Tag Archives: shanghai food blog

Shanghai: Sushi Oyama

19 Jul

Every once in a while, you eat a meal so sublime that you will remember (almost) every bite and detail. And even though it may cost a pretty penny, you still think it’s worth it, and look forward to a return trip. Omakase (chef’s choice) at Sushi Oyama, one of Shanghai’s finest Japanese restaurants left me with that feeling, which to be honest I haven’t had in a while – a lot of popular higher end restys tend to be overrated and disappoint me.

We were a bit late for our booking because of the rain, and when we arrived the Kimono-clad staff did not waste a second ushering us to our bar counter seats, showing us the fixed multi-course menu printed on a scroll, checking for any dietary restrictions, and bringing us hot tea and our first course. All that accomplished in probably 30 seconds. *Phew*

Our amuse bouche of bonito cauliflower soup with kelp was so amazing, I was sure everything that followed would not be able to match up to it. It was a shot of soup that packed a great punch, and had such a delicious and distinct flavour. I never knew that bonito, cauliflower and kelp complemented each other so well.

Next up, a beautiful plate of assorted sashimi with freshly grated wasabi that included horse mackerel (ma aji), botan shrimp (botan ebi), yellowtail (hamachi), salmon (sake). Though the sashimi were just one bite slices, it was seriously fresh and of good quality. No need to make a trip to Tokyo and wake up early for Tsukiji.

My absolute favourite out of the five was the to die for horse mackerel (ma aji). I’ve always been a fan of mackerel, even though they always tend to be slightly fishy. But this didn’t have that fishiness AT ALL and was great with a smidgen of ginger and spring onions. If I could have this quality of mackerel all the time, ma aji > ootoro for me, and that’s saying a lot!

With sashimi this fresh, all you need is just a little dab of soya sauce to enjoy its unadulterated flavours.

The smoked ivory shell with plum sauce was a pleasant surprise. I’ve never had this shellfish before and it was cooked well – very tender with a nice smoked flavour and went very well with the zingy plum sauce.

Other cold appetisers we had included the fried cutlassfish salad with sesame sauce, and a light salad of daikon, kelp and greens.

For our grilled dish, we were given two options so we each chose one. The Japanese boarfish (tsubodai) was hands down, one of the best grilled fishes I’ve had. It tasted buttery like a codfish, but without the overbearing oiliness.

Also good was the grilled New Zealand king salmon with pickled turnip, but it was a little common compared to the more exciting tsubodai.

Our nigiri sushi featuring the freshest catch of the day came. Everything was really fresh and the sushi rice was perfect. Even the delicately pickled ginger was amazing. Chef Oyama knows exactly how to enhance the flavours of the fish he gets with a light touch of soya sauce, spring onions, ginger, wasabi, sesame seeds etc. To me, making the best out of the ingredients you get is truly a mark of a good chef.

The highlight of the meal for me, was definitely the signature sushi bowl made with sea urchin roe (uni), salmon roe (ikura) and quail egg. If you think this dish looks good, trust me, it tastes even better! The combination of uni and ikura was genius, and I thought the sweetish raw quail egg tied the dish together when mixed in. The uni was so amazing that my friend who normally doesn’t like uni was won over too. SO. FREAKING. GOOD.

Even the staple chawan mushi is elevated to a hairy crab meat, scallop, asparagus and chawan mushi here. This was also very good. It was more like a soupy chawan mushi with an umami broth and generous ingredients.

The very handsome, animated, humble and talented Mr Oyama fanning our sushi rice. *Swoons* Suffice to say, my friend and both developed a crush on him during dinner. LOL.

Though I was quite full at this point of time (shouldn’t have had so many pre-dinner cocktails!), the second half of our nigiri sushi commenced. We were given super fatty tuna (ootoro), sea bream (ishi dai) and a choice of what we like. Of course I asked for sea urchin (uni), especially after the epic sushi bowl. The ootoro was top notch and so melt in my mouth, and I cannot ever get enough of uni.

Our last sushi course, the makimono sushi, was red tuna and shiso leaf. The addition of the minty, spicy shiso made it very interesting compared to the usual negitoro.

I’m not a fan of tamagoyaki, but even their tamagoyaki was a class above everyone else’s. Not too sweet with a discernable dashi taste.

For soup, we were served a clam and miso soup, which I thought was okay but not awesome as there wasn’t enough clams/clam flavour. I also didn’t quite see the point of the curious looking and round fishcake bits.

I usually abstain from panna cotta and at the beginning of the meal, I asked the waitress if I could be served another dessert/fruit instead. At the end they said they don’t have anything else, but asked if I would like to just give a try as theirs is homemade and very good. I’m so glad I did, because their panna cotta with caramel sauce was honestly so damn delicious. It’s probably not the usual Italian recipe from the looks of it, but like an improved Japanese version. Yums! Moral of the story: Don’t be too narrow-minded in terms of trying food!

Other than one or two a-okay dishes, everything that we had was just stellar. There was actually a lot of food even though the portion of each dish wasn’t big – just the way it should be! All the ingredients were top quality and some were seasonal ingredients that I was lucky enough to try for the first time. Our whole experience from the crockery, classy decor, intimate size of the place (~12 pax) and service felt very authentic and exclusive. I thought it was highly worth the 800RMB, since for a similar experience I would probably need to pay at least 50% more in Singapore, and maybe double in Japan. And to be honest I thought the food was much better than what I had in Tsukiji Market. I can’t wait to go back for a different menu (it’s seasonal, but flexible if you’re a regular) or try Chef Oyama’s other restaurant, Kappo Yu which has a more Kaiseki, fusion slant. What a (near) perfect meal. :)

Price: $$$$ (800RMB for omakase)
Location: 2/F, 20 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Lu
Opening Hours: Mon to Sat 530 to 1030 pm. Two sittings.
Tel: +86 21 5404 7705 (Reservations are a MUST)

Shanghai: Bikini

7 Jul

It seems that whatever Chef Willy Trullas Moreno of El Willy fame touches will turn to gold. Bikini, a vintage adult cinema meet space age themed hotdog and sandwich shop (I know right, how cool is that) below El Coctel is yet another winning concept. It’s a casual venue that also opens till late, perfect for that pre/post drinking/clubbing snack especially given its location. We dropped by for a post dinner snack and and it was almost running on a full house on a Friday night. Spot the glow in the dark stickers of the solar system on the ceiling!

As you can imagine, this must be quite a hit with the expat crowd, there was a large gathering that took up almost all the tables as it’s a really small space (not more than 25 me thinks). If you’re flying solo or want something quick you can also sit at the bar stools. I’m loving their mirror cum menu board btw.

Keeping on brand, there were lots of posters of bikini clad bombshells, and the menu items are named after adult film actors/actresses ;) Bikini is actually named after a famous disco in 70s’ Barcelona known for its sandwiches. IMO, dancing + sarnies = FTW.

Under the “Very Hot Dogs”, which are all served on baguettes, we tried the Mr. Holmes (65RMB) which had toppings of crispy bacon, avocado, mayo, spicy salsa and crispy shallots. Seriously, it’s like all the popular (and my favourite) toppings on a dog, so you can’t really go wrong with this. But I felt that the baguette could be crispier.

The Mr. Vidal (45RMB), with lime-mayo ketchup, basil, diced tomato, jalapenos and raw and crispy shallots, on the other hand was not up my alley as the jalapenos were too spicy for me. If you like a spicy dog, order this. I also felt that both were quite similar in flavour profiles, we probably should have ordered Mr Jeremy that had mushroom and truffle toppings for contrast.

We washed the hotdogs down with an iced cold Estrella Damm – what a good way to round up the night.

From the “Hot and Pressed” menu, I’ve previously tried two at El Coctel (Bikini sandwiches are available there) and they were Ms Anderson (55RMB) with warm smoked salmon, walnut, spinach, apple and goat cheese (pictured) and Ms Fox (58 RMB) with mustard, ham and Emmental cheese. Both were just incredibly delicious, toasty and easily some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

Other than hot dogs and sandwiches they also have “Snackies” which were Spanish tapas, and “Choripan” which were hot dogs made with Argentinian beef chorizo sausages but we didn’t have anymore stomach space. While I love the sandwiches, I felt a little underwhelmed by the hot dogs. Perhaps I’m spoilt by the ones I had off the street carts in Toronto that were really good (and only half the price, ironically). So if you’re looking for a hearty/traditional hot dog or a proper meal, Bikini isn’t the place as it does more fancy/fusion hot dogs and the portions are snack-like. But if you’re up for just a fun gourmet snack before hitting the bars and clubs in French Concession, and don’t mind paying 65RMB for a hot dog, then this is your place.

Price: $$$
Location:  47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu
Opening Hours: Daily 6pm to 2am
Tel: +86 21 64336511

Shanghai: El Coctel

6 Jul

El Coctel, a Japanese-inspired Spanish cocktail bar owned by Chef Willy Trullas Moreno of popular tapas restaurant El Willy, is one of my favourite cocktail bars in Shanghai. It’s just about the prettiest bar that I’ve been to, but lest you think it’s all style and no substance, I’ll have you know that they serve great cocktails and gourmet sandwiches (from Chef Willy’s hot dog and sandwich shop Bikini one floor below the bar).

It’s hard to not feel relaxed here and let all your troubles slip away here. I love its eclectic apartment style decor; complete with mismatched chairs, plush leather sofas, quirky art pieces and watercolour wallpaper. In the day, floor to ceiling windows fill the room with gorgeous light and at night, a dim orange glow makes it really conducive for a date. Lovely is an understatement.

It would be nice to one day sit at the bar one day and watch their (hipster) bartenders make my drinks/converse with them since that’s a huge part of the cocktail bar experience, but that day we were contented to have our own little quiet spot in the corner for girl talk.

How cute is the flamingo coaster? Its watercolour animal and floral themed brand identity is just adorable.

We were served a complimentary bar snack of popcorn and excellent nuts that were both sweet and savoury. Really good!

To start, we both had something light and fruity. I thought the Harvard Cooler (Calvados Fizz) (8oRMB) was a witty take on cider. It actually tastes like a cider, though it was made using Calvados (apple liquor from Normandy), lemon juice and powdered sugar and then aerated and shaken. Great concept and I liked the slight fizz.

The Sakura Caprioska (80RMB) is a must order IMO, as sakura (cherry blossoms) liquor doesn’t often feature on cocktails menus. With the addition of gin, orange and lemon, this was a uniquely floral yet well-balanced cocktail. The choice of citrus fruits complemented the sakura flavour well.

If you’re feeling peckish, you should order from the sandwich menu here, as they are not your average bar food standard. This was the warm salmon, walnuts, apple, spinach and goat cheese panini (55RMB). What an interesting combination that really works! The salmon went really well with the sweet apple slices and goat cheese. And the bread was nicely toasted. Sure it’s not that cheap for a sandwich in China, but I think it’s good enough for a light meal. On a previous trip, I had the ham, emmental and mustard panini (55RMB) which was also amazing and totally elevated my ham and cheese sarnie experience to a new high. The melted cheese was a dream, and good quality ham was actually used (a treat in China).

The Snow Ball (80RMB) was a Japanese interpretation that had Advocat, lime juice, and ginger ale. I tend to shy away from eggs in my cocktails, but the Advocat liquor (egg based brandy) was actually quite comforting, and was nicely balanced with the citrus and the fizzy ginger ale.

For the last cocktail for the road, I went for the Islay Old Fashioned (80RMB), which was a usual old fashioned (spirit, sugar, orange, bitters) with an additional 5ml shot of Islay single malt. This was extremely smooth and had a nice tint of smokiness. Felt very manly gulping this down as we were running late for dinner, angsty Don Draper would approve.

This is definitely one of my go to bars in Shanghai even though it’s a tad pricier. I like the classy ambiance and their house cocktails are all quite unique. They also seem to refresh their menu seasonally as I spotted a few new/missing drinks since my previous trip. Finding the bar is a bit of a challenge though, as there isn’t a signboard bearing its name anywhere. So do the folks at The Apartment (a neighbouring bar that always get asked where El Coctel is) a favour and look out for a discreet entrance with a cocktail shaker and walk up the stairs.

Price: $-$$ (~80 RMB per cocktail, ~55RMB for sandwich)
Location: 2/F, 47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu
Opening Hours: Daily 5pm till late
Tel: +86 21 6433 6511
Website: http://el-coctel.com/

Shanghai: Cha’s Restaurant 查餐厅

26 Nov

While waiting for our flight, we roamed around French Concession hoping to grab dessert at HoF. Unfortunately HoF was closed on a Monday, but Cha’s Restaurant was just a few units away so we ended up there for tea. It’s a popular cha chaan teng (Hong Kong style diner) that has been styled to resemble an authentic Hong Kong cha chaan teng from the 1950s. They did a pretty convincing job – it didn’t feel any different from HK’s famous Mido Cafe (also circa 1950s), except cleaner. It was full house when we were there on a weekday afternoon and we had to share a table with I suspect, a HK dude missing food from home. Can’t imagine what it would be like on weekends or meal times.

Cha’s old school interior complete with stained glass and mosaic tiles. The brisk service was also quintessentially HK (in contrast to the slow and lackadaisical service in China).

The bo luo you (pineapple bun with a slab butter) beckoned from behind the glass counter – holy smokes this was good! It was extremely fluffy on the inside, with a crusty base and a sugary crispy top. And it was served hot so the pad of butter melted into a delicious mess. The hubs and I shared one but we ended up buying more for takeaway. Note to self: never takeaway bo luo baos in the future as they don’t taste the same heated up (the texture completely changes).

Next was a set of fried chicken leg with fries (comes with a drink), since almost all the diners ordered this as well. While it was quite flavourful and had crispy bits of skin, the chicken was a bit too fatty for my liking. It made for a tasty greasy little snack though.

For drinks, we tried the iced milk tea and iced lemon tea. The iced milk tea was surprisingly good and smooth, and would have been almost good as the one from HK’s Lan Fong Yuen if it had more tea and less milk in it, I think. And finally I managed to find a decent cup of iced lemon tea in China at Cha’s.

Cha’s menu also has your other cha can ting offerings like instant noodles, curry beef brisket, breakfast sets and more substantial a la carte dishes like soya sauce chicken. From whatever we had, I must say it does fare pretty well for cha chaan tengs outside of Hong Kong, some of the ones I’ve tried in Singapore are gross in comparison. And the old school atmosphere is pretty cool too, without being tacky (somehow they just manage to pull it off). I would definitely come back for the bo luo you if I’m in town.

Price: $-$$ (~60 RMB for 2 pax, drinks and snacks only)
Location: 30 Sinan Road, 1F (by Huaihai Middle Road), there’s another branch at Lujiazui

Shanghai: Jesse 老吉士

25 Nov

As mentioned in my previous post here, I had a good experience at New Jesse on my last trip to Shanghai and wanted to try the original branch on the next trip. Jesse in the French Concession area is a small and old restaurant but apparently a lot of the HK celebrities and wealthy Chinese dine here, so I definitely wanted to see what the fuss is about. This time a lunch reservation was made two weeks in advance and we trooped there bright and early expecting what some claim to be the best Shanghainese food in Shanghai.

As expected, service was surly and almost non-existent. The waiter refused to acknowledge our presence until after we repeated that we had reservations. This was definitely an authentic start. The dining area was split into two floors, with as many tables crammed as close together as possible. We had a corner to ourselves on the second floor.

Since it was only two of us this time round, we were more restricted in our choices. We ordered some dishes that we liked from our previous trip at Jesse – xin tai ruan (sugar glazed jujubes stuffed with mochi) and ji mao cai (literal translation chicken hair vegetables) that I suppose gets its name from its shape :) No hong shao rou this time round since we are both not big fans.

The salt cured chicken was very lean or some would say tough (the village chicken variety that had no fats at all), but I did like the salty flavour that permeated the meat beyond the skin. Beware of the flaky pieces of little bone fragments around, probably because of they way they chop the chicken up.

I was looking forward to the crab and tofu pot which came with a whole crab. The roe from the shell was emptied to flavour the sauce. The crab meat was surprisingly sweet and despite it being a small flower crab, had quite a bit of meat. A very comforting dish that would go awesome with rice in the thick of winter.

We decided to try the Shanghainese fried rice that every other table was ordering. The rice was fried with preserved vegetables, Chinese sausage and tasted sweet overall. I personally didn’t really like it, but it seemed like a lot of other customers did. Give me the usual Yangzhou fried rice anytime over this.

For soup, we ordered the egg drop soup with clams since we wanted something light and unfortunately it was really bad. The soup was basically tasteless and the clams had a weird plasticky taste :( Though this is probably not one of their popular dishes, we both felt that a restaurant of Jesse’s stature shouldn’t be serving something so bad on their menu. We drank like two spoonfuls and left it as that. Stick to the awesome chicken soup instead.

Not too sure if we made a few wrong choices in dishes, but I felt that our meal at Jesse was even better than Old Jesse. The weird soup definitely left a very bad aftertaste in more ways than one, plus service in New Jesse was also much better. I would say give Jesse a try for the experience and stick to the usual hong shao rou, river shrimp, chicken soup, crab/crab roe with tofu, xin tai ruan etc. but if you can’t get a reservation at the original branch, the new branches will do the trick too.

Price: $$ (~300 RMB for 2 pax, the crab dish was about half the price)
Location: 41 Tianping Lu at Huaihai Lu
Website: http://www.xinjishi.com

Shanghai: Cafe Dan 丹

25 Nov

Cafe Dan in the Tianzifang enclave purportedly serves up the best coffee in Shanghai, alongside with healthy and home-style Japanese dishes. After much jostling with the thronging tourist crowds on a Saturday afternoon while exploring Tianzifang’s many shops, galleries, cafes and eateries, we decided to rest our feet and chill in this quaint Japanese coffee house.

We chose to sit indoors, since sitting outdoors would mean be being gawked at by a gazillion tourists. We were lucky enough to snag an available table without waiting. They have a lovely bar counter on the second floor where you can watch the barista at work. Neat!

The serene and green view from my seat :) The huge window filled the room with a fresh breeze and for a moment I forgot I was in Shanghai.

I ordered the iced coffee (50 RMB??) that was served in the cutest glass with milk and sugar syrup on the side. Sorry I can’t describe it better as I’m not a big coffee conoisseur but it was good enough for me, with a smooth and rich flavour. The friendly Japanese owner personally roasts the coffee beans using the roaster in the first floor (we saw him doing it as we were leaving).

Interestingly, half the ice cubes were made of coffee so that your coffee won’t get diluted as the ice melts More coffee houses should bother doing this as it really makes a huge difference :)

The hubs got a special Ethiopian brew (70?? RMB) that tasted quite chocolate-y to me. Cafe Dan has an encyclopedic food and drink menu as well (not sure what’s with Shanghai establishments and uber long menus) and he was a bit confused over which coffee to order so I think this was just a random choice.

We were really full from lunch at Tenya but felt obliged to try something on the food menu. They place a strong emphasis on healthy food and hence use the “super steam” method on a lot of their food. Apparently they also make their own noodles and use many imported Japanese ingredients. We decided on the mentaiko pasta (50 RMB) which came with perilla leaves, nori and bonito flakes. While not everyone is a fan of the herbal tasting perilla, I personally liked it and thought its addition made the dish less cloyiing. The pasta also wasn’t dry (surprisingly) and was cooked al dente. Quite delicious! I’ve only tasted the creamy mentaiko pastas before and usually those are too rich for my liking. This was just nice.

We also got a salad which is probably complimentary with the pasta. Salad leaves were fresh and dressed in a sesame dressing. It was literally gone in 60 seconds.

The hubs chose a chocolate cointreau cake (50?? RMB) which was rich, moist, generously soaked with cointreau and very, very good. Apparently on the menu it says for adults only, and we could totally see why. A good end to our teatime at Cafe Dan!

While the coffees at Cafe Dan seemed a little pricey (especially compared to the food, since a cup of coffee could cost more than a main), you’re probably paying for the Tianzifang locale, the cafe’s dedication to quality and the license to chill. And whatever food we tried was pretty good too so you should consider having a meal there too.

Price: $-$$
Location: No. 41, Lane 248, Taikang Lu
Website: http://www.idancoffee.com/en/index.php

Shanghai: The Public [formerly Apothecary]

24 Nov

[Edit: As of Dec 2011, Apothecary has been rebranded as The Public due to split in partnership. This visit was made before the change happened. I will try to make another visit to see if there have been any changes to the menu, F&B quality, etc.]

I didn’t plan to come to Apothecary as part of my Shanghai cocktail bar crawl since the original branch is from Beijing and I read better reviews about El Coctel and Alchemist. But a new friend I made in Shanghai raved about its cocktails so off we went, after an awesome meal at Mr & Mrs Bund. It also serves New Orelans Creole style cuisine so they have fried chicken nights on Sunday and other delicious sounding bites like homemade maple-smoked bacon and beignets.

The bar was about half full when we arrived at 10ish but slowly filled up. It felt quite cosy in general but I thought the furniture and the turquoise sofa I was sitting on looked a little…cheap and incongruent with the rest of the decor. If interior is not a key factor for you, then that’s fine. There was also an outdoor patio area.

Like our Mr & Mrs Bund, it has an extremely long menu so it felt like a night of mugging for exams. You can tell the folks behind Apothecary take their drinks very seriously from the way they try to recreate the really classic cocktail recipes, down to the littlest details, yet serve up many interesting modern takes on the originals and also make their own ice, bitters, sodas etc. For the indecisive (like me), cocktail-noob or the plain can’t-be-bothered, you can take your pick from the shortlisted “Auspicious Eight”.

One of their most popular cocktails is The Kind (70 RMB), which is described as a “Tiki-style Moscow Mule variation” made with Ketel One vodka, grapfruit and lime juice, a tad of black pepper, cinammon and lime syrup, house-made ginger beer and soda. I was a little apprehensive about the black pepper as I generally don’t go for cocktails with savoury elements, but decided to try after the waiter egged me on. All the elements came together surprisingly well and the black pepper and cinammon provided a light spicy zing that elevated it from good to great. It’s definitely more exciting and delicious than your regular Moscow Mule.

The hubs had a Dark and Stormy (70 RMB), which was dark rum, house-made ginger beer and lime since he wanted something ginger-ish for digestion. The dark rum tasted of caramel and the ginger beer taste packed a punch and was quite spicy. I thought it was a very good cocktail as well but it’s not for people who dislike the taste of ginger.

We encountered good and earnest service even though they have quite a few bad reviews online, perhaps because we went slightly earlier than peak hour or simply improved. The drinks here were slightly cheaper than Alchemist and El Coctel but they don’t give out complimentary snacks and also rank lowest on ambience, but I did feel their main attraction – the drinks – delivered.

Price: $-$$
Location: Sinan Mansions, Block 2, 4/F, Lane 507 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Chongqing Lu