Shanghai's fiercest food critic Shen Hongfei's 10 best restaurants
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With his magazine columns, blogs, books and TV shows, Shen Hongfei (沈宏非), the ultimate local foodie, seems to be under every plate in Shanghai. The local-born, Canton-nourished writer is hailed for his explicit and creative food descriptions as well as his ability to connect food with literature.
Shen Hongfei shares his his top 10 eating experiences in Shanghai -- you're going to want to try them all.
1. Panda pig, Sincere Restaurant
"This is the only place to find salt panda pig meat in Shanghai," says Shen. Panda pig is a pig species exclusive to China and is the main ingredient in the famous Jianhua ham. Shen continues: "This rare find has a more tender texture and is three times more expensive than hybridized pigs. Its features are best exemplified in the Shanghainese home-style dish pork ribs braised in soy sauce. Alternatively, try the panda pig chops braised in soy sauce or panda pig ribs grilled with spring onions."
Genre: Fusion (modern Shanghainese and Cantonese)
Details: Sincere Restaurant (致真会馆), 1762 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Wanping Nan Lu 淮海中路1726号, 近宛平南路, +86 21 6433 2882, www.sincere-restaurant.com
2. A Shan Restaurant
This restaurant is owned by a local couple and for the last 30 years has focused on traditional Shanghai homestyle cooking -- no outside influences in sight. "Its most popular dishes are stir-fried mashed eel, cucumber with shrimps, yan du xian [a soup boiled with bamboo shoots, salt pork and fresh pork], plum jam and eight delicacies rice steamed with lard," recommends Shen.
Note: A Shan isn't for those who are looking for a pristine dining experience. The restaurant and bathroom conditions are pretty basic.
Genre: Shanghainese homestyle
Details: A Shan Restaurant (阿山饭店), 2378 Hongqiao Lu, near Hongjing Lu 虹桥路2378号, 近虹井路, +86 21 6268 658
3. el Willy"The best parts of dinning at el Willy are the restaurant's garden and wine list," says Shen. "Go on a sunny day, it’s very comfy to eat in the garden. The Torres Winery from Spain has a cellar inside the restaurant, so you should have plenty of good wine to choose from. The must-order dishes are honey truffle and squid ink paella."
Genre: Northern Spanish
Details: el Willy, 20 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu 东湖路20号, 近淮海中路, +86 21 5404 5757, www.elwilly.com.cn
4. Capital soup
"Capital Soup is regarded as the first Chinese-Western fusion dish," explains Shen. This soup combines a Western creamy base with Chinese ingredients, including sliced chicken, abalone slices, minced Jinhua ham and shrimp eggs.
It was invented by China’s earliest Western restaurant Yi Ping Xiang on Fuzhou Lu, founded in 1883. Nowadays, the go-to restaurant for this soup is Club Tian Di (天地一家). "Their sake foie gras and Shanghai-style ice cream will also amaze your taste buds," says Shen.
Genre: Modern Shanghainese
Details: Club Tian Di (天地一家), 3/F, 6 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu 中山东一路6号3楼, 近广东路, +86 21 6329 7333
5. Xindalu China Kitchen, Hyatt on the Bund
"This eating experience gives you double pleasure: the food and the view," says Shen. "As a restaurant providing a variety of cuisines from Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou, Xindalu China Kitchen’s roast duck, braised pork chop, gold tower meat and smoked fish are the dishes you can not pass up."
Genre: Shanghainese, Beijingnese, Suzhounese and Hangzhounese
Details: Xindalu China Kitchen (新大陆餐厅), 1/F, Hyatt on the Bund, 199 Huangpu Lu, near Wuchang Lu 黄浦路199号上海外滩茂悦大酒店1楼, 近武昌路, +86 21 6393 1234 ext. 6318, www.shanghai.bund.hyatt.com
6. Fu 1088
"I recommend three dishes in this Shanghainese-French fusion restaurant," Shen says. "The first one is steamed egg with crab meat. The yolk and fat of da zha xie [Chinese crab] are used to fry with Shaoxing huang jiu [Chinese yellow wine]. Later, they are stuffed into a steamed egg. The second dish is smoked fish, a traditional Shanghainese homestyle cold dish, but the smoked fish here is improved into a warm dish. It’s also much juicier than its normal texture. Finally, if you’re looking for a good Chinese-style beef dish, you can’t miss out their rib roast."
Genre: Shanghainese and French
Details: Fu 1088 (福1088), 375 Zhenning Lu, near Yuyuan Lu 镇宁路375号, 近愚园路, +86 21 5239 7878
7. Yi Long Court, The Peninsula Hotel
Shen explains, "It’s so rare to see such classic Cantonese food. It’s flavorful and light. It’s almost like the food prepared for the managers of Thirteen Factories [an early foreign trade zone in Guangzhou in the 18th century]. Surprisingly, you can find the long-lost dish beef with oyster sauce on its menu."
Tip: To make the most out of your meal, book a seat on the chef’s table. The Peninsula has beefed up the chef’s table into eight seats.
8. Cognac foie gras, Peace Mansion
"This is a Chinese-Western fusion delicacy," says Shen. "It is fine, smooth and refreshing. The perfect texture and taste make you wonder if foie gras only belongs to French cuisine, or it has a tradition in Chinese food.
"The dish uses Chinese domestic goose liver, which has less fat, and boils it in chicken stock -- this helps the goose liver de-fat and add up more flavor. The 12-year-old MARTELL XO cognac is added in last for seasoning. The dish is presented with a small glass of cognac foie gras soup and flower pepper spiced salt."
Even if you don't like foie gras, the Peace Mansion itself is worth the trip. Located in a three-story villa house, it has a huge garden to enjoy in the summer. Pop over in the afternoon and enjoy tea time there. The restaurant offers a Chinese tea ceremony service.
Genre: Modern Shanghainese and Cantonese
Details: Peace Mansion (和平官邸), 158 Fenyang Lu, near Yueyang Lu 汾阳路158号, 近岳阳路, +86 21 6437 5193
9. Hang Yuen Hin
Situated in Xujiahui Park, this modern Cantonese restaurant has "excellent roast goose, young pigeon, roast suckling pig, shrimp dumplings and fried shrimp rolls with apricot," says Shen.
Genre: Modern Cantonese
Details: Hang Yuen Hin (恒悦轩), 290 Wanping Lu, inside Xujiahui Park near Zhaojiabang Lu宛平路290号徐家汇公园内, 近肇嘉浜路, +86 21 6472 9778, www.hengyuexuan.com
10. Potato broth with crab meat, Jesse Restaurant
"This typical Shanghai-Western fusion dish is based on Western-style potato broth [containing potato, tomato and butter]. Crab meat and black pepper are added in," explains Shen. "This big bowl of thick and hot soup can satisfy your cravings even if it’s presented at the end of your feast."
This soup is available throughout the year, but the best time to go is the crab season as the meat is obtained fresh. Otherwise, the restaurant uses frozen crab meat, which is obtained during the crab season. During crab season Jesse's offers dissecting service for those crab-eating newbies. Want to do it yourself? Check out our "how to" here.
Genre: Traditional Shanghainese
Details: Jesse Restaurant (吉士酒家), various location, 41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu 天平路41号, 近淮海中路, +86 21 6282 9260