Trying new food was one of the things I was most excited about when planning my trip to China. However, the reality was rather more hit and miss which led to me experimenting less as the days went on. You can expect to struggle with big chunks of meat that mean you have to bite a piece off, put it down, then put some rice into your mouth. The meat will often be fatty to the point that it is a bit disgusting (and this is coming from a girl whose favourite foods include chorizo and pork scratchings). And you will occasionally be served a dish that has large chunks of barely softened onion. But I ask you to persevere until you find that delicious wonton soup or discover you have an insatiable appetite for hotpot. Google Maps of these restaurants can be found in the gallery at the end.
***** Faigo Hotpot
Faigo Hotpot is an awesome, trendy and reasonably priced (around 100RMB for one) hotpot restaurant chain. It was so good in Beijing (IN88 Mall) that we sought out another branch in Shanghai (in the mall above East Nanjing Street station). A hotpot is basically a soup broth that simmers atop small flames on your table that you add ingredients to which cook in mere minutes to create your hotpot. The way it works in this restaurant is you select a base soup (I recommend the gorgeous Satay), then you choose ingredients from the different sections (mushrooms, meat, seafood, dumpling, carbs, veg, etc) which you simply mark with a pencil on the order sheet as each item is numbered. We chose around 5 ingredients to add to the soup and would highly recommend the beef cubes.
**** Quanjude Roast Duck
Quanjude Roast Duck was recommended to us by our hotel porter as a place to try the famous Beijing-style roast duck (or as we know it in Britain, hoisin duck pancakes). The menu was a bit odd, with limited English translations. We ordered a half duck, and assumed the rest of the items on the page were the sauce and pancakes. The duck was really tasty however I wouldn’t bother with the half duck’s head they give you as the crispy skin of this part didn’t taste good. The chefs come into the aisles of the restaurant to carve the duck in front of you which is interesting and the waitress kindly showed us how to fill and roll up our first pancake using chopsticks. The meal cost us around 200RMB.
**** Thai Restaurant
This is another restaurant in the IN88 Mall near Wangfujing shopping district, Beijing. We figured that Faigo was such a success that this mall must have more good restaurants so we tried the Thai restaurant next door (can’t remember its name). The portion size was generous and it was a yummy comforting curry, with plenty of veggies and a slightly thicker sauce than what we get in the UK. Please note that although I gave it a four star rating, this restaurant is just as nice as the Thai places we are used to.
**** Japanese Restaurant 1
As you can see, eating in shiny shopping malls became a bit of a theme for our trip as it we saw it as a way to guarantee quality and a translated menu, albeit a less authentic experience. This shopping mall was on the exit 7 side of East Nanjing Road station, Shanghai. I can’t remember the exact name of the restaurant but it was on the B2 food court level of the mall and was called something like “Kumaru”. You might also spot it by the plastic food models display of its dishes – a concept that freaks me out. I ordered pork ramen noodles which had a satisfying half egg floating in it but also a huge slab of fatty pork which was nigh impossible to eat with chopsticks but I suppose it gave the dish good flavour. This was again a reasonably priced safe bet.
This is a pub / pizza place on the corner of Jinbao Street and Jinyu Hutong. The pizzas had a really homemade feel to them with a thick base and hefty but interesting topping combinations that made a medium extremely filling if you are hungry. It was an open plan restaurant to the street so we dined al fresco rather than inside a packed food hall like many other places. The only thing that let the place down was the lack of English spoken by the serving staff - I tried to order bottled water a few times and eventually the chef came down and told me the kitchen was very busy and my pizzas would be ready in 2 minutes (I ended up just pointing at a coke).
*** ITALIAN-AMERICAN RESTAURANT
This Shanghai restaurant was next door to Japanese Restaurant 1 and provides a respite from oriental food if you need it. You can spot it by its display of cakes but I can't remember its name. I went for a lasagna which was nice but had hardly any pasta layers and was oddly served with a bread roll. The chairs are sofa style so it is comfortable. We were amused/bemused by a promotional video that was played on loop on a screen that showed westerners and Chinese people eating together and playfully stealing each other’s food (presumably because it is so delicious).
This is an Italian restaurant in the shopping mall on exit 2 of East Nangjing Road Station. I had an acceptable steak pizza (just cheese and steak with no tomato) as well as a pasta dish which was tasty but a bit small for a portion.
Grosfairy is located in the IFC Mall in Shanghai. It turns out this cupcake shop is a chain started in New York. The cute cupcakes caught my attention and I was even more intrigued when I saw flavours such as avocado and matcha! I settled on a bacon and maple cupcake for 27RMB and whilst it featured tiny fragments of bacon I found it really didn’t taste strongly of either flavour. Still, it’s a novel pick me up to get you through hard day’s sight-seeing in Pudong.
** Noodle Place
My first ever meal on Chinese soil was some noodles with a tasty minced meat at a Beijing noodle bar on the walk from my hotel to Dengshikou, my nearest subway station. It was pretty nerve wracking as the staff didn’t speak any English and appeared to be calling out the name of the dish when it was ready from the kitchen, which we obviously could not understand to claim our order. The noodles clearly hadn’t been stirred when cooking so they had congealed together which made it hard to mix in with the meat sauce. Overall it was crappy but cheap at around 20 RMB and I didn't get food poisoning.
** LOUNGE 7
We had dinner in the Bund Riverside Hotel the first evening we got to Shanghai because we were exhausted, starving and didn’t fancy exploring. I ordered the sea food fettucine which took a lifetime to arrive considering we were the only people in the whole restaurant, but at least it wasn’t prepared from frozen. In the end it was edible but reminiscent of those school dinners where you have to avoid the chunks of carrot and courgette that have been forced into the meal.
* Wangfujing Street Food
Having seen row upon row of stalls of grotesque yet impressive street food, I decided to try some on my first night when we were out strolling in Wangfujing. We immersed ourselves into the alley which according to Google Maps is called “Wangfujing Snack Street” and is packed with tourists. I chickened out of scorpion or fried tarantula and went for fried octopus on a stick and a roll of something. The roll was hideous – I thought it was a large spring roll of sorts but it was actually soggy in texture with barely any filling. I actually had to throw it away it was so horrible, and I never throw food away! Next up was my octopus on a stick, which was fried in front of me on a hotplate and then basted in an anonymous spicy sauce which didn’t look all that hygienic. I just about managed to eat this despite it being very tough and chewy but felt a bit delicate the next morning :(
* Japanese Restaurant 2
I had quite high hopes for the Japanese restaurant next to our hotel (at 3 Jinyu Hutong) but I was disappointed. I ordered a rice bowl with chicken as I felt like a hot meal rather than sushi. The service was extremely inattentive and the food was very mediocre. I had to add soy and chili powder to make the dish flavourful and the chicken was really fatty and cut in big long slices that are not ideal when you don’t have a knife.
Tesco (for bits and bobs)
For your bottled water and everyday snacks if you want to save some money or don’t feel like eating restaurant food, I would recommend you go to Tesco. You can buy international brands such as Walkers crisps but in all sorts of unusual flavours that you don’t get in England that make quirky edible souvenirs. The store I visited was in a shopping mall at 489 Henan S Road, a 10 minute walk south of Yuyuan Garden station exit .
- REVIEW: Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott