relaxation.

2. Wear cycling clothes. If you don’t have padded shorts and some chamois lotion then you’re going to have a bad time. We saw a lot of very uncomfortable guys in cargo pants and jeans. Unfortunately stupid-looking, figure-hugging lycra is often the most practical solution.

3. Use sun-tan lotion. Even when it’s cloudy, UV gets through and 8 hours in the saddle is enough to catch a few rays. If you’re going during a time when the sun is close to the earth then be prepared to keep applying throughout the day. You’ll see the other rides dressed up like they’re heading to a sandstorm and in the evening you’ll know why.

4. Wear sunglasses. Staring ahead into the wind is really effective for drying out eyeballs and that means an itchy evening. Get a pair which can stay strong even if you’re sweating buckets.

5. Bring a backup phone battery. There’s going to be one day when it’s getting dark and you’re lost, hungry, grumpy… and your phone is running out of battery. I had an external USB powersource which also had a solar panel on the side. It saved us from some crazy arguments.

6. Plan not to ride in the evening. This is China after all and the drivers can be aggressive – zipping along with their high beams on. To be honest, a nice way to tour anywhere is to get up early, ride for the morning and arrive to somewhere mid-afternoon. Not everything needs to be explored in the saddle.

7. Convenience stores in Taiwan are amazing. They are every few KMs and sell everything you could possibly need. Most have free tools and pumps outside and you can be absolutely sure there’ll be a couple of other bikers examining a map. We went a little crazy for the cartons of passion fruit juice with tapioca during the ride and cans of Asahi in the evenings.

8. Use the hot springs. They’re all over the place so just ask the locals for directions. After a long day of riding they’re like nourishment to the muscles.

9. Find the hills! They’re the best part of the island. They’re beautiful, rolling, well paved and mostly quiet. You’ll thank me for ditching the circle-the-coast plan and getting deep into the middle of Taiwan where all the goodness is.

10. And if you have no particular itinerary, plan to do 60-120km a day, choose the next destination in the morning and ask your current hotel to book somewhere nearby for that evening. Then there’s always a target to aim for. On an island 450km long and 150km wide you really can’t go wrong.

For my thoughts on doing the Taiwan island circumnavigation – click here.

Last autumn we built a couple of F5 prototype road bikes, flew to Taipei and rode a 10-day loop around the island. To any ambitious, experiential cyclist in China it’s a rolling right of passage, full of variety and beauty and roads bristling with cyclists.

Considering the pilgrimage nature of biking the island, it has taken me a while to reach a concise conclusion. Here it is: Don’t ride all the way around Taiwan.

There are some phenomenally beautiful parts of Formosa Island that cannot be missed. They accumulate into one of the best bike rides in the world. There are also some distinctly average routes. For those who set out for the well trodden clockwise circumnavigation of the coastline, the final 25% of the journey will feel a challenge of attrition and box-ticking success.

industrial_west_coast

That’s because the island’s west coast is 250km of industrial cities. There’s no real coast, no real hills and nothing really beautiful to see. Add to this a prevailing southerly wind and the return to Taipei is an incredibly drawn out re-introduction to a messy city in south east asia.

Which is why I fully suggest ditching the concept of cycling all the way around Taiwan. Unless you ride just for the purposes of riding all the way around places, all the most phenomenal parts of Taipei can be experienced without hitting the let downs.

There are plenty of phenomenal places. Here’s a selection:

Hualien and the East Coast

Taiwan's Mountains

The number 11 highway south of Hualian is a beautiful road. It runs straight down the coast with sea on one side, mountains on the other and smooth, gradually downward sloping tarmac out in front. It levels out alongside the water for long stretches and twists up through the hillside for breathtaking views at a series of outcrops.

Taiwan's Mountains

The beaches aren’t particularly alluring but that’s not what we’re here for. The towns aren’t picturesque coastal hamlets but this is essentially China and we knew that already. Even the food doesn’t embody the excitement I was hoping for, but that’s for another post.

What it does have is calm traffic, a constant streams of riders, wide cycle lanes and free tools at every 7-11. The feeling of camaraderie and an adventuring spirit will propel you along regardless of how overloaded your panniers are. I wrote a few notes here about the essential items for touring taiwan by bike.

There are hot springs too. A perfect example is at the East Spa Hotel up the hills above Jinlun town. It’s peaceful, cheap, friendly and has a few huge pools out front. After a long day in the saddle it feels a just reward With the waves breaking over yonder, the stars twinkling in the sky and hot mineral goodness reversing the effects of 100km on your muscles.

The closed Southern Cross Highway Route #20

Taiwan's Mountains

Both the Central and Southern mountain pass routes are often closed due to landslides. We only found this out about the Southern Cross after getting far enough up it to hit the road blocks. It’s utterly worth it however to follow the river back up the valley on a 20km route gaining 750m of elevation.

Southern Cross, Taiwan

Southern Cross, Taiwan

The scenery up top is breathtaking. We stayed in Wulu at the Chief Spa Hotel which is perched on the valley with a huge suspension bridge in the back garden and a fine cluster of luxurious hot springs.

Southern Cross, Taiwan

Natural Hot Springs

Spa-like hot springs are delightful for a soak and a beer but there’s something truly magical about a naturally forming onsen out in pure nature. Taiwan must be full of them but I’m convinced Lison Springs at the top of Highway #20 is second to none.

Lison Hot Spring, Taiwan

A 30 minute undergrowth hike down a steep valley widens into a small river. Wading waist deep upstream and around a corner reveals a breathtaking crop of smooth, beautifully mottled rocks. They’re stained green by the boiling water trickling down from the spring above. It mixes into the river and creates a small, secluded pool of steamy current.

Sun-Moon Lake

Up in the central mountain range running the length of the island, Sun Moon Lake is undeniably one of Taiwan’s foremost attractions. Approaching from the South or the North it is nestled within a basin of the surrounding mountains which makes for a superbly rewarding descent to the water’s edge.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

It is riddled with tourists but not in an altogether terrible way and the main town, Mingtan, on the north-west banks of the lake is pleasant enough. It has a drop-in selection of hotels for next to no money, good for an evening stop, a drink by the water and a walk through town.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

On the west side of the lake is a visitor’s centre by Norihiko Dan and Associates. It’s worthy of a visit but the real attraction is the road that circles the lake. This area is home to Taiwan’s best roads for riding.

The Mountains, The Mountains, The Mountains

Taiwan’s best roads for riding are indeed The mountains. Unless you haven’t the legs for climbing then the coast or the city will fee like child’s play when you get inland. Which is why I say that going for the coastal route all the way round will mean you ultimately miss out on the best part.

Taiwan's Mountains

Taiwan's Mountains

Taiwan's Mountains

My advice, and what we will do next time, is ride south along the east coast from Taipei, then turn towards the mountains up whichever cross highway is now open. Spend your kilometres in the hills, winding up the hairpins and blasting down the valleys and turn back towards the capital when you’re ready.

Taiwan's Mountains

There is one route that’s particularly rewarding from the island-circumnavigation. It tracks the river back into Taipei along the Huanhe Rd. As the city takes shape and skyscraper begin to fill the horizon there’s no feeling after a week or two in the saddle like cruising into a city and right into the middle of town. We ended 10 days with smoothies and bike poses at the bottom of Taipei 101. That we had deviated from the coast and found the real value of Formosa was enough to smile about.

alex_full_circle drew_full_circle

Note: I used strava to track our route but had a couple of glitches in the first day.
Here are the stages I successfully recorded starting at Taidong:

Taidong to Jinlun
Jinlun to Wulu
Wulu to Dawu
Dawu to Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung to Chaiyi
Chaiyi to Sun-Moon Lake
Sun-Moon Lake to Miaoli
Miaoli to Taipei

For a few notes on surviving a bike-touring trip through Taiwain, check my post here.
The whole photoset is here on flickr.

Shanghai’s Spanish dining scene is an incestuous affair. Loco, the new kid on the southernmost block of Wulumuqi Lu, offers largely the same safe blend of tapas and drinks in a comfortable environment that put its more popular siblings on the map.

Helmed by the owners of Lola and the former chef of Malabar, there is pedigree coursing through Loco’s veins. With this in mind we find the small pintxos and tapas selection to be slightly underwhelming. A smooth and excellent slice of potato tortilla (RMB30) is served alongside a piquant garlic sauce, which is appetizing, but then features again in three other dishes. It smothers the otherwise bland flamenquín, a pepper-stuffed pork roll (RMB85) and is present ever so slightly differently on the costly and predictable smoked salmon toast (RMB50).

A truly curious “broken egg and baby squid” mini casserole (RMB75) feels like the only value item on the menu. It’s a shame that it’s such a mismatched combination of squid, prawn, egg and potato in a super-heavy broth.

Delicious, though, are the mini Iberico Jamon croquetas (RMB85), so good on their own we didn’t dare to ask for a sauce to enhance them. A tremendously oversized and thirst quenching grapefruit gin and tonic (RMB70) did the job instead. Loco’s gin collection is second to none in Shanghai, though we never ended up staying around for a second round at their slightly too-stark bar up front.

The truth is that Spanish cuisine is not standalone. It is part of a ritual. Drinks, food, conversation and revelry all combine into the daily celebration that is the Spanish meal. For one of those lively nights with good company and less importance on the individual components, Loco will shine.

Loco: Where: 205 Wulumuqi Nan Lu (near Jianguo Xi Lu), 乌鲁木齐南路205号 (近建国西路)
Tel: 150-0063-6841
Full listing on cityweekend here

Apparently, a few years ago, two Moroccan restaurants in Shanghai were two too many. Now the original owner of both (El Wajh, now closed) has launched a new restaurant in Tianzifang and it’s fine, authentic business as used-to-be.

A large one-page menu is dominated by a selection of tagines. These earthen pots of heavy clay contain a rich, sultry stew that represents Andalus’ specialty, and there are a dozen options on offer from the classic chicken with lemon and olive (RMB108) to lobster and Moroccan spices (RMB268). We found the lamb, fig and almond (RMB148) to be a tremendously succulent leg of meat in a sweet and complex stew.

One is almost enough to share if only the appetizers were up to scratch and could round out the meal. A plate of cheese cigars (RMB40) is small and bland, and the hummus (RMB45) needs something more than the mini pitas to give it life.

Which is why our favourite was Andalus’ easily overlooked couscous dishes. These tagine-prepared infusions of Moroccan semolina, vegetables and chicken, beef or lamb (RMB108-148) topped with a secret chickpea sauce are hearty, huge and delicious, worthy of coming for alone if you can bear the tourist sink that is Tianzifang. It’s not an altogether wrong location, but we can’t help but wish it were somewhere more comfortable and sedate.

No. 2, Tianzifang, Lane 248 Taikang Lu (near near Sinan Lu), 泰康路248弄田子坊2号 (近思南路)
tel: 5450-0701
From my review in cityweekend. Full listing here.

The slightly run-down mall at 818 Nanjing Xi Lu doesn’t look like it would have a pretty good modern Italian restaurant up on the fifth floor, but there actually is.

It has all the trappings of a standard mall establishment: staff who’re not sure what’s on the menu, seating at close quarters and dishes that all come at the same time. What works though is the food, and in a city of a million sub-standard Italian restaurants we’re happy to have proceedings balanced this way.

The insalata Caprese (RMB48) features juicy balls of buffalo mozzarella, peppery rocket and fine cherry tomatoes. The mixed meats selection (RMB78) is a fine array of prosciutto, mortadella and salami, which goes well with the apparently bottomless basket of fluffy baguette slices and olive oil.

We barely had a chance to draw breath and contemplate quite how tasty the appetizers were before the mains arrived. Completely unashamed, we took the rare chance to order a Hawaiian pizza (RMB78) topped with ham, mozzarella and fresh pineapple. It’s not going to win best-in-class but it’s large and round with a very thin crust, just the way we like it.

Pascasa’s key offerings are their freshly made pastas. They offer a handful of different varieties made daily. Confident of the meal so far, we chose the most curious sounding, the dried turbot with a plump, black, pod-like capunti pasta (RMB128). Topped with orange ribbons of dried fish, it’s salty and certainly an acquired taste. We were on the fence.

With everything arriving at the same time, we were done almost 20 minutes after we’d started. But, kicking back with a couple of crisp Singha beers (RMB32), we ended the meal happy.

Pascasa 021 6052-1980
5/F, 818 Nanjing Xi Lu (near Wujiang Lu), 南京西路818号818广场5楼(近吴江路)

Nestled in a lane behind Shanghai’s most notorious bar strip, Bonne Café is a relaxed, welcoming spot serving fresh Italian bites.

Open day and night, it manages (where many don’t) to be both a café and restaurant without feeling too much of either. Their one-page menu offers pizzas, pastas and a few other Western dishes thrown in for good measure.

We started with a vaguely fritto misto appetizer plate of fried mozzarella, squid rings, chicken wings and shrimp (RMB78). It was dry and greasy and terrible and almost threw the evening out the window. Fortunately a delicious bowl of fusilli with prosciutto, mushrooms and mascarpone cheese (RMB55) followed straight after. The spirals of pasta were not quite al dente but a creamy sauce and slices of smoked meat combine to become mouthfuls of indulgence. Curiously, this dish came without an offering of Parmesan or black pepper but instead contained slices of fiery chilli to add a kick. We were torn on opinion; perhaps the owners saw a need to localize.

Bonne Café’s pizzas are no wood-fired brick oven affair but well created and nicely loaded. Their star pie, topped with smoked salmon, rocket and mascarpone (RMB108), is adequately thin and light yet feature-packed from crust to crust. It won’t be winning any awards but feels reasonable at this price.

As if the cute dining room is not relaxed enough, we moved to their secluded rear patio for a bowl of superbly smooth mango panna cotta (RMB18) and another glass of house white (RMB45). Bonne Café is a worthy addition to the list of go-to places when wandering Jing’an looking for nothing more than a good meal.

74 Nanyang Lu, 南阳路74号
tel: 6224-1255
full listing here

This café-restaurant hybrid serves as a bastion of China’s mid-’00s approach to Western dining. It is what Time Passage is to live-music venues here, the Lianhua of supermarkets. Almost staunch in it’s refusal to move with the beat of Shanghai’s progress, it stands firm against the city’s evolving dining scene.
That it has survived this far when so many have fallen is not pure coincidence. Tima Harbour probably had well-spoken waiters long before Boxing Cat came into town and a fair cup of consistent coffee prior to the Illy invasion. Under the leadership of a small team of long-running crew members, a Western, mostly Italian menu offers classic dishes. They are churned out off-pat using the same recipes they have been for years.

That’s not to say they’re perfect. A sun dried tomato, feta and avocado salad (RMB58), whilst large and tasty is dressed a little heavy handed and light on key players. A thermonuclear lasagna ragu (RMB60) needs plenty of time to cool before the authentic and meaty flavours can be comprehended. A monstrously succulent NY steakhouse burger (RMB60) served with salad and fries, on the other hand, could be a contender for best in town.

Desserts come from the café and are 85c-like slices of eye candy. Light and palatable is a slice of tiramisu (RMB30) while a wedge of raspberry cheesecake (RMB25) proved a perfect match for a consistent espresso.

All of which is set to a garish and slowly crumbling decor. This is the mom and pop restaurant that has needed a lick of paint since 2009. Some may say it’s a little rough around the edges, but we find it comforting to return to every now and again, especially for their lunch menu. Tima Harbour may not be especially exciting, but it’s constant in a world of change.

11 Zhenning Lu
Tel: 6225-8684

Tentekomai | Japanese
The croquette is a global institution as both a fast food and a delicacy. Only Japanese culinary prowess has embraced it as both, and some would argue that the korokke is the king of them all. For the real deal, head to Tentekomai’s Wuyi Lu branch. After a long day in the office, it’s the perfect business wind-down with an array of small dishes. Their croquettes are simple and always tempting, cylindrically formed béchamel and potato rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Just remember that you have to order them individually here (RMB15 each) unlike at most other places.

Belga | Belgian
It’s the four different types of cheese (Edam, French Emmental, Parmesan and mozzarella) in Belga’s croquettes (“kaaskroket” in Belgian, RMB55) that makes them extra creamy and frankly delicious. Larger than life, they sit like two plumped crispy pillows virtually defying gravity. If gooey is your preference when it comes to croquettes, pull up a seat out front and order a plate with something from their extensive beer selection.

Casa 700 | Spanish
Nobody does bar food like the Spanish and croquetas simply don’t get enough credit in the tapas family. They’re the perfect size to hold, have a firm texture yet are light enough to accompany beer or wine and can be dipped in just about any kind of dressing. We like them best when they’re stuffed with deluxe jamon Iberico though, and that’s exactly why Casa 700’s take (RMB98) puts a smile on our face every time.

You know you’ve either struck gastronomic gold or epicurean egotism when the entranceway of a restaurant is littered with photos and books from the chef. But in the case of Mikuni, it’s the marking of some slightly expensive, slightly understated Italian classics in an otherwise superbly tranquil environment.

Taking the Japanese love for perfectly emulating Western cuisine, the menu leans on the apparently globally renowned Kiyomi Mikuni’s experiences. Unlike the space’s previous incarnation as the Thai-Korean fusion Chowhaus, Mikuna is a more straight-laced Italian affair.

To start we sampled a seasonal cold platter (RMB88) that includes a wedge of tortilla and chilled ratatouille. It was tasty and really should have been served alongside the ciabatta as a token amuse bouche. Far better is a delicate yet satisfyingly standalone crab pasta (RMB118), silky sauce on silken al dente pasta. At this price though it should be even more memorable.

Mikuni’s big feature is the huge pizza oven nestled in the corner. It is full of angry flames and tended to by a couple of very tidy looking guards like a medieval furnace. A prosciutto and rocket pizza (RMB168) comes loaded with the featured ham (perhaps compensating for the absent rocket) and is neither huge nor delectable considering that this is the most expensive pie we’ve had all year. With all that heat in the oven though, they should be able to perfect the thin-base, light-topping combo that we’d travel for.

What follows though is a bottle of house white (from RMB250), a panna cotta (RMB48) and a couple of hours of chilled conversation. This is Mikuni’s main strength; it has just the right mix of appeal, comfort and light-handed service to make you feel at ease and relax.

1415 Huashan Lu 华山路1415号
Tel: 3360-3058