Shanghai is home to some of the best food in the world. From cheap and cheerful street eats to cutting-edge gastronomy, here is Culture Trip’s pick of the best restaurants in Shanghai.
Restaurant, Contemporary, French, Fusion
As Shanghai’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant, high-concept Ultraviolet takes experimental and experiential dining to a whole new level. The dining experience starts from the moment you are collected from a meeting point and taken to a secret location – a windowless room with nothing but a long table set for 10 guests. You are then immersed in a multi-sensory feast, centring on the unusual taste combinations of each course. The atmosphere is driven by music, smells and images projected onto the walls. Despite all this fanfare, the star of the show is very much the food. There are 20 courses of culinary alchemy, such as Pop Rock Oyster and Truffle Burnt Soup Bread. Hardcore food-lovers will relish this chance to engage their imaginations as well as their stomachs.
Located within the colonial splendour of the former French Concession, Lost Heaven is a gem among the wide variety of restaurants in Shanghai. It specialises in the cuisine of Yunnan province, which tends to focus on spice and mushrooms. The rich, folk-inspired decor of the restaurant offers the perfect backdrop for the traditional taste of the menu. Yunnanese food not only contains Chinese influences but Thai, Lao and Burmese ones, too. It also uses ingredients such as cheese and flowers, which are quite rare in other Chinese cuisines. Since opening in 2006, Lost Heaven has become the standard-bearer for Yunnan cuisine and culture in Shanghai. It has grown so popular that sister branches opened on the Bund in 2009 and Beijing in 2012.
A stalwart of the Shanghai fine dining scene, M on the Bund is a consistently reliable place for great food and delicious cocktails, served on a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the iconic Lujiazui skyline. Opened in 1999, M on the Bund was one of the first restaurants to set up in the-then underused colonial buildings of the area. Under the helm of Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnaut, M led the Bund’s renaissance. Other restaurants soon followed, turning the area into the glamorous dining and shopping district it is today. Nowadays, M is still immensely popular for its eclectic menu that combines European, North African and Australian flavours. The weekend brunch is particularly good, offering the famous M pavlova: a gargantuan pile of sweet crunchy meringue, topped with masses of whipped cream and tropical fruit. Delicious and decadent.
Tiny, French Concession-based Jesse Restaurant (sometimes lovingly referred to as Old Jesse) is a Shanghai institution, known as much for its surly service as its fantastic local food. Go-to dishes include the red braised pork, sauteed river shrimps and lion’s head meatballs. While the restaurant might not be the most tourist-friendly place (there’s very little English to help you navigate your order) don’t be put off – Untour Shanghai have put together a handy ordering guide so you can dine just like a local. That includes preferably going with a large group and ordering a wide variety of dishes. Booking ahead is also recommended if you can.
Tucked away in Shanghai’s trendy former French Concession, The Commune Social is one of a number of restaurants in the city spearheaded by English chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton. The restaurant’s “no reservations, no service charge” policy gives it a casual, laid-back atmosphere that belies the extremely high quality of the food on offer. Dishes are served tapas-style for sharing and are influenced by flavours from Spain, England and all over Asia. Highlights include the roasted bone marrow with beef cheek and the salt and pepper squid dusted with crushed Sichuan peppercorn. For a close look at the skills of the restaurant’s chefs, ask to be seated at the bar-style tables that surround the open-plan kitchen. You’ll be amazed at their speed and precision as they prepare your food.
China can sometimes be a tricky place for vegetarians, with its cultural propensity towards a meat-filled diet. But, fear not! Wujie offers not only fine vegetarian and vegan dining but, as another of Shanghai’s Michelin-star restaurants, some of the best food in the city. Housed in an upscale European-style building on the Bund, this place is well suited to special occasions. Wujie uses top-quality ingredients to create dishes that blend international cooking techniques with traditional Chinese ideas on food and nutrition. For vegetarians, it’s a delight to see meat-free food created with such creativity and attention to detail. The inventive and unique flavour combinations will soon help carnivores forget that they’re not eating meat.
This sophisticated yet family-oriented restaurant offers traditional Turkish dishes and a clean and modern dining experience. Its generously sized Halal kebabs and mezze are a delight. There are also a number of gluten-free options on the menu. Standout dishes include hummus topped with lamb tandoori and pides that are handmade on the premises. The restaurant’s large central fireplace is a cozy touch for Shanghai’s cold winter months. This place is hugely popular on weekends, so it’s best to reserve if you want to guarantee a table.
Mr & Mrs Bund has garnered many awards, including a place on San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013. It playfully labels itself a ‘modern eatery’, specialising in classic French bistro cuisine with a twist. The dishes are big and meant for sharing, while diners are encouraged to tweak the dishes to suit their exact tastes. Highlights include foie gras crumble and steamed lobster served in a glass jar with citrus, lemongrass and vanilla. Based in the lavish Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China building, the venue itself is strikingly and elegantly designed, with wonderful views of the Lujiazui skyline.
Shanghai may be moving swiftly forward to embrace all things new, but its array of traditional street food and cheap hole-in-the-walls reflects a rich and centuries-old cultural heritage. Explore the old city and the French Concession to find dumplings and noodles sellers, or seek out the less frequented areas such as Gaoan Road and Guangyuan Road. One of the most popular types of dumpling is the xiao long bao (also known as soup dumplings), which are delicious, hot parcels of pork and soup. These can be sampled at restaurants across the city, but one of the most popular is Jia Jia Tang Bao at People’s Square. A word of caution: the soup tends to be piping hot, so be careful when taking that first bite.