The main restaurant stretch along Xintiandi’s pedestrian street offers numerous great places to eat, but they are typically quite expensive. Polauner’s, the German restaurant, is surprisingly good with prices around 150 RMB per person, making it a relatively affordable option with fast service. But our biggest surprise in finding affordable food in that area was the Chinese restaurant very close to the cinema, 1930. The restaurant 1930 offers live entertainment in the form of jazz, I understand–wasn’t there when we ate around 6 pm on a weeknight, but it looked like some performers were preparing to play later when we left. What surprised me was that the Chinese food offered there came with price tags fairly typical for higher-end Chinese establishments in more ordinary parts of town. My wife and I ordered 4 items, two main courses, a veggie side dish and some dumplings, and the cost was a little under 200 RMB total. Not bad at all, though still twice what we would have paid in an ordinary corner shop in many parts of town–but the quality was excellent and everything tasted great. The menu is rather limited, though, and the fare is pretty simple. My twice cooked pork was flavorful but not extraordinary. The dumplings were nicely done. The garlic kale was tender and tasty. Service was meticulous and friendly, and they do speak English. A pleasant place with nice ambience, popular Western oldies being played, good food and fast service, and fresh air (at least when we were there). Now we need to try it when there is jazz being played.
One of the great mysteries of expat life in Shanghai is where to find cheese. Some expats rely on expensive cheese sold in small delis in the French Concession or places like the deli at the Westin Hotel/Bund Center. Some rely on cheese sold at supermarkets such as Tesco. But if you use a lot of cheese or just want the best price on cheese, you should know about the food warehouse in Minhang District which supplies cheese and a lot of other products to restaurants all over town. There you can buy cheese for prices surprisingly close to what you might pay in the United States. A 3 kilogram block of good mozzarella cheese was purchased yesterday by my wife for 150 RMB. That’s under $4 a pound for cheese in Shanghai. Awesome!
This mecca of affordable cheese is inside a big warehouse at 1255 Lianhua Road, Shanghai. You enter this warehouse along a road used by forklifts or other vehicles. On the second lane to the left inside, you will find a row of shops. One of the first is SunPin Ran’s outlet, Shanghai Topwin Foods Trading Company (www.TSFoods.com.cn). Email contact: hero.db at 163dotcom, or call 021-5480-2293. Fax: 021-54934329.
Inside the building, according to the Chinese side of their business card, the shop is on the south side of the warehouse, aisle 4, number 18-19.
April 2014 update: Here are some photos from my recent 2014 visit to the big compound at 1255 Lianhua Road.
When you need American food, or are stuck with a group intent on American cuisine in Shanghai, one of my favorite choices is Piro Restaurant in the heart of the French Concession (91 Changshu Road, a couple blocks north of Changshu Station on Line 1 and Line 7). This has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant with great service from very warm staff. We first tried Piro just because a friend of ours, Gina, works there, but we gladly came back for the food, too.
Piro apparently uses imported American meat in their hamburgers (so I read somewhere), and it sure tastes that way. They also understand how big, thick juicy burgers ought to taste. But if you’re not ready for a cholesterol high, they have a variety of meat-free portabello burgers that are amazingly juicy and rich in flavor. I’ve tried both the portabello burgers and the real hamburgers, and am torn: both are scrumptious.
Salads are also excellent, but you may be surprised if you order a salad and a burger since a pretty hefty portion of salad comes with your burger already.
We tried a chocolate milkshake tonight, and while it was the best milkshake we’ve had in China so far, it still falls short of the American dream shake. Part of the problem was a big load of fake whip cream on top that was just too greasy, unlike real whip cream. But the body of the shake was at least partway towards real shakedom.
A fun thing about Piros is that you can sit in the richly wooden inside or sit outside on the lively and rather noisy street for a great sidewalk cafe experience.
Burgers start at 55 RMB and go up to about 80, plus you can pay more for additional toppings. Salads are around 45 – 65 RMB. My shake was 55 RMB. So, on the slightly expensive side, but a lot less than many places with Western food, and a lot better. Give it a try! Very popular with expats, but plenty of Chinese hang out there, too.
At 68 Weifang Road near the east side of the Bund in PuDong is a little strip of restaurants including my favorite bakery and diner, Nancy’s Bakery. It’s the favorite spot of one of Beijing’s elite business leaders whom I have met there a couple of times. It’s a place where many foreigners go who want good bread and food made with top-notch ingredients. Nancy is a bubbly Shanghai woman who has been trained in Europe and Brazil. She offers a menu with outstanding dishes such as a special lasagna and magnificent desserts created in partnership with Eddy, her chief baker. Her breads are worth the trip and are made from imported European flours, not the genetically modified grains that might be behind the gluten allergies that many people face these days. One person I know who was sensitive to gluten found that she could eat Nancy’s bread without difficulty, apparently due to its superior grain content. True story.
Tonight my wife and I stopped at Nancy’s after a meal at the Xinjiang restaurant near our apartment on Dong Tai Street, just south of Fuxing Road. Our local Xinjiang place is terrific but quite authentic (that means lots of bones). Bold flavors, wonderful barbecue, and a lot of things that many Westerners would be shocked to see on a menu (sheep’s head dishes, cold sheep stomach, etc.). We took a taxi through the Fuxing Road Tunnel, made a right turn at the first light, and then right again a couple of blocks later onto Weifang, and there is Nancy’s on the left. Tonight we tried her new coconut-white chocolate-mango cake (awesome), a chocolate eclair, and the best fresh squeezed orange juice ever. This is a good season for sweet oranges in China. Best of all was the chance to chat with Nancy, a warm and vivacious friend.
One of my longtime favorites in Shanghai has been Lost Heaven, the Yunnan-style Chinese restaurant on the Bund (17 Yan An Lu, just a few yards from the main road along the Bund on the west side of the river). It is beautiful, upscale, with an exotic menu. But after many meals there, typically with Western guests, I’m taking it off my list of favorites. Too often the food is lukewarm when it should be hot, and often lacks depth or intensity in flavor. And it’s quite expensive. 68 RMB for a small pile of fried rice with very little in it is just too much. The meal we had last night was OK, but for the guests I had, I wanted and expect something exciting. Nothing of all the dishes we ordered generated any “wows.”
Lost Heaven is beautiful and has a menu to be proud of, but the cuisine doesn’t fit the aura, the expectations, and the price.
For stand-out Chinese cuisine at reasonable, some other choices include Xin Wang (amazing Cantonese), Cui Hua (Taiwanese chain with amazing dishes and great deserts and drinks), and dozens of others all over Shanghai. More on these selections later.