Shanghai has a vibrant restaurant scene. New eateries open regularly, hotels invite guest chefs from different places around the world to spice things up and a growing number of celebrity chefs have a restaurant in the city.
According to a report by dianping.com, the biggest restaurant review website in China, there are a staggering 114,455 restaurants in Shanghai covering more than 20 different cuisines highlighted by Shanghainese, Cantonese and Japanese.
There are also a variety of dining concepts covering everything from child friendly restaurants such as Coca-Cola themed restaurant to Dadong where the wait staff recites a poem before the meal or Museo Foodbar that invited diners to paint after they finish eating.
Some restaurants have been opened by celebrities such as best-selling writer Han Han and use themselves as the selling point.
But some industry insiders express concerns about new restaurants.
“Both new Chinese and Western restaurants become easily trapped in a downward spiral,” said David Du, chef de cuisine at Xin Da Lu, Hyatt on the Bund. “They put all their efforts into the first year — from building a concept to sourcing ingredients — to make it famous. But the quality declines in the second year and keeps getting worse and worse.”
Influential food critic Xu Xianglai says customers can easily be confused by a restaurant’s reputation.
“Don’t confuse the life span of a restaurant with the life of food,” he said. “Some restaurants survive well and even expand because they have investors, but the life of their food has already ended. They no longer focus on flavor, just cost and consistency.”
Some high-end restaurants have responded by offering cheaper options.
South Beauty, a chain known for exquisite Sichuan food, now offers a bento box priced at either 26 yuan (US$4.2) or 38 yuan. Five-star hotel restaurants are also dropping prices. Summer Palace, a Chinese restaurant at Jing’an Shangri-La, West Shanghai sells dim sum for 12.8 yuan per dish and has waived the service fee.
Western restaurants are also finding it difficult to survive.
Western restaurants that do well usually have strong brand awareness due to a chef with Michelin stars or feature casual dining with an average check of 300 yuan or less for dinner.
Food critic Xu says restaurant customers are changing.
“Before they would choose Western cuisine for romance or to gain face,” Xu said. “Now they are making choices based on flavor, service and price performance.”
This week we explore some new restaurants in Shanghai in search of a great meal. Tuck in.
Situated in the former French Concession, Chala Tapas and Bar — named after a region in Peru — serves South American cuisine and is run by the owners of Bistro Burger next door.
The choice of tapas includes chicharron (fried pork rinds) and mixed seafood ceviche, featuring sea bass, shrimp and squid. Among main dishes are stir-fried beef tenderloin with onions, aji amarillo, spring onion, tomato, vinegar-soya glaze served with rice and French fries, as well as chicken served with green cilantro rice, peas and bell peppers, finished with onion salsa.
For dessert, try the Peruvian dessert made of cornstarch and filled with manjar blanco — condensed milk gently heated until it achieves a certain consistency — or the rice pudding flavored with cinnamon.
The name Le Reve — the dream — comes from Molines’ stated aim of taking abstract illusory creativity and turning it into dessert.
The signature offering is a layered chocolate cake with a rich and complex taste. It’s made from four different cocoa beans with the cocoa ranging from 64 to 99 percent to show various bitterness and sweetness. The cake has five different textures, from smooth and silky mousse through to crunchy biscuit.
Meanwhile the adadio has a white and blue exterior evoking the sky, while inside is yogurt mousse alternated with brownie, followed by blackberry and Earl Grey brulee.
Every good patisserie must have macaroon and chocolate. And Le Reve’s macaroon is adapted for local tastes with reduced sugar, although this doesn’t affect the shape and crispy texture. Some fillings are made from Chinese ingredients, for example osmanthus flower and hairy crab roe. The jasmine flavor chocolate is also recommended, offering a very complex taste featuring round deep chocolate flavors mixed with delicate floral notes.
The Chinchilla Cafe is a theme cafe based on the character Totoro in the 1988 film “My Neighbor Totoro,” directed by Japanese Academy Award winning animator Hayao Miyazaki.
Visitors are greeted by a giant Totoro figure at the entrance, while the cafe is like a garden inside. Pot plants are scattered around with Totoro toys and figures often sitting on the branches or hidden away among the pots, creating a fun experience for children to try to spot them.
Particularly adorable details include large Totoro toys seated at tables, and paintings of characters from the anime on the wall.
The food and beverages are mostly typical cafe fare, but there are also signature treats like Totoro macaroons and Totoro cakes, shaped and decorated to resemble the much-loved character.
Coca-Cola recently opens a themed restaurant in Shanghai, with a diverse menu and an interactive entertainment area for kids making it a family-friendly option.
The restaurant, designed to look like the top of a Coca-Cola bottle, has an interior featuring Coca-Cola red walls and decorations showing its brand culture. The buffet restaurant is divided into four areas serving Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and Western food — everything from Italian pizza to Cantonese roast goose; from roast duck to sushi and sashimi; New York cheesecake to Italian tiramisu.
Kids are greeted by a Coca-Cola bear and highlights of the interactive entertainment include an ocean of red and white balls and entertainers.
Address: Gate 8, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, 1 Century Avenue
The cafe itself is elegant and chic but at the same time pleasantly laidback. Amid the French design and classic furnishings are quirky touches. Huge bird cages hanging from the ceiling, a stuffed antelope’s head mounted on the wall and little decorative parrot, rabbit and penguin toys and figures make you think you’ve stepped into “Alice in Wonderland.”
Joffre — from 1915 to 1943 Huaihai Road was known as Avenue Joffre — is a signature dessert. With fresh raspberries and cream layered between a rose-colored macaroon, the tartness of the raspberries neutralizes much of the sweetness of the macaroon to create a balanced flavor.
There’s an array of macaroons in different flavors, with the sweet, colorful and chewy treats perfect with a good pot of tea.
Other popular choices for dessert include mud cake made with 70 percent Belgium cacao, mangonut — a combination of mango mousse, coconut cake and sorbet — plus Italian-style lemon cheesecake.
The “Dessert Degustation” is a tasting platter of four signature desserts, while the classic three-tier English afternoon tea set features bite-sized pastries, scones, sandwiches and English tea.
The menu also features soups, salads, pasta, sandwiches, fresh juices and smoothies.
This restaurant shows an appreciation for innovative cuisine with health benefits. It is a chain restaurant dedicated to pure and healthy dishes with an accent on traditional Chinese medicine.
The venue has all the decor of a contemporary eatery. The restaurant has beautiful and intricate mosaic floors, an open kitchen area, bar seating and comfortable Western-style dining space and utensils. Other things that catch the eye are the red silk banners above the “soup bar” signage, wallpaper of a mishmash of Chinese calendar, neat industrial ceilings, and a wall with a cabinet for Chinese herbs.
Many of the dishes have a healthy balance of grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and lean cuts of meat. The highlight of the menu in relation to TCM is the soups and teas. The herbal tea or liang cha is infused with herbs and spices. Remedy365 offers four naturally flavored drinks — the yubu gingko and figgy pear have already been listed as favorites.
Porcellino means piglet in Italian, and if you’re trying to track down the restaurant, look for a small porker that features on the logo.
A tasty treat is the porchetta sandwich made according to Vargas’ grandmother’s recipe. The ham is juicy and tender, with aioli, salsa verde and rucola leaves to balance the flavor.
For a rustic feel, the sandwich and other dishes, such as the prosciutto and artisanal cheese selection, are served on wooden boards.
The porcellino board has five types of ham and salami: San Danielle, salami Felino, speck, mortadella and pecorino Toscano.
Risotto made with Acquerello rice is another highlight. There are three risotto dishes: roasted tomato and guanciale risotto; risotto al carciofi with artichoke; and organic cauliflower risotto with anchovy breadcrumbs.
The menu also features various antipasti dishes and artisanal pizzas.
Opened by Chinese best-selling author Han Han, his literary background makes for an intriguing-sounding menu featuring the likes of “house of cards ribs,” “deep-fried chicken from the stars” and “you never eat my tofu.”
The dishes were created by executive chef Alan Yu, whose combination of American-Chinese with French styles makes for a diverse and out-of-the-box menu. Chef Yu made his name in town as executive chef of Otto e Mezzo on the Bund, the Italian restaurant opened by Michelin three-starred chef Umberto Bombana.
Highlights include Kung Pao pasta, with the topping featuring shredded chicken stir-fried with peanut and chili. The mushroom soup, made like a cup of cappuccino with a distinctive airy, fluffy texture, is also recommended.
Also recommended is the flaky pie filled with roast duck. And don’t forget to order the beautiful aromatic lavender tea which complements the dishes.
This Chinese restaurant at the newly opened hotel Hyatt Regency Chongming practices a farm-to-table dining philosophy. Chongming Island, the third largest in China, is known for its organic farms producing fresh greens and vegetables, plus various river fish and shrimp.
The food style is a combination of Shanghai cuisine and local nongjiacai — literally farmers’ food, using simple ways to highlight the original flavor of the fresh ingredients.
Stir-fried hand-peeled shrimp is another highlight. The shrimps are from the Yangtze River, and hand-peeling ensures the juices remain inside, creating a distinctive tender texture yet with bite, and filled with natural sweetness.
Meat lovers are advised to try the pork braised in soybean sauce, which is served with pumpkin cake. The soft dry cake balances the fattiness of the pork, while the natural sweetness of the pumpkin brings out more flavor from the meat.
Address: Lane 799, Lanhai Rd, Chenjia Town, Chongming Island
This Japanese restaurant opened in Jing’an Shangri-La, West Shanghai, features classic Japanese kaiseki cuisine, defined by seasonal ingredients and a long set menu of usually more than 10 dishes.
Interior design inspired by Japanese tradition, contrasts red, pine and chocolate. The restaurant also boasts an impressive sake bar, with plenty of options to pair with dishes.
Chef Masami Honda, who has more than 48 years experience, headed Nadaman restaurants — one of the most famous fine dining brands in Japan — in Osaka and Yokohama for over a decade, He’s known for sourcing fresh ingredients and insisting on home-made sauces.
His yorokobi kaiseki set is especially recommended, highlighted by steamed egg custard with a soft and fine texture, grilled wagyu beef and rice cooked with chef’s secret home-made seasoning.
This Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant chain serving Cantonese cuisine opened in Shanghai last spring — one of 12 locations worldwide, including New York, Miami, Abu Dhabi and Mumbai.
The space is divided into three sections. The Ling Ling Lounge with a Bund view is for cocktails and dinner in a relaxed setting, the main dining area, known as “The Cage,” offers an intimate dining space, while there are also five private dining rooms.
The menu is designed by international executive chef Tong Chee Hwee and signature dishes include crispy duck with caviar, grilled Chilean sea bass in Chinese honey, as well as a dim sum platter and jasmine tea smoked wagyu tenderloin.
The restaurant also hosts the Hakka Bund weekend brunch and offers late night dim sum on Fridays and Saturdays.
This restaurant on the sixth and seventh floor of the IAPM mall boasts a distinctive view of Huaihai Road, embracing both modern skyscrapers and former French concession Art Deco architecture and plane trees. The dining concept is a modern interpretation of authentic Italian cuisine.
The cuoppo napoletano deep-fried seafood is a must-try, served in a paper cup together with garlic sauce injected into a toothpaste tube.
Also recommended is the tiramisu, presented in a beautiful glass so that you can see its layers of textures, from moist and soft to light and airy.
The drinks menu features molecular cocktails and Gaja Club — bourbon-based with touch of mint and orange — is recommended for diners seeking something with a bit of a kick. A more mellow option is their rose sangria, Italian white wine pinot grigio shaken with peach and apple.
This restaurant highlights classical Chinese art and poetry. Each dish corresponds to a verse from famous poems written in the Tang (AD 618–907) and Song dynasties (960–1279), through chef’s presentation.
Adding to the cultural experience, waiters recite poetry when serving.
When serving the signature sweet and sour pork chops, waiters recite a line from the poem “Jiang Xue,” meaning “fishing alone on a snowy day,” while sprinkling icing over the chop to create an impression of a snowy landscape.
Food served is generally Beijing cuisine. Some dishes combine traditional Beijing food with Western flavors, including tanghulu tiramisu, mixing Italian flavor with tanghulu — a street snack of candied hawthorn fruit on a stick popular in northern China.
Opened last summer at the Bund, Museo serves modern European cuisine with Asian influences and combines fine art with fine dining — not just through artful dishes, but by providing brushes and paints for customers.
At the Museo Art Jamming Studio, patrons can unleash their inner artist and create something for the moment, while enjoying tea, coffee, or cocktails. An art session costs 250 yuan (US$40).
Many dishes are inspired by some of the great artists of history.
Smile of Mona Lisa is deep-fried camembert served with cranberry sauce, Picasso’s Blues is deep-fried prawns flavored with lavender, while Van Gogh’s Cold Pasta is capellini tossed with flying fish roe, shaved truffles, chives and shio konbu kelp.
Address: Rm 1, 4/F, 5 on the Bund, 20 Guangdong Rd