Suzy is originally from Wales, and loves cooking and dining out, especially for vegan and vegetarian food. She has an ever-lengthening Food Bucket List which often inspires her travels.
Atmosphere: Never judge a restaurant by its entrance. I’d been walking past the nondescript, plastic-curtained door to the Baoqing Lu branch of Dim Sum Garden at least twice a day for four months before a friend finally encouraged me to check it out.
Inside, it’s much more genteel than the frontage, with its faded advertising boards and supermarket-style insulation measures, would have you believe. Think marble floors, round tables draped in white and a series of semi-private rooms connected by a larger, central area. It’s more bustling than refined, with a reassuring, relaxing hum of activity and lunchtime chatter.
Food: It’s dim sum (with additions), and it’s mostly great. My introduction to Dim Sum Garden came when a friend brought over a little plastic tub of their black, gold-brushed, molten custard buns. They were so good that I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d be dragging people there to try them fresh from the steamer.
We ate in a big group, ordering plenty. The fairest way to judge the food, I think, is to consider what we ordered seconds of. The custard buns – yes, of course. They’re amazing. I’d also highly recommend the crispy shrimp rolls. If you’ve ever had British fish and chips with scraps on top, imagine that but in a chewy wrapper. If you haven’t – well, go and try the Dim Sum Garden shrimp rolls, and you’ll get a fair picture.
There were some other highlights, too: the char siu buns were fluffy and claggy and delicious, and the sweet and sour pork – deep fried then packed in ice to crisp the coating – was worth the trip alone. There’s also a good range of vegetarian options, from rolled green pancakes to little translucent dumplings and a fluffy fried tofu dish.
I wasn’t crazy about some of the textures and flavours: the ribs were too chewy for my taste, and the cold turnip cakes came with a particularly cloying sauce. One of the wonderful things about dim sum, though, is that there isn’t too much of anything, so it’s easy to ignore the less satisfying dishes.
Service: Menus show pictures and/or English translations, so the only difficulty in ordering is deciding between all of the excellent options. Dishes arrive as soon as they’re ready, which is generally fairly quickly. The staff were good enough to let us bring our own wine in for a birthday lunch, too.
We ate as a table of seven and ended up paying about 120rmb each for an endless succession of plates, platters and steamers. Great value for this dependable, convivial dim sum spot. It isn’t the most refined iteration in the city, but it’s a great option if you’re local and hungry.
Atmosphere: It’s a little difficult to find The Pine, especially in darkness. It’s in the beautiful complex fronted on Fuxing Zhong Lu by the InterContinental. If you take this entrance, follow the road that curves around to the left. If you enter from Ruijin Er Lu, turn to the right through the gate, and follow the road around.
Once you get inside, it’s murmur-or-get-stared-at quiet. There’s a slightly jumpy, eclectic soundtrack that meanders from jazz to electronic, but the white tablecloths and the proximity of the other patrons are very Michelin. Very tasting-menu-or-die. I wasn’t immediately comfortable.
The place is divided up into different rooms, both public and private. Décor is mostly understated but, incongruously, there’s CitySuper merchandise everywhere. Those bright green cushions were a very strange choice in the context. Perhaps it’s a sponsorship deal, but it rather jars with the general aesthetic.
Food: You can go a la carte, if you really want to, but it’s obvious that the focus here is on classic tasting menus. These are often focused on a key ingredient: crab, steak or truffle, for example. We chose the entry-level menu, because the others were wincingly expensive and also because it looked the best. It gave us two options for each course, too.
And so we ordered, and the food started to arrive, and it was absolutely divine. I relaxed, even in the starched surroundings, because it was clear that we were in good hands. Brioche was brought first, fresh and soft and meltingly-rich from the kitchen. We said no to more, and I have few more potent regrets this year.
To start: oysters or a cold dish of beetroot, cheese and hazelnuts. The latter, in particular, was beautiful both to sight and to taste: dancing, light flavours. The fish course, which came next, was a crisped fillet of Japanese white fish with one of those decadent, buttery sauces imbued with technique. Someone teach me.
Next, the meat course. (There is no vegetarian menu, as far as I know.) There was a preposterously overpriced Wagyu plate, but we both chose the chicken – a neat, chubby ballotine with freshly podded peas and, this time, two of those excellent, deep sauces, served with a boned and foie gras-stuffed crispy chicken wing.
Things lightened up considerably after that, thank goodness. We were served a light, pineapple-y palate cleanser before our dessert: black truffle ice cream (potent) with green melon. It wasn’t a highlight, but it was a suitable way to end a heavy meal.
Service: Staff were professional and warm throughout, explaining each dish. The server went to the kitchen at one point to ask, as we’d enquired, what the crisped topping on the fish was. I’ve forgotten the answer, but it was very good of him nonetheless. Wine was promptly poured, and the still and sparkling waters were always served to the right person. Full marks.
You can see into the kitchen on your way to the bathrooms, too, if that’s your thing. (It’s my thing. I love it.)
In total, we paid around 2390rmb for two people. Note that we chose their lowest-priced evening tasting menu. To be fair, though, we did also drink a very nice bottle of Riesling and two big waters.
Atmosphere: Look, it's in a mall. They're trying hard with the stylish, muted colours, all bronze, blue and dove-grey, but it's still in a mall.
More specifically, Khan ChaCha is up on the 5th floor of thee Westgate Mall off West Nanjers, with a clean, shiny, chrome-filled kitchen that you can see into through a large window, and an entirely open front which makes every seat feel exposed. It's hard to get the lighting and atmosphere right in a space like this.
This is a shame, though, because it feels like the owners are working hard to make this place a success. In terms of feet through the door, they seemed to be succeeding when we visited on a Friday evening. It was packed out - every seat was full, from the lang tables in the middle to the bar-style seating in the corner. Everyone seemed to be having a great time; it must've looked lovely to all the people walking past and gazing blankly in.
Food: Starting with the good: the Chennai Express chicken thigh curry was comforting and decadent as hell. I was tempted to ask if I could buy a few tubs to freeze for bad days, but - joy - they say that they deliver! I struggled to find them on Elema when I looked, but their website promises they do, so perhaps I'm just not looking hard enough.
Also, curries come with a naan bread included. They're not at all bad - it looks like they've got professional tandoor ovens in their kitchen, so the breads come out with those classic crispy bubbles. They're perhaps a little on the thin side, though.
Having said all this, we were unimpressed by the other things we tried. They serve a saag paneer, one of my favourite dishes, but it's too cream-heavy and under-spiced for me. We also tried one of their signature appetisers: a sesame-encrusted potato log stuffed with paneer, cashews, almonds and raisins. I know - the description sounds incredible. The dish just didn't live up to it, though: the seedy coating needed longer to toast and the filling needed... excitement? A night out on the town? Something fun, anyway.
Service: I feel bad writing this, though, because the staff are super keen to please. It really feels like a new restaurant right now, and that's partly down to the behaviour of the servers and the owner. I have no complaints - it was good service - but it was good in an unpolished and slightly stumbling way, as if they really wanted to help but hadn't quite worked out how to work best together as a team yet.
They're good people, though, and they're working hard. I hope it works out for them. I'd go back if I was in the area, but they need to nail every dish if they're going to draw customers from the big hitters on Shanghai's Indian cuisine scene.
Atmosphere: Way back in the noughties, when I still had the time and curiosity to browse Reddit, I read a thread about the best burger in the world. Like literally everything else on Reddit, right down to the merits of oxygen for humans, this was a hotly contested topic. Shake Shack was the phrase that lodged in my mind, digitally chanted by a thousand typing fingers and upvoted to Mars. I added it to my mental bucket list.
I’d like to thank the city of Shanghai, right here, for understanding that a lot of people are too lazy to queue at the wanghongest places in the city. Since the original branch opened early this year (this year!), two more restaurants have launched their own concrete flavours and taken some of the queuing strain off the Xintiandi branch. At least, I’m guessing they have. I still haven’t risked the time drain and elbow hazards. I went to the Jing’an branch instead, and walked straight up to the counter. Bliss.
Food: So, I tried the Reddit-approved best burger in the world. It was fine, but not fiiine. The crispy-fried, cheese-filled mushroom burger was at a similar level but ten times messier to eat (90% of the cheese ended up congealed at the bottom of the superfluous paper burger bag), as were the fries.
I even tried the signature concrete – a sesame and chocolate concoction called Happy 2 Be Home (grim) – just to make sure I’d fully experienced this cultural, gastronomical institution. It’s hard to make a sesame-chocolate combination bland, but they’ve somehow managed it at the Kerry Centre Shake Shack. I needed a Snickers afterwards to make me feel alive again.
Service: Surprisingly, placing an order was pretty quick. Staff spoke a little English, and there's a big menu to point at if you don't want to stretch your Mandarin with the concrete names. Once you order, you're given one of those little flashing pucks that vibrates when your order's ready. It took about as long as a Beef and Liberty burger to arrive, it cost about the same, and it wasn't as good. It does give you plenty of time to try to find a seat, though - it's more competitive than a rush hour metro carriage in there.
Atmosphere: If vegan, you’ve probably already heard of If Vegan. If not vegan, consider this your introduction. It’s a friendly, upstairs restaurant with a sort of scuffed IKEA vibe and a whole load of lovely, mostly healthy plates. To get in, find the little door on North Shaanxi, ten paces north of West Beijing, and head up to the very top floor. When we visited for a weeknight dinner, it was almost full of smiling, healthy older vegans and younger, v-curious hipsters. There's a bakery / patisserie counter by the entrance full of impossibly dairy-looking things, which you can presumably get to go. Also, it’s one of the only places I’ve found that does a good vegan version of meat floss, which is a selling point in itself.
Food: You can get the abovementioned meat floss in the summer rolls, which also contain dragonfruit and come with a sauce the colour of grasshoppers. (It doesn’t contain grasshoppers. They’re not vegan.) We also ordered a lovely braised aubergine dish with a chilli kick, some not-too-slimy okra with a thin, soy-based sauce, a perfectly nice quinoa salad with fresh, steamed and roasted vegetables, and – regrettably – some purple whirls that reminded me of the food fight in Hook. The menu alleges that they’re made from purple sweet potato and coconut. They were the last thing left on the table, and were only really good for the novelty factor.
Everything else was great, though. the food is fresh, well-considered and often imaginative. I'd go back to try more of the menu, not only because it's well-made but also out of curiosity. What do they top their vegan pizza with? I haven't yet found a good vegan cheese substitue in Shanghai, but I'd be game for trying whatever they've chosen.
Service: The staff are sweet as hell, and very attentive to refilling your bai kai shui glass. Orders are placed through iPads, which have pictures and English translations for each dish. It's all very convenient.
The Godly restaurant brand has been around since 1922, and don’t they know it. The year is plastered all over the restaurant, like an incantation against rising rents and an increasing abundance of more interesting vegetarian options.
I’m not knocking it; it’s hard to make something last almost 100 years. Look at the state of the EU after just 26. I’m just making the point because Godly has clearly enjoyed a lot of respect for a long time and – honestly – I’m not entirely sure why.
They do mock meat, but it’s normally buried in some gelatinous sauce, like in the “beef” noodle dish we ordered. They promise spicy Sichuan dishes, but our tofu was saccharine and fangless. There are similarly disappointing curries, too, like the mushroom one we didn’t finish.
Having said all this, it’s not a bad restaurant. The claypot vermicelli noodles were delicious, and the spring rolls – despite their gloopy, orange sauce – were nicely crispy. I’d also recommend the mushroom floss dish, too, although it was nothing like what I’d expected; it bears absolutely no resemblance to meat floss. In total, for four people with a beer, we paid around 400rmb.
Godly is a good place to try classic Chinese vegetarian food. It’s worth a visit for the vermicelli noodles and the novelty of eating cruelty-free “eel”, among other things. There’s a fully bilingual menu, staff are helpful, and prices are fair.
I’m going to come right out with a conclusion in the first paragraph: the pastas at Arch are so good that my Italian friend, to whom pasta is almost as sacred as his mother, went back two days in a row. He also, however, ordered two or three bowls each time because the portions are sized for Venetian dolls.
The space is beautiful: there’s a geometric, Art Deco aesthetic and a cozy line of booths opposite the bar. They have their own distilling equipment on display, too, adding a Steam Punk frisson. The urbanity in the main space almost makes up for the external bathrooms. Drink more cocktails to make the memories fade more quickly (but opt for shorts so you don't have to go back as often).
Speaking of cocktails – they’re as good as the pasta. There’s a Happy Hour menu of classics and house mixes, from an Aperol spritz to a strawberry and mint short, which go for 55rmb before 7pm. Then there’s the full menu, on which drinks range from 85-110rmb, and are centred around a key ingredient. Don’t expect mind-blowing presentation, but the flavours are often knock-outs. Mango and balsamic, light coconut, beetroot – try the lot if your balance allows.
The only thing to criticise about the food menu, as mentioned, is the paltry portion size. It isn’t all that major a criticism, though, because the food is so fairly-priced that it’s defensible to order two dishes instead of one. The hand-made gnocchi and ravioli were particular stand-out dishes, along with the superfood salad. Appetizers, especially the calamari and the chicken with sweet potato fries, shouldn’t be flipped past either. We were there as a group of eight who ate and drank a lot, and our bill came to just over 3800rmb – fair game for the quality and quantity.
Arch serves small but lovely plates and drinks. Most things are priced more than fairly considering the quality. It’s a great spot for a suave date or the start of a good night with a small group.
Oh, Bird. You’ve been on my to do list since you opened. I was really looking forward to trying your stylish small plates in your trendy little space. You’re so near my apartment that I hoped you might become a regular treat venue.
Bird – we need to talk.
Flavours, Bird. You’re good at flavours! Our BBQ corn came with a lovely butter and the perfect smokiness. The mapo tofu, topped with mashed potato and melted cheese, was deliciously hearty. That honey, with the goat yoghurt cheese and spiced crackers, worked beautifully. I’m not picking at your flavours, Bird.
It’s the other stuff we need to talk about. The fact that our BBQ corn arrived so cold that the butter on top wouldn’t melt. The fact that our little plate of cheese cost 98rmb, and that a tiny bottle of soda is 35rmb (we paid 304rmb in total for three small dishes and two sodas). The – and I’m sorry about this, but it’s true – absence of customers on a Sunday evening, when you were almost impossible to get a reservation at a few months ago.
Bird – you’re not perfect. Neither am I, though. Let’s give it another chance.
Bird is a cool, minimalist little place with the perfect roof terrace. It’s good for small plates, wines and spritzes. It would make a good date venue, especially if you wandered next door to Bitter after your meal.
Walking into the entrance lobby of the Shanghai Edition feels like a serious undertaking. The whole place is dusky and stylish, and the dark corridors encompass several restaurants. I’ve been to two, and they’re both so much better than a hotel restaurant needs to be. Go to the Shanghai Tavern, downstairs, for solemn food on little plates. Canton Disco upstairs, though, is incongruously fun. I loved it.
Look at the cocktail selection. Mine sounded pedestrian but came topped with a little stretch of the fizzy space belts I used to scarf down as a kid. There’s one containing cough syrup and coffee, as well as the obligatory booze, and it actually tastes good.
Then look at the food. There are some serious and heavy options, like the house short rib, but the best dishes are those that sound… playful. The prawn toast x okonomiyaki is an absurd, deep-fried package of chubby prawns, crispy bread and batter. If it doesn’t make you happy, I’m not sure what to suggest. Unless you’re allergic to seafood, of course, in which case I’d probably order one just to look at anyway.
The light and crispy salt and pepper tofu bites, the fat shrimp wontons, the – oh man – crispy ham hock with its impeccable accompanying sauces and lettuce for wrapping. Everything was great. In total, we paid 778rmb for the dishes and drinks mentioned here, including a 75rmb bottle of water. (I wouldn’t recommend the water.)
Canton Disco’s sultry décor forms a piquant contrast with its disco soundtrack and irreverent menu. Michael Janczewski and his team cook up a storm of fun, and the cocktails taste as good as they sound. It’s a perfect date night destination.
It had been an impossibly busy few weeks, and my friend dragged me out of work on time one Wednesday for dinner. Normally, when things get stressful at work, all I want to do is shovel down noodles in front of my laptop screen. It turns out that, actually, going to Lago after work is a brilliant way to unwind.
Firstly, it’s really quiet on weeknights. You can sit anywhere! We got a prime table with a view of the Bund and, because we hadn’t waited until a more normal dinner time, we were there for sunset and the illuminations. Service is always great (apparently all staff are given three months’ training), but there was a particularly conspicuous surplus of shirted servers at 5:30pm on a Wednesday.
It’s also good for drinks. If you arrive before the restaurant has actually opened, you’re basically obliged to get a cocktail at the downstairs bar. Great for oligarch-spotting, and the alcohol also takes off the slight edge of frustration when they don’t have any of the listed wines you order upstairs.
You can also take your time with the food, which you’ll definitely want to do. We ordered four starters, two mains and two desserts to share. The wagyu carpaccio and aged ham came first, along with a little bread basket and a lovely tomato spread. We had the burrata next – decadently creamy with a puddle of raspberry sauce – and finally the octopus. Mains were fairly small, which was a relief. The truffle risotto is very truffley. The ravioli is very pretty.
Desserts are pretty, too, although perhaps a little nebulously plated. Excellent macarons, in particular. In total, we paid just over 2000rmb for two people, including two very expensive glasses of wine.
Lago is a very refined option for a blow-out meal, with great views and excellent service. The Italian menu is all well-made and plated to perfection. Good venue for impressing dates, clients or out-of-towners.
SmartReviews is SmartShanghai’s crack squad of amateur reviewers, eating their way around the city and writing about it. They have been chosen from a large pool of applicants and given a set of strict guidelines to follow to make sure their reviews are honest, informed and fair to both potential customers and the restaurants themselves.