When a progressive coffee shop acquires a derelict kiosk to open a Mexican taqueria, great things surprisingly can happen. The owners of Sumerian have joined the emerging wave of Shanghai’s answer to the globally adored food truck and pulled up the shutters next door on a tiny five-sq. meter kitchen. Every night Dogtown serves Mexican treats to a lively kerbside audience.

Not that Shanghai is new to the taqueria concept. Franck Pecol’s rooftop space and Yongkang Lu’s el Luchador are both turning a brisk taco trade. Dogtown, however, has a certain rough-and-ready appeal, which brings a touch of hectic authenticity to their handful of food offerings and craft beers.

Chef to the petite kitchen is Sam Norris, who was previously at Nobu in London before working in pop-up kitchens in Shanghai. Norris prepares and executes each dish with frenetic precision, turning tortillas with one hand, whipping chipotle with another and marinating sea bass ceviche with a third. It’s hot, thirsty work (to watch) and deserving of a glass of draft Brooklyn Lager (RMB50) at the bar under their cool mist-producing awning.

Dogtown’s dishes adhere to the clean, fresh Californian spectrum of Mexican cuisine. Spears of “frickles” (deep fried peppers, RMB20) dipped in their house-made chipotle mayo (RMB10) enhance the pepper’s delicate texture with a piquant crunch and moreish tang. Similarly addictive is a plate of chicharron (RMB20); these strips of puffed pork scratchings are a guilty pleasure.

The main event, beyond the laid back atmosphere and mellow hip-hop playlist, are Dogtown’s tacos. Served as a pair (RMB45) filled with either pulled pork, sea bass ceviche or fried baja fish, they’re large, messy and delicious. Perhaps they’re not as refined as the ones at Franckito; we were lucky to get more than half their contents into our mouths. Admittedly, that could also be because their sun-brewed Dogtown iced tea spiked with vodka (RMB40) had slipped down a little too well.

Dogtown: 409 Shaanxi Bei Lu (near Beijing Xi Lu) 陕西北路409号(近北京西路)
Tel: 186-1614-7679

With good food, a relaxed atmosphere and a swanky edge, we wonder why there aren’t more upbeat dining venues like Le Viet around Shanghai.

It’s almost as if the owners aren’t convinced themselves. This huge 600-sq. meter space is also home to a new Lapis Thai. Plus, it all gradually transforms into a disco as the evening deepens. The result is a little confusing, with three menus to peruse and three logos everywhere.

Although there’s merit in the ability to mix between two Southeast Asian cuisines, our meal remained entirely on the Vietnamese pages and began with the litmus test: banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake, RMB68). Le Viet’s is a huge, photogenic fold of light, crispy batter filled with pork, prawns and beansprouts. Wrapped in lettuce and mint leaves, it’s almost too light on both filling and flavor.

As a signature dish, the prawn and mangosteen salad (RMB108) is not as defining as it should be. Salty slices of dried squid atop bland prawns, diced pork and sweet mangosteen segments combine to a very distinct yet awkwardly cacophonous mouthful.

A fresh, zesty bowl of squid salad (RMB58) brings everything back to the basics. A rich stew of braised fatty lamb in coconut (RMB48) encapsulated the depth of Vietnamese cuisine.

Le Viet may not be a gastronomic masterpiece but for everything else, it has the goods.

Le Viet: 6F, Plaza 1788, 1818 Nanjing Xi Lu南京西路1818号1788广场6楼(近华山路)
Tel: 5252-0078
Full listing here.

Chi-Q, Shanghai

3 Michelin Stars is not enough for Jean Georges. Nor is a dozen other restaurants in New York. A handful in Asia? Still no. Even after JG has established one of the finest long-term restaurants in China he’s still not happy. Will a category defining Korean restaurant in Shanghai satiate his appetite for seed-spreading, or are cross-category Chefs the new form of global dominance?

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Route 66 Motel

East of Las Vegas, on the way to the Grand Canyon, is another USA treasure. Route 66. It was one of the first highways in the country, running from Chicago through to Santa Monica and during the 1930s served as the main trunk of westward migration for people looking for a better life.

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Dr. Fab is the story of two friends from a small European city doing what they love: presenting regional Italian cuisine to the best of their ability.

A concept originally introduced by Fabrizio Pizzioli a couple years ago, their seafood-centric menu evolved from Il Nascondiglio, one of Shanghai’s most treasured secret supper clubs. Joined by chef Andrea Cancani, who cycled from their hometown of Trieste in order to join him, they expanded, signed permanent premises and have managed to retain the homegrown magic that made Il Nascondiglio popular.

This small restaurant faces onto the petite kitchen where both Cancani and Pizzioli prepare every dish from scratch. The pair’s attention to fresh preparation means they seem constantly against the clock. It manifests as gaps between courses, which are filled with curious getting-to-know-you conversation at the secret supper events but verge on stomach-rumbling chasms here.

Dr. Fab’s traditional Italian four-course offering (prix fixe RMB358 or à la carte) manages to feel like a true spark of creative culinary flair and comfort food at once. A starter of mixed seafood (RMB128) offers a trio of fish to be spread atop their in-house Ciabatta. Finely blended salmon tartare, zestily seasoned salted codfish and herbed ribbons of delicate cuttlefish all carry a distinct and delicious tone and virtually render the salmon tartare appetizer (RMB98) obsolete.

Primi and secondi courses also drive a line down the middle between safe zone and creative genius. A courgette and prawns pasta (RMB188) lacks punch when pitched against a delicate black ravioli filled with redfish and halibut (RMB198). Even more delicious are the baby squid (RMB168), stuffed with a sultry anchovy and porcini puree.

But then came the chocolate cake (RMB40) and homemade raspberry liquor, and the genius dimension deepened. If this is staple food in Trieste, we’re packing our bags. If this is gastronomic magic, then we’re staying right here.

Dr. Fab : 48 Sinan Lu (near Fuxing Zhong Lu) 思南路48号(近复兴中路)
Tel: 6312-8290
Full details here.

Grand Canyon

As far as superlatives go, they don’t get much bigger than the Grand Canyon – the word’s most famous rocks. Yet, maybe because it’s so well documented, maybe because you can’t eat it, I wasn’t all that excited about going. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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The tasteful Zhangyuan courtyard a mere stone’s throw from Nanjing West metro station is destined for food and dining success. Tomatito has set itself up in with a ringside seat but may just been a little too rough around the edges for those who know Chef Willy for better things.

Billed as a more casual version of el Willy, Tomatito nestles in a converted shikumen building, rubbing shoulders with a handful of other bars and restaurants, including a bigger Tap House and newcomers like Starling and Black Pepper. The brightly decorated restaurant is a collection of almost cartoony rooms centered around a lively bar. Pop-art flows along the walls, and onto the menus and place settings. While almost everything else about Tomatito is a toned-down el Willy, branding is dialed up to max.

Toned down in price but still action-packed, the menu spans the gamut of Spanish tapas and Latin-inspired small bites as well as larger dishes. We aimed straight for the Salmon TNT (RMB48), a chipotle twist on el Willy’s signature explosive Balik salmon with a formidable and succulent slice of smooth salmon atop a puff-pastry case which explodes upon first bite. A similarly evocative-sounding airbaguette (RMB40) misses the mark: stuffed with cheese and topped with a thin piece of steak, the resulting blow fell slightly weak.

It’s a theme which continues into other dishes. The tapas staples of patatas bravas (RMB25) and pork & chicken croquettes (RMB48) are tasty but not moreish. A quaint tin of vegetables and preserved tuna belly (RMB38) atop crostini lacks pizzazz. The seabass ceviche (RMB65) is overpowered by seafood flavors and pales in comparison to el Efante’s coconut and lime masterpiece.

Having been in soft opening since early July, Tomatito injects a younger vibe into the menu and plays to a slightly different audience than chef Willy’s other establishments around town. It may have friendlier prices but there’s some tweaking to do.

Where: 2F, 99 Taixing Lu (near Wujiang Lu) 泰兴路99号2楼(近吴江路)
Tel: 6259-8671
Tomatito on Cityweekend.

El Bodegon

Xuhui | el Efante
This coconut ceviche (RMB95) at el Efante uses a five-minute citrus marinating process and three types of chillies to seal cubes of kingfish with a spicy, tangy exterior. Topped with diced sweet potato and caramelized maple syrup, a lime sorbet and some toasted coconut is layered on to complete the dish. It’s a tumultuous bowl of incredible flavor which highlights the freshness of the fish. Slurp down the milky leche de tigre juices in the bowl for a beautiful ending to the dish.

el Efante: 20 Donghu Lu (near Huaihai Zhong Lu) 东湖路20号 (近淮海中路) Tel: 5404-8085

Jing’an | El Bodegon
Marinating cubes of raw fish in citrus juices is a national tradition of Peru and El Bodegon’s Peruvian chef has it down to a fine art. The ceviche El Bodegon (RMB70) pairs clean, citrus-seared sea bass with tender rings of fried calamari. They swim together in the piquant juices, which are colored red from the imported rocoto limes. Fiery and refreshing, chunks of sweet corn and potato can be munched at the end to reduce the heat.

El Bodegon: 4F, 83 Changshu Lu (near Julu Lu) 常熟路83号4楼(近巨鹿路) Tel: 3160-3850

Lujiazui | Nadaman
Japanese gastronomy is no stranger to raw seafood. Nadaman’s prawn ceviche (RMB85) pays homage to Peruvian culture and preparation methods. Deluxe ebi prawns are marinated in a light lemon miso vinaigrette, resulting in a tender mouthful of freshness, fortified by a base of fierce wasabi. Served with purple Romaesco broccoli and togarashi chili pepper, this ceviche is a cacophony of exotic textures and flavors.

Nadaman: Level 2, Grand Tower, Pudong Shangri-La, 33 Fucheng Lu (near Binjiang Da Dao) 富城路33号浦东香格里拉大酒店紫金楼2楼 (近滨江大道) Tel: 6882-8888 ext. 6888

This plush, tranquil, curious restaurant on Yuyuan Lu is in a category and class of its own. Fu He Hui (福和慧) is the newest concept by the owners of Fu 1088, offering set menus for lunch and dinner priced at RMB380, RMB680 and RMB880.

Though it is an entirely meat-free experience, to simply call it vegetarian doesn’t quite do it justice. Fu He Hui’s dishes are classically familiar, yet to label it traditional would leave out the element of experimentation in preparation and presentation. Despite the deluxe ambiance, the isolated, almost oppressive arrangement of simple private dining rooms leaves no room to enjoy the decor.

Served in a format that’s perhaps similar to the Japanese omakase, a meal at Fu He Hui flows through a series of six to 10 individual courses, each a little more than a mouthful or two. With every course comes an attention to combining and distilling flavors. Each portion must convey an entire course’s story.

Our journey started with a trio of small bites; a compression of rich tofu skin formed like a tiny gourd; a sous-vide lotus root stuffed in a plum and a net of wrapped tofu wrapped in a miniature purse of fresh herbs. Each delicious bite set the tone for a meal of very precisely prepared dishes.

Some plates are more familiar, such as a tender longan, walnut and papaya soup in a sultry broth. Others push the boundaries a little bit more; thin slices of eggplant wrapped in kalian are finished off with a drizzle of teriyaki sauce alongside a glass of sharp cider vinegar.

Knowing that each dish is meat-free will be a pure delight to vegetarians and also spark a sense of curiosity in protein cravers. We almost made it through the meal without noticing.

Far more noticeable is the isolation sitting in what feels somewhat like a high-class Japanese prison cell. Fu He Hui is experiential food at a price.

Fu He Hui: 1037 Yuyuan Lu (near Jiangsu Lu) 愚园路1037 号 (近江苏路)
Tel: 3980-9188

Fu He Hui listing in Cityweekend

As one of the hottest malls in China, IAMP has a precedent of strong mall-restaurants to live up to. Enmaru certainly looks the part but aside from a couple of strong dishes, falls short of delivering a category winning meal.

Visually impressive like a pristine izakaya dream, an expansive grill and sushi counter grace the entrance with a fleet of chirpy wait staff stationed next to it. With a sheltered booth and glass of chilled Kirin beer topped with a frozen foam head (RMB30), we were settling in comfortably for the meal.

A creamy but average house special potato salad (RMB48) followed a great infinity sushi roll (RMB188) (pictured in the headline photo). Served as one long scroll and topped with a tapestry of eel, urchin, tuna, snapper and salmon sashimi, it’s simply delicious from start to finish. We were almost ready to declare the new king of Japanese food right here.

However, Shanghai is brimming with Japanese food royalty and it takes more than phenomenally cold beer and an excellent sushi roll to seal the deal. Where Enmaru gains in style, it loses in authenticity. A cold tofu salad (RMB64) is tasty but the leaves and dressing complicate the clean, simple flavors we were looking for. Teppanyaki slices of boneless Australian rib steaks (RMB138) feel too plump and overly dressed.

Ultimately, Enmaru is too expensive to take the crown. But for a couple of strong dishes following an afternoon of walking IAPM’s floors, Enmaru has the answer.

Enmaru: L5-505, IAPM Mall, 999 Huaihai Zhong Lu (near Shaanxi Nan Lu)淮海中路999号IAPM 环贸广场 5楼505室(近陕西南路) Tel: 6025-8998

Full Enmaru listing in Cityweekend.

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.

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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.

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The NoFuP (north of Fuxing Park) area is becoming quite the hotbed of dining activities. Urban Diner is a new addition to the scene, offering a decent selection of quasi-Italian cuisine in a relaxed space that doubles as a café by day.

The restaurant is in an opportune location on the relatively sedate corner of Nanchang Lu and Yandang Lu. Their petite terrace is great for sitting out and watching the world go by. Inside is a visually impressive bar, cut from the current rustic trend of reclaimed wood and clean lines.

Urban Diner’s menu also emulates current styles but overlooks some important details. A Caprese salad (RMB78) of tomato and mozzarella lacks the much-needed presence of basil. The same goes for an ultimately forgettable plate of deep fried calamari (RMB78), featuring tender circles of squid that seem too large to be real.

Almost straight from the book of modern-day food trends, there are also traces of Latin American influence. A “tortilla pizza” (RMB68) topped with prosciutto and loaded with stringy cheese and a rich tomato base, feels a little simple.

For mains, a half rack of BBQ pork ribs (RMB128) hits the spot straight off the bat. We had to get over the concept of it being served alongside roasted tomatoes topped with mashed potatoes. However, the sweet and sticky hickory sauce forced complete forgiveness. At this price, it feels a touch on the costly side. A meagre portion of white wine and seafood risotto (RMB98) also wasn’t enough of a masterpiece for the ticket.

Finishing up with an odd plate of grilled prawns (RMB168), butterflied and loaded with cheese, made us return to our feeling of Urban Diner’s mixed message of style over content. Perhaps this restaurant is more fitting for a snack and one of their deliciously fresh smoothies (RMB45) rather than a full meal.

Urban Diner: Unit 1-03, 99 Yandang Lu (near Nanchang Lu) 雁荡路99号1-03 (近南昌路)
Tel: 3366-5018

Listing details in Cityweekend

If you’re slightly intoxicated on Yongkang Lu and yearning for a quick bite, then Oh My Kebab is the answer. This little spot next to Café de Staigieres takes a lively and slightly scrappy approach to drinks and nosh that seems fitting for the bustling street.

In the same space that used to be Handle Bar, the owners have switched their focus to another growing trend in Shanghai: offering a simple menu of kebabs, wraps and pitas made with fresh meat and vegetables. On our recent visits, the restaurant had chicken one time and pork another, both of which had succulence and flavor that put them a notch or two above the usual inner-city offerings.

However, Shanghai has a burgeoning scene of non-greasy, clean tasting kebabs with the likes of Brothers Kebab and Lina’s. Even Anadolu has been upping its game. In comparison, Oh My Kebab’s flatbread wraps (RMB40 for chicken and pork / RMB45 for beef and lamb) are a little stiff and their fillings unbalanced. One mouthful is all salad, the next all meat.

But when a jumbo plate (a large unwrapped version, RMB50) comes with a free glass of Stella, there’s really no reason to venture outside of Yongkang Lu for a filling meal. Sided with a plate of cheese fries (RMB25), it’s a fitting ticket to soak up the joys of a crawl along Shanghai’s hottest bar street and keep the party going.

Oh My Kebab: 50 Yongkang Lu (near Jiashan Lu) 永康路50号(近嘉善路)
Tel: 6431-2653
Full details in Cityweekend

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.

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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.

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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 …

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Paris Tour is a restaurant that suffers from trying to do too much at once. If the result was fantastic, we’d be lauding their blend of French, Vietnamese and African cuisine. However, it flows more like a patchy mash-up mixed tape.

The link between the cuisines on offer is assumedly the French influences in their respective countries and regions. The menu speaks of classic French bistro dishes, African-influenced grilled meats with rice, and a bowl of pho. All is served to a backdrop including a huge golden Buddha, Chinese calligraphy friezes and way too much garish furniture.

We didn’t pause to ask questions. Hot towels and a warm baguette are served quickly enough to take things down a relaxing notch. A large glass of draught Tiger (RMB35) is just the ticket to regain full normality.

The food that follows doesn’t deliver a significant reward. Too imbalanced and dry is a duck confit with a mountain of mushrooms and a slice of pear-infused potato gratin (RMB130). Too disparate and unfocused is a half a grilled chicken with a mound of fragrant rice and blackened bananas (RMB168).

The appetizers, on the other hand, fare much better in comparison. A generous plate of cold cuts (RMB88) has a fine selection of salami, mortadella, prosciutto and a perhaps defamatory, but also tasty, sprinkling of grated cheese. A mound of salmon tartare (RMB68, pictured in the headline) blends raw fish, capers, spices and egg yolk into a mouthful of decadence.

Sometimes, appetizers are the true reason to frequent certain restaurants and we’d love to say the same here. Unfortunately, given Paris Tour’s mishmash of styles and cuisines, we’re left in a head spin. Here on Nanchang Lu’s leafy streets of cute boutiques and coffee shops, it feels out of sync.

We’ll be popping back in for an order of those blackened bananas though. They’re truly delicious.

Paris Tour: 99 Yandang Lu (near Nanchang Lu) 雁荡路99号(近南昌路) Tel: 6333-7232

All the details over on CityWeekend

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.

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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.

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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

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Macasa is a textbook example of an earnest but diluted attempt at fine dining. Nestled in a cozy courtyard in the Shanghai Library neighborhood, we could barely believe this was previously Boonna. It’s amazing what a couple of knocked-through walls and a heap of rustic material can do for a space.

Now, it has transformed into an attractive, two-floor restaurant covered in old doors, metal surfaces and Edison light bulbs. All of this seems to be paying tribute to Jason Atherton’s Commune Social.

The menu is also curiously similar to the aforementioned popular tapas bar. It emphasizes on naming dishes by ingredients verbatim. This is a device often used in high-end cuisine where each element is expertly sourced and palate defining.

With Macasa, it borders on confusing and deflating. An Australian sirloin steak served with a reduction of gravy and bone marrow infused breadcrumbs (RMB98) is bland and lacking the contrast we’d hoped for. Similarly, a bowl of fava beans (RMB58) is firm and watery in all the wrong places.

At this price, the portions served are all too small. Macasa’s angle is of global Western tapas which ultimately reads as a little meager. The heartiest item on offer is an uninspiring mixture of baby potatoes, tomatoes and paprika with a parmesan crust (RMB58) served in a beautiful Le Creuset dish.

Much better is a duo of hearty scallops wrapped in pancetta (RMB78) that left us wanting more. Everything feels like it’s trying too hard right down to the desserts section, which includes a pineapple sorbet that’s comically branded as “snow” (RMB48).

Perhaps the three owners have ratcheted up the pressure on themselves to punch above their weight. This shows in a slightly intense service. We wish there’s less of an emulation of echelon dining and a more home-style approach to the menu for such a welcoming and rustic villa. Until then, for more than RMB200 per person, there are many better offerings in the vicinity.

Macasa: 1690 Huaihai Zhong Lu (near Hunan Lu) 淮海中路1690号 (近湖南路) Tel: 5456-1214
Get their details on CityWeekend

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen
This small noodle shop serves some of the most authentic bowls of tonkotsu ramen (RMB34) in Shanghai. Pork bones are simmered for extended periods to ensure every joule of flavor and gelatin goes into the powerful broth. Matched with a mound of firm wheat noodles, the result is a substantial bowl of ramen. Hakata is also generous on the meat with thick, succulent and fatty slices of pork loin. It’s not a delicate bowl of soup noodles but a strong demonstration of how Fukuoka chefs gained notoriety as ramen masters.

Ippudo
Ramen-maniacs in Shanghai raised a furore when this international chain of Japanese noodle shop set up stall in Lujiazui. In the past few months, they’ve opened four more locations in Shanghai’s newest and shiniest shopping malls to satisfy a growing number of fans on the Puxi side. Despite the fact that the interior of their shops feels a little too manufactured, their signature Shiromaru Motoaji tonk0tsu ramen (RMB52) is clean and tasty. We only wish it were less expensive and more substantial in volume.

Kota’s Kitchen
Even after some scuffling between owners, this Beatles-themed Japanese restaurant is still going strong. The constant is their delicious yakitori skewers; they have enough permutations to keep us returning with vigor. Among its selection of sides, a bowl of tonkotsu ramen (RMB45) shines out. Its buttery pork-bone broth, firm noodles and a fair sprinkling of succulent roast pork, seaweed and pickles swirl around to create a sumptuous bowl of Japanese noodles to go with our shochu.

Yunnan is a lush province in China’s southwest heralded for its countryside charm and border influences. It is endowed with a progressive cuisine full of produce variety and fresh flavors.

Cha Ma Garden is Shanghai’s most comprehensive Yunnan restaurant. As far as positives go, it almost ends there. From the hundred or so pages of menu, we struggled to pick any standout dishes. Its offering is so vast it probably covers every single permutation the province has ever made.

To start, a plate of mint sprigs with garlic and chili, liangban bohe (凉拌薄荷, RMB18) proved mouth-wateringly fresh. Satisfying, too, is a row of mild goat cheese slices, dali shuijian rubing (大理水煎乳饼, RMB58). Served grilled and dipped in salt and chili, it adds a new dimension to Chinese appetizers.

A signature butterflied carp, grilled with a spicy crust, banxiang kao luofeiyu (板香烤罗非鱼, RMB78), blends delicate fish with powerful flavors. The carp here is too bony and watery to achieve distinction; Lotus Eatery’s version is far superior. Our Yunnan-style mashed potato, laonainai yangyu (老奶奶洋芋, RMB26), was also disapointingly oily. Similarly lacking in content is the pu’er tea tossed shrimp, pu’er cha xiangxia (普洱茶香虾, RMB78). While the crisped tea leaves added distinct flavor, the shrimps are a little meagre and dry.

At Cha Ma Garden, it’s necessary to order a few extra dishes in the name of trial and error. With enough patience, you may discover a gem or two.

Cha Ma Garden : Shop 6-204, 699 Zhongshan Nan Er Lu (near Chuanchang Lu)中山南二路699号正大乐城6-204 (近船厂路) Tel: 6067-2538

Find it here on Cityweekend.

Five-star hotel restaurants have a tough time getting noticed in Shanghai; however, Calypso is a game changer. From a new mold of Shangri-La concepts, this privately-managed restaurant serves as a standalone centerpiece of the Jing An Kerry Centre. Unless they spot the golden lapel pins worn by select managers, customers could quite easily sit through a meal without knowing they were within the chain.

Designed by the award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the restaurant sits in a pristine vaulted space as a collection of clean and woven wooden surfaces that reminds us of a green house. Executive chef Davide Caré’s menu is loosely Mediterranean with key influences from Spain and Italy and small French touches here and there. Galician-style octopus (RMB118) and crostini topped with burrata cheese and San Daniele ham (RMB98) are both forerunners in their game and strong distillations of their key elements. In the case of the octopus, it’s almost too strong, with a heavy dashing of smoked paprika. Round one goes to Italy.

Also favoring Italy on Calypso’s Spanish-Italian clap-o-meter are their pizzas. Issued out of their Naples-imported brick pizza oven, they are delicious, thin and accurately made. Topped with fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella (RMB98), they are sized to form a fitting interlude in a well-paced meal.

We barged into the main courses at a canter and aimed directly for Calypso’s signature dish. An Iberico pork chop (RMB188) roasted to supreme tenderness is buttery and smooth, like no pork we’ve ever tasted in China. Spain definitely won this round, juxtaposed against a slightly wispy French-inspired confit duck leg with a firmer-than-desired cassoulet of white beans (RMB168).

In the end, all that’s left is to applaud a uniquely served and generous tiramisu (RMB48). If this is the new form of hotel dining, we’ll be digging deep and checking in more often.

Calypso: Jing An Kerry Centre, 1218 Yan’an Zhong Lu (near Tongren Lu) 延安中路1218号静安嘉里中心(近铜仁路) Tel: 2203-8889

Get the full info on Cityweekend

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.

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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.

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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.