1515 West Chophouse

You might know the 1515 West Chophouse for it’s sultry surrounds, artisanal focus and fine steaks.

Take that concept, cover it in raw seafood, throw a cheese dairy at it, layer it with parma ham and sprinkle oysters over the top. Then serve a New York Strip with two eggs – over easy.

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For all their good intentions and comfortable atmosphere, Crazy Oyster House is a little too elementary to be a true contender.

The petite restaurant has been open for a while under a different guise as Crazy Noodle Bar. Recently it reopened to offer seafood and modern European cuisine. They’ve kept the same tidy and simple decor, and added a chalkboard listing their daily selections of oysters and fresh seafood. The printed menu lists rarities like Boston lobster (RMB280/500g) and Devon crabs (RMB165/500g).

On our visit, oyster options included only a handful of French types, such as Golden Ostre (RMB38/RMB217/RMB420 for one/half-dozen/dozen) and Gillardeau (RMB48/RMB276/RMB540). At this price they’re competitive with the likes of The Plump Oyster, but Crazy Oyster House lacks the deluxe experience of live-shucking at a plush low-lit bar.

The oysters themselves are fine enough. Half a dozen Tsarskaya (RMB258) slid down like velvet with a clean ocean bite. It does allow a complete enough flavor, though sometimes a jumbo oyster can feel infinitely more exciting.

Elsewhere, the menu is disappointing and lacks finish. A couple skewers of satay beef (RMB18) are simple and missing kick. A trio of scallops with house special sauce (RMB58) combines limp, cold scallops with a warmed dressing and is all over far too quickly. The main of poached salmon with herb béarnaise (RMB108) tastes ordinary and could be matched in many kitchens across the city.

Crazy Oyster House is a brave curiosity. With an upgrade to their complete offering, this could be a great neighborhood venue for fresh seafood and oysters. For now it’s a little disconnected.

Crazy Oyster House: 88-A Wuyuan Lu (near Wulumuqi Lu) 五原路88-A号(近乌鲁木齐路)
Tel: 6416-1603

Xintiandi is not the first spot that comes to mind for a strong artisanal concept, creative independent partnership and delicious food. It’s almost ironic that as one of Shanghai’s most familiar evening destinations, it might only be the location keeping Bottega from being an excellent restaurant.

The concept and partnership comes from the brainchild of Sololatte’s Kyeong Joo Lee and Madison’s Austin Hu. Together they’ve concocted a mozzarella, pizza and pasta bar with an abundance of intrigue and flavor.

Lee’s mozzarella-based offerings are unashamedly delicious, especially the burrata (RMB108), a firm orb-like bulb of cheese that is almost liquid-soft at the center. It’s the dairy lover’s equivalent to a chocolate lava cake. And drizzled with oil and black pepper, the dish is unrivalled in sophisticated savory luxuriousness. Balls of mozzarella and strings of stracciatella round out the cheese trifecta. Served with prosciutto (RMB52) or salami (RMB48), they’re equally decadent.

Hu’s collaboration starts with his homemade pork kimchi, the star of Bottega’s signature Coreana pizza (RMB138). His well-spun dough, soggy base and balanced toppings shine through, while maintaining the kimchi’s tangy punch and powerful flavors. The lardo pizza (RMB128) is topped with slivers of anchovy and fat, and surprisingly complex considering how minimal each slice is.

However, at RMB100+ for a plate-sized pizza or small pasta portion, the cost-reward balance feels skewed. A meal for two, plus atmospherically-high priced bottled beers, can push the final bill past RMB600.

A bustling terrace and slightly too-stark interior were all perhaps paying a little too much Xintiandi tax. It’s kind of a shame. With a concept this strong, why not keep it off the main drag like a local secret. We’ll come searching, we promise.

Bottega: Unit 2B, Bldg. 22, Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Lu (near Huangpi Nan Lu) 太仓路181弄新天地北里22号楼2B铺 (近黄陂南路)
Tel: 6352-7791

By all measures, this seventh installment of the longstanding Hong Kong chain is a formulaic mall-based take on Italian cuisine.

They’ve all the expected dishes covered. A plate of fried calamari (RMB108) is crispy outside, tender within and full of zest. A warm spinach, pine seeds, mushroom and parmesan salad (RMB100) is exactly those things mixed in a bowl. They’re not groundbreaking, but Italian cuisine is all about achieving satisfaction with simple preparation.

As a classic Italian restaurant, the pizza at Grappa’s turned out underwhelming. The caprese (RMB108), for instance, is served as a stiff base of un-topped flatbread underneath a mound of salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, flecks of buffalo mozzarella and a drenching of balsamic vinegar. All the other pizzas seemed to come out of its prominent oven looking better in comparison.

We fared better with other more complex offerings. Their lasagne (RMB108) possesses the rich tones, which ooze from sheets of pasta, Bolognese, cheese and tomato passata after they’ve been layered and cooked over a couple of hours. It’s delicious — though we’d rather have it served in the casserole dish so we could scrape off the burnt bits, as tradition dictates.

Grappa’s is by-the-numbers Italian and there’s a place for that. Right now though, the numbers don’t quite add up. At around RMB80-100 for each dish, we expected something better.

Grappa’s: 3F, South Wing, Jing An Kerry Center, 1515 Nanjing Xi Lu (near Anyi Lu)南京西路1515号静安嘉里中心南区3楼(近安义路)
Tel: 6243-0838

This modern Chinese restaurant is a welcome addition to the blossoming Réel Mall, offering a strong array of regional Hunanese signature dishes.

As one of China’s most treasured cuisines, Hunan food is a definite crowd-pleaser among both locals and Westerners. With enough variety to cover hunks of meat, grilled seafood, cauldrons of spice and fresh flash-fried veggies, it’s no wonder that this large, mall-archetype restaurant is already as popular as some of Shanghai’s existing Hunan eateries.

Which is where the necessary comparisons come in. Going head to head with the powerhouses of Di Shui Dong and Gu Yi is quite a challenge. Ten Ten Bistro is at first impression a similarly comprehensive Hunanese offering. It is slightly more upscale than Gu Yi and less rustic than Di Shui Dong, yet significantly less hectic than both.

Prices at Ten Ten are slightly higher, though not by much. A plate of their signature gargantuan pork ribs (RMB130) feels reasonable. They’re meaty, grilled to perfection and covered in cumin and chili seeds. Similarly classic is a basket of a dozen or so skewered prawns (RMB98). Large, juicy and invigoratingly spiced, they are arguably one of China’s best seafood dishes.

With the main attractions covered, the rest of Ten Ten’s menu is left to a fair share of stir fried and crock pot dishes. A bowl of Dong An chicken (RMB68) features tender chunks of meat in a curiously sour yet fresh salad of shredded cabbage and peppers. Also fresh is a flash-fry plate of crisp cabbage and Chinese bacon (RMB48) mixed with oil and piquant chili.

And we’ve just scratched the surface. Ten Ten Hunan Bistro has the size and the goods to wade into Shanghai and take top spot. Let the battle begin.

Ten Ten Hunan Bistro: 2F, Réel Mall, 1601 Nanjing Xi Lu (near Changde Lu) 南京西路1601号芮欧百货2楼(近常德路)
Tel: 3253-2788

This petite eatery offers a box of honest and simple Korean food with a smile. Huanguo Chufang Express’s compact location coincides with the growth of the express-food scene in Shanghai.

It’s a scene which elsewhere in the world might be expressed as a concentration of food trucks. With Shanghai’s size and predisposition to the traditional food cart infestation, it has instead taken root in some curious venues such as this tiny space on Fuxing Lu.

Hanguo Chufang Express is one-part imported Korean snacks, two-parts Americana with the rest an open kitchen where the upbeat owners box up their offerings. Catering predominantly to the lunch crowd, their menu is a collection of painfully cute set options of takeaway-boxed main dishes and little pots of traditional “banchan” — side dishes such as kimchi, cubed radish and black soybeans.

Our stewed beef bibimbap (RMB42) was a light, considered version of modern Korean cuisine. Tender mouthfuls of seasoned beef atop stewed vegetables and perfectly cooked rice wriggle around in the raw egg and chilli paste, becoming composed mouthfuls of flavor. A similar and slightly spicier story follows with the kimchi and pork rice set (RMB48).

We almost expected to find an inspirational message tucked inside the packet of died seaweed. Hanguo Chufang Express feels like the packed lunch a loving parent would prepare. As they waved us off in unison, we had a warm feeling inside.

Hanguo Chufang Express: 1277 Fuxing Zhong Lu (near Xiangyang Nan Lu) 复兴中路1277号(近襄阳南路)
Tel: 6471-1639

This airy addition to the ever-fresh Ferguson Lane complex offers a fair effort at classic British cuisine. Slotting into the slightly quirky space previously occupied by Grill Bull, Notting Hill British Cuisine is split into a conservatory and larger casual dining room. The latter is plainly dressed and plastered with stock photos and foodie platitudes, along with a clichéd cardboard telephone box. The darker, more intimate conservatory is definitely more appealing.

Juxtaposed too, the menu is also divided into parts. First, a page of stalwart British dishes including fish and chips (RMB98), half chicken (RMB108) and roast beef rib eye (RMB168). Then, a page of Mediterranean-sounding salads and pastas, such as a seemingly popular spicy aglio e olio clam linguini (RMB88). It feels like a localized version of a country’s sentiment, rather than a full immersion of its cuisine.

With that in mind, we tucked with vigor into a cone of piquant easy fried wings (RMB46) and found them small yet moreish. Similarly petite is a plate of truffled porcini and poached quail eggs on mini toast (RMB42), which ultimately lacked enough punch for the small bites to carry any weight.

Both appetizers act as good reminders that Notting Hill is perhaps not a full rendition of classic pub-grub but a more interpreted collection of dishes. It’s almost like we’re zoomed out to 0.8x, experiencing food and flavors at arm’s length.

While the fillets of fried fish are meaty and wrapped in perfectly light batter, they’re too tiny. The roast chicken is succulent enough but is virtually a poussin. Even a side of Yorkshire pudding (RMB18) feels like a puff of batter.

It’s difficult to get a full take on where Notting Hill is going. The tones are there. With a slight amplification on the plate and a more considered layering of the British thematic playbook, it could be a proper standout from the crowd.

Notting Hill British Cuisine: Unit 105, 378 Wukang Lu (near Tai’an Lu) 武康路378号1楼105铺(近泰安路)

Tel: 6468-7777

Designer tiles, jovial service and a plate of honest food are the hallmarks of a modern Scandinavian café and EQ has all three in abundance. From behind a pristine glass counter, the Danish owners of this newcomer to the Super Brand Mall serve up a changing menu of marketing heavy ‘life balancing’ bites with a smile on their faces.

That they’re two floors underground in one of China’s most infamous mega-malls and not in some leafy European neighbourhood doesn’t seem to phase them. Equilibrium belongs to the current renaissance of the Shanghai food-court where sourcing and presentation are the meal definers and needs to be written on every surface to bang the message home. Indeed everything looks impulsively delicious behind the counter from the leafy colourful sandwiches (¥53-58) to more involved mains like a simply plated and wholly invigorating duck leg with red cabbage, bacon and hazlenuts (¥69).

Local city workers and discerning shoppers come here for two things in particular though; salads and meatballs. ¥49/¥59 (small/large) is enough to buy a selection of EQs freshly prepared, light but feature-rich salad delights. A chicken, couscous and peppers concoction served with lemon Tzatziki has summer inside every delicious mouthful. Warming too, is an artichoke, risoni and broad bean affair – and hearty.

Save room though for the aforementioned meatballs. Served from the ‘pork station’ in a ciabatta bun with mustard and red cabbage (¥58) they’re a Danish smile from ear to ear. High fives all round. Mall food is back in business.

Equilibrium: Unit 3, Level B2, Super Brand Mall, 168 Lujiazui Xi Lu (near Fucheng Lu) 陆家嘴西路168号正大广场B2楼03单元(近富城路)
Tel: 5845-0535
Website: http://www.eqfoods.com.cn/

Oza Oza has one of Shanghai’s worst layouts as a restaurant, yet it produces a degree of experimental cuisine that many wouldn’t dare to try.

A fusion of French and Japanese cuisine, Oza Oza’s set menus serve as a food journey through the curious mind of its creators. For RMB149, RMB198 or RMB298, they offer a degustation of five to eight courses, each building from a small bite up to the final main course.

Ours began with lightly coddled egg white topped with wasabi foam. Delicate and balanced, it sets the tone for what is an initial series of invigorating dishes: soft, warm, spirals of garlic bread stuck into a dill-butter smeared log; a hearty cup of mushroom and truffle cappuccino soup; a romaine salad with fig and Caesar dressing. They all have an unconventional element and incorporate it in a fun, if not accomplished way.

An assortment of sashimi arrives with some of the plumpest, freshest swathes of salmon we’ve ever tasted. The size and creaminess of the king-prawn is almost impossible and unforgettable.

However, the grander experimentations in the later courses are heavy-handed. Grilled salmon atop risotto served inside a smoke-filled orb makes for a very photogenic course but aside from salty tones is lacking in punch. Too strong in the wrong places is a plate of foie gras served with tofu and snail sauce. It needs something to relieve the greasy intensity of the pan fried liver.

The final flourishes include a tender rolled chicken thigh, and a filet mignon, which was grilled to perfection. Even though at this point we were already bursting at the seams, we finished the meal with a dessert of home-made biscuits and honey milk pudding. In the end our report reads: full marks for effort, keep trying with the food and please do something about the layout.

Oza Oza Bistro: 365 Kangding Lu (near Shaanxi Bei Lu) 康定路365号(近陕西北路)
Tel: 6219-8963

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