- Marian Shek
Shanghai is a bustling metropolis, a captivating mix of East and West. From regional Chinese cuisine to modern international fare, cheap and cheerful street eats to cutting edge avant-garde gastronomy, here are 10 of the most interesting venues in Shanghai.
This high concept restaurant takes experimental and experiential dining to a whole new level. Conceived by much lauded French chef Paul Pairet, Ultraviolet was launched in May 2012 and has boggled both minds and tastebuds ever since. 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 that centers on the unusual taste combination of each course. The atmosphere is driven by music, smells and images projected onto the walls. But 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.
Heaven located within the colonial splendor of the French Concession district, Lost Heaven is a rare gem among the wide variety of restaurants in Shanghai. It specializes in the cuisine of the Yunnan region, which is not as internationally well-known as other regional Chinese dishes. The rich, Yunnanese, folk-inspired decor of the restaurant offers the perfect backdrop for the spicy taste of the regional menu. This not only contains Chinese influences, but Thai, Lao and Burmese too. Yunnanese food also uses ingredients such as cheese and flowers, which are quite rare in other Chinese cuisines. Since it opened in 2006, Lost Heaven has become the standard-bearer for Yunnan cuisine and culture in Shanghai. It has grown so popular that sister branches have opened on the Bund in 2009, and Beijing in 2012.
Lost Heaven, 38 Gaoyou Rd (south of West Fuxing Rd), Shanghai 200031, China, +86 (0)21 6433 5126
Table No. 1
Table No. 1 is situated in the designer boutique hotel The Waterhouse and offers contemporary European food in a modern but informal setting. Table No. 1 is the first solo venture of chef Jason Atherton, who has worked under Marco Pierre and made his name under Gordon Ramsay’s Maze brand. The tapas-based menu at Table No. 1 focuses on simple, natural flavors and locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, while the surroundings are chic, cool and cozy. Claiming to be Shanghai’s first gastro-bar, Table No. 1 encourages communal dining and social interaction by seating diners together at long tables. If you are ready to socialize, this is the perfect place to unwind and share a few dishes of hearty tapas.
Table No.1, The Waterhouse at South Bund, Maojiayuan Road No. 1–3, Shanghai 200011, China, +86 (0)21 6080 2918
Mr & Mrs Bund
Another restaurant from the creative mind of Paul Pairet, 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’, which does 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. With concoctions such as foie gras crumble and steamed lobster served in a glass jar with citrus, lemongrass and vanilla, the food is world-class without being pretentious. 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 Pudong.
With its invigorating blend of traditional Chinese cuisine and modern sensibility, the Whampoa Club is internationally renowned and has become a cornerstone of the Shanghai culinary scene. Here, Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes are reimagined, given a modern twist, such as drunken chicken served with rice wine ice, and dramatically presented. The surroundings are luxurious, designed in a modern Art Deco style, which hearkens back to the opulence of 1930s Shanghai. The restaurant also has professional tea sommeliers to help you choose from their extensive selection of teas.
UNICO is the largest tapas bar in Asia and a hub for all things Latin American. Headed by Michelin-starred chef Mauro Colagreco, UNICO offers a creative take on tapas from across Latin America, with dishes such as spicy tomato consommé with roasted tiger shrimps, and crispy baby pig with creamy polenta. Not only that, Argentine mixologist Hector Monroy serves up a menu of bespoke cocktails that evoke the different cultures of Latin America. And yet the Latin American inspirations do not stop at the food and drink. Everything from the interior design to the music is integral to the experience. UNICO also acts as an arts venue, hosting contemporary artists and trendy events at night.
In a city full of amazing Chinese cuisine, the Xindalu China Kitchen stands out for its quality and its chic, comfortable interior. The menu focuses on cuisine from Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou, which means light and delicate flavors. Its signature dishes are Peking duck, beggar’s chicken (a classic dish which needs to be ordered in advance) and pyramid braised pork. The open kitchen and live cooking stations add a sense of occasion to the proceedings, without taking away from the sophisticated ambience of the restaurant. Xindalu is located in the Hyatt on the Bund, which offers spectacular views of the Bund and Pudong. Go to the open-air terrace on Level 33 of the Hyatt to fully appreciate the cityscape at night.
8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA
Having spent 15 years in Asia, Umberto Bombana is a star of the gastronomy scene. Following on from the success of 8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA in Hong Kong, which garnered three Michelin stars, Bombana opened another branch in Shanghai’s Rockbund area in February 2012. Named after Fellini’s autobiographical film ‘8½’, the restaurant is a love letter to all things Italian and draws from the distinctive culinary vision of Bombana. The menu evokes the simplicity of hearty homemade Italian food, with dishes such as ‘Milanese style’ breaded veal chop and Pappardelle with porcini mushrooms. Seasonal menus are created around the availability of delicacies such as the Alba White Truffle. There is, indeed, a sense that the ingredients are the main attraction here. The quirky, rustic setting is also a treat, with an Ageing Room at the center of the dining room, where cured hams and cheeses are displayed and ready to be tasted.
8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, 6-7/F, Mission Building, 169 Yuanmingyuan Rd, Shanghai, China, +86 (0)21 6087 2890
Standing by the lake at the center of the People’s Park, Barbarossa offers a peaceful getaway within the busy city. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of a three-story building, serving Arabian cuisine with influences from Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. It has a large outdoor area with a beautiful view of the lake and glass roof. The restaurant’s relaxed atmosphere is complemented by live DJs, while the rest of the building is dedicated to cocktails, shisha and relaxation. To further enjoy the magical surroundings, you can buy a drink from the bar inside the Bedouin tent. Then, warm yourself by the open fire while taking in the amazing view from the rooftop terrace.
Jia Jia Tang Bao
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 Lu and Guangyuan Lu. One of the most popular types of dumpling is the Xiao Long Bao (also known as soup dumpling), delicious and hot parcels of pork and soup. These can be sampled at the popular Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, but for a more authentic taste, try Jia Jia Tang Bao at the People’s Square. Untour Shanghai also offers culinary tours around Shanghai, if you’re looking for a true taste of Shanghai street culture while avoiding the more obvious tourist areas.