The Long Article: Shanghai Brunch Power Reviews

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016 

under Food by Quintana Hoyne


It’s May 2016! New restaurants and bistros are opened, and old ones are gone — some forever, and some just off your little black book of brunch places to call up for a cheeky fling on a sunny day. And here I am, happy to present the water-tight, catch-all, and 100 percent Up-to-Date Shanghai Brunch Power Reviews.

 

Parameters for this set of reviews are regional cuisine’s authenticity, budget, and taste of the food itself. Half the brunches include a-la-carte and half are presented as multi-course sets, but I can just about recommend everything here; some are just a decent place for a meal, some are not only a Sunday morning’s filler but also a straight-up gastronomic pleasure.

 

English Dogs + German Beer: Pint House

 

Owner Matthew Nair describes his place as “an English-style bar with crazy inspirations from the German craft beer beat.” As if to reiterate "crazy," he pairs homemade sausages only according to your choice of beer.

 

Budget: 108 RMB for a 5-inch wurst in a dog or bagel-wich, a slaw, a mini pancake, and your choice of 500ml draft beer (Zapfler on the taps for now, we’ll see if any more are coming). Boozy fulfillment complemented by London street-eats.

 

Food: Matthew’s homemade wursts are plump, glistening tubes of kicking flavors. They are also longer than seem appropriate and hard pick from which a favorite. But I did it — my favorite is the Beer Wurst, simply because it's probably not only marinated but also cooked and doused in beer, though the alcohol evaporated in the process. It leaves a viscous tang on your tongue and has an scrumptiously golden brown, slightly charred exterior, sizzling long after man-and-wife team take it off the grill at your order. Unlike movie-theater hotdogs, the buns here are not squishy from being steamed, and are made by a German baker. And while there is the option of swapping dog for a salmon or corn beef bagel, why would you say no to a stretched and upgraded version of Subway sandwich smothered in ketchup and mustard? One word of caution: the Empire Dog is deciedely superior to the Bubble Wine Best-Seller, which does not live up to its naming and suffers from slightly industrial-tasting chicken strips.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays 8am - 3pm

Address: 372 Dàgū Road, near Chéngdū North Road (大沽路372号, 近成都北路)

 

Purposefully “Inauthentic” Chinese: Baoism

 

I would put Baoism conclusively above McDonalds, Burger King, and even Wagas — no other fast food chain uses fine-dining techniques and still pegs the price under 20 RMB per item.

 

Budget: 50 RMB for 1 bao, 2 sides, plus any drink off menu. +15 RMB for an upgrade to Jameson Whiskey.

 

Food: What’s better than Tuhao Fried Chicken and Caviar Bao (20 RMB), a mix of salt and peppered fried chicken with caviar that gives it umami flavor? Almost anything else that is less salty. It is more like a decadent snack and less of a main dish. Which means you are better off saving that additional 5 RMB and ordering two cheddar-covered S.E.X. (sausage, egg, and X.O. sauce) baos (15 RMB) for double the hangover cure — these are great, qualitatively superior to double, even triple cheeseburgers. A house-made five spice Chinese sausage patty holding bouncy, shivering curd-less French-style scrambled eggs, and it is finished with a heavy sauce of different dried seafoods and Cantonese sausage. The result is oceanic and heavenly. And Baoism again revolutionizes a classic — Scallion Oil Noodles’ Japanese-Italian step-cousin, Dashi Carbonara (both at 12 RMB). Like the S.E.X., it is rich without stringy cheese — a broken egg and cheddar molten with sriracha and dashi, together, hug the noodles nicely.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday, Sunday, 11am - 3pm

Address: 150 Húbīn Road, B2E30 (湖滨路150号湖滨道B2E30)

 

Not Quite Mediterranean: Erman’s Kitchen

 

There are better places to have Mediterranean than at this modern Chinese restaurant crowded with families of three between, but there are also much, much worse. Bottom line, you’re sure to keep your waistline thin with the Chinese aversion to salt and butter.

 

Budget: 488 RMB for a larger-than-necessary two-person menu. Five courses per person. Comes with drinks and a basket of low-fat versions of breads.

 

Food: The homemade squid ink pasta is al dente almost to an excessive degree. It is somewhere between the texture of a squid tentacle and the first bite into a piece of drying chewing gum. But the locals love it, and it is the third most popular item at Erman’s after tomahawk and chocolate fondant. One can only surmise that it is to be the new fad in Shanghai. But even more curious is Erman’s Kitchen’s customized service, off the menu but not so secret — the head chef from Hainan famously reinvents Western classics by serving them alongside tropical fruits and locally sourced seasonal veggies, and every time you take his offer to “be creative,” it is like flipping a coin. In my case, boldness backfired — baked cod 2.0 came with mango and blueberries, neither puréed, not sprinkled as garnish, but diced and halved carefully in a mango-sized medley, at least twice as large as the fillet.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday, Sunday, and national holidays 10am - 3pm

Address: 36 Gōngpíng Road, no. 9-4 (公平路36号星乐汇商业街9-4号)

 

Crazy, Naughty, Saucy Nordic: The Nest

 

Starting March 2016, Nest’s mixologists down Redbulls in the AM and shake-off their lack of sleep to serve you their French take on various Nordic classics. French, meaning a bit over the top with sauces. But ideal for curing hangovers.

 

Budget: 198 RMB for 3 dishes out of 17 picks, + 68  RMB for a fourth dish.

And yes, they have a cocktail menu at discounted prices for daytime. And the welcome drink is a cocktail based in yogurt.

 

Food: The menu is deceptively sensible with six categories listed as “eggy,” “crispy,” “fishy,” “meaty,” “healthy,” and “sweetie.” However, most popular here are salt, sugar, and fat. Which is evident by a poll I did on the dozens of fingers present that day — 80% went for “meaty,” “sweetie,” and “crispy.” And they highly recommended “cakey” things, which include the Lithuanian potato pancakes, saline with a charred, greasy exterior, the cod fishcakes, somewhat lighter, and the classic and classy nutty brownies. Runner up is “sandwichy” things, which include the veggie sliders with a fried eggplant and cole slaw, the “Greenland on toast” with mayo-drenched shrimps and salmon roes, and of course, grilled cheese. The baddest babe on my table that day goes to the Nordic Venison Ribs, glazed in glistening smoked berry coulis, almost sticky and sinfully sweet.

 

Brunch hours: Sunday, 11:30am - 4pm

Address: 130 Bĕijīng East Road, 6/F (北京东路130号中实大厦6楼)

 

Unrecognizable Italian: 10 Corso Como

 

Vogue girl Carla Sozzani founded 10 Corso Como as a fashionable concept store attached a gastro-gallery. “Gastro-gallery,” which in itself sounds like a concept instead of a real thing. But it’s headed up by the very real Chef Corrado Michelazzo’s smoke-and-mirrors molecular gastronomy, which earned him a Michelin star back in Piedmont, Italy.

 

Budget: 398 RMB for 10 tasting courses with free flow fresh juice, + 129  RMB to make that free flow Prosecco Alturis. Did I mention that buys you one Michelin star?

 

Food: The 10-course tasting brunch starts with one yielding oyster in honey and vinegar, saved from fishy taste by a hint of wasabi. You’re likely to overlook the fact that it tastes slightly of licorice, since the decor just looks so nice and conceptual. Most impressive, in my opinion, is the one minimalistic dish #9, the Ossobuco, and it shows how good the star chef actually is — He deconstructed a traditional Milanese recipe for cross-cut veal shanks, separating one cube of off-the-bone tender meat from an original broth reduction, using the latter as dipping and garnish. The result is steakhouse-quality medium rare meat, with tiny cheese fritters that crunch and then melt in your mouth. It is as if the cooking process takes place in there. And if you still have an appetite at this point, you will be rewarded! Generous portions of desserts come literally in a picnic basket: a jar of cocoa mousse, a shot glass of fresh mascarpone, two classic Italian biscotti, and one “Corso Como” chocolate hazelnut truffle — two if you ask politely.

 

Brunch hours: Sunday, 11:30am - 3pm

Address: 1717 Nánjīng West Road, 5/F, North Plaza (南京西路1717号会德丰国际广场北苑5楼)

 

Modern & Spanish: Estado Puro

 

Spanish celebrity chef Paco Roncero’s baby in Shanghai. One walks in reasonably expecting tapas largely unchanged from their Madrid origins. And maybe, if you’re lucky, a tall, dark stranger bar-hopping in Xintiandi.

 

Budget: Things are a la carte here. Skip the eggs (58 RMB), be it fried, Benedict, or scrambled, and skip the Wagyu burger (118 RMB). The best bargains are the 78 RMB dishes.

 

Food: “The Spanish Deal” (78 RMB) has three Spanish breakfast staples in one. First, the Iberian ham shoulder drizzled in extra virgin olive oil, with a slightly rubbery texture. Next, a disk-sized Spanish potato omelette with eggs pouring out to meet mushy potato and diced chorizo. Third and last, a mini Russian salad, which is much creamier than the Russian version but is acceptable at brunch — root vegetables to tuna mayonnaise, the ratio is about 1:1.5, which I would describe as an indulgence to regret later. In comparison, the “Norwegian salmon” is equally sized, equally priced, but much healthier —  with arugula, lentils, and avocado slices. It is 4 strips of fillets seasoned with salt, seared until skin crisps. Crumbles of cottage cheese are mixed in to cleanse the palette.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11am - 3pm

Address: 181 Tàicāng Road, Blk 22/23, North Plaza (太仓路181弄23号新天地北里)

 

When Vienna Pushes Boundaries: Daliah


 

Daliah is somewhere between a fruit-and-veggie drink bar and a swing-and-slide theme park. I have seen adults come here and bringing kids, presumably to have moments of peace and maybe to shed some fat and grease.

 

Budget: Sets range from 108 RMB to 148 RMB. Contains an egg-based main dish, a house-made pastry, and a dessert — either a fruit salad or a natural yogurt.

 

Food: Eggs Daliah (128 RMB) manages to stand out in a town full of orange yolks and smoked salmon, and here are reasons: the hollandaise tastes rich, with a large portion of yolks that give it thick consistency, the muffin is interestingly chewy, almost like a teething rusk but counterbalancing the fresh and yielding salmon perfectly. I especially liked that Daliah snuck some spinach in underneath, sautéed with much salinity. The result is like a mouthful of the Atlantic. Also wonderful is Shakshouka (128 RMB), which is essentially a fancy way of saying two eggs poached in tomato sauce. A bit like the Italian Marinara but spicy, without garlic. The extra chunks of bell peppers and onions make it slightly different from the original Israeli recipe, fun to scoop up alongside egg and sauce with a strip of pita bread.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday and Sunday, 10am - 3pm

Address: 408 Shăanxī North Road, near Bĕijīng West Road (陕西北路408号, 近北京西路)

 

Pair with French: Le Bordelais


 

The Southern French are known for minimalist work on the freshest ingredients. But since we’re in Shanghai, lucky us will have ducky foie gras and truffles from Yunnan.

 

Budget: 168 RMB for five courses. Bottomless tea, coffee, and fruit juice. +45 RMB for free flow house wine (worth it, since this is a famed wine bistro with imports from Bordeaux, even the cheapest bottle should be very good).

 

Food: The welcome pastry canelé ranks first in the triumvirate of baguette, farmers bread, and Bordeaux-specific house-made pastries. It is airy inside, tasting richly of yolks and sugar, and the exterior is charred and contrastingly bitter. Goes nicely with even diluted American caffeine. And it seems like the charcuterie platter has every necessary sign of being good: rosette sausage is high in salt and fat, counterbalanced by the alkaline blandness and snappy texture of two other hams. But the drawback is the spreads — you cannot distinguish the muscle fibers in tuna rillette, so it’s a flavorless mash. The hot platter saves the day: the gourmet soft-boiled egg holds a piece of foie gras seared until skin turns pale brown and is charred on the edges. It tastes of flaky sea salt and strong pepper, melting in your mouth like whipped cream, luxuriant and silky. The truffle sandwich is like a premium grilled cheese, crispy breads infused with truffle oil from Yunnan. Dessert is an airy yogurt mousse in peach coulis, like a cool cloud in a mouthful, consisting only of milk and egg whites.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday, Sunday, and national holidays 11:30am - 3pm

Address: 99 Bĕijīng East Road, no.1-07 (北京东路99号益丰·外滩源107室)

550 Wǔdìng Road, near Shaanxi North Road (武定路550号,近陕西北路)

2/F, 301 Jiāshàn Road, near Jiànguó West Road (嘉善路301号2F,近建国西路)

 

Mount Everest of Sugar Highs: Charlie’s Burger


 

Charlie’s 1.0: A Pacific of ranch and fat, with crispy brioche buns carrying elemental, primal patties of chuck and sirloin.

Charlie’s 2.0 (since May 2016): Repeat every point made above, and add to that — pescatarian-, vegetarian-, and brunch-friendly new burgers!

 

Budget: 35 - 65 RMB. A la carte.

 

Food: Depending on if you like food measured in hands: like the Super Fillet-O-Fish (55 RMB) is a three-handed burger. It is a juice-oozing tilapia thick-cut coated in light gold batter, which is crunchy but not starchy. Your teeth knock through this thin barrier, and fish inside breaks into defined strips of warm tenderness in your mouth. Before all that, however, I suggest crushing and mashing the soft guacamole and irregular-shaped shrimp chips. It save you from the need for a third set of jaws. And this balance between soft and hard is key, something you will remember long after you burn off 500 or so calories. The Breakfast Burger is not for the light weight — a fried over easy so expansive that it virtually grabs the cheesy tater tots underneath. And to complement a hot gooey yolk running down, the base layer of “chorizo” sausage patty is coarse and grainy, made from a blend of ground pork and Sichuan sweet sausages. I especially like the milkshakes, now containing even higher calories, like a spatula of peanut butter plus an actual half of a house-made fudge brownie.

 

Brunch hours: All day, every day (a part of the regular menu)

Address: 89 Chángshú Road, near Jùlù Road (常熟路89号, 近巨鹿路)

 

Well-Rounded, Authentic Latin: Azul


 

Pulled pork in tomato bread is from Spain. Ceviche in tiger’s milk is from Peru. But should they line up for a pageant, I would not know which one to choose.

 

Budget: 158 RMB for two courses, +20 RMB for a third course. Ideal to share, say, 2 sets among 3 people. Set covers a hot drink and a cold one, including cocktails and smoothies. +100 RMB for free flow Margarita.

 

Food: The Peruvian Chicken Causa has every sign of a great potato salad — to break up the crumbly consistency of Yukon gold potato mash, you have avocado chunks, warm and creamy, and hand-shredded chicken, chilled and almost chewy. Every mouthful is different, depending on which bit your fork happens to pick up — to me, that’s the magic. And as a main dish, Spanish Eggs is essentially Spanish pork three-ways — fried belly, cured sausage, and shoulder ham — and every bit hugged together by an 8-minute runny egg. The thick wedge shape of the potatoes on the side means they will not have the overall crispiness of thinner diner fries. They have fat from the fried pork belly “dried” into the edges, so the exterior is crispy and charred, while the interior is safely soft and moist. Something equally gratifying but lighter is the Peruvian Breakfast — salsa veggies on top of an over-easy and Argentinian tenderloin. And at the bottom of this breakfast bowl is risotto-like, oblong slab called tacu-tacu, uniquely PeruvianIts exterior is grilled golden-yellow,and the inside soaks up a rich soy and ginger beef broth to become moist, oozing juice, like a meatless patty, but as good as a meaty one.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays 11am - 4pm

Address: 378 Wŭkāng Road, 8/F (武康路378号8楼)

 

Money = Quality: Franck Bistrot


 

They hold a blackboard with daily menu written all in français and will painstakingly, enthusiastically, tirelessly explain each French dish in a French way — chin up, chest up, corners of the mouth up. Which, to be honest, is where half of your money goes.

 

Budget: 298 RMB for 3-4 appetizers, 1 choice of main, and 3 desserts. Bonus: without kids under 12 years of age (forbidden).

 

Food: There is no better way to finish a weekend than with larger-than-seems-normal, or advisable, portions of appetizers and desserts. To start, strips of white asparagus soak in a buttery bath of minced shallots. Then, the charcuterie board is a balance of salt and fat, neither too much, topped by rockets. The tuna rilette — unlike the runny versions in most other French restaurants — is actually in defined chunks, looking as if it was recently fluffed up by fork. It is chewy but yielding, complemented perfectly by snappy, vinegary chopped onions in a fresh squeeze of lemon. For main dish, tatare de boeuf costs 90 RMB more than the other four options, which range from eggs to fish, but an investment in this beef is highly recommended. It skillfully dodges what befalls many a tartars: too much acidity. (Since red meat is already highly acidic, stuffing chopped capers, pickles, plus lemon in there just does not make sense.) And the tartar sauce is still the original recipe, for a very good reason — tangy Dijon mustard from Dijon counterbalances the sweet acidity of ketchup and 2/3 of a yolk; the consistency is thick, hijacked by a pickle and a sun-dried caper here and there. Also wonderful is the chocolate mousse to finish: 70% cocao Valrhona, dense and rich, adorned with original dark chips.

 

Brunch hours: Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays 11:30am - 3pm

Address: 376 Wŭkāng Road (武康路378号)

 

Find Your Zen: Thought for Food


 

Between a Frankfurt chef and an LA nutritionist, Thought for Food has figured out a way to make oil-free meat and super herbs and spices taste decent. Even enjoyable. Even memorable — even mouthwatering, now I remember it.

 

Budget: 298 RMB for four portion-controlled main courses, or 188 RMB for one. Both include healthy salad buffet and counter dessert selections.

 

Food: The focus on herbs and petals, fermented vegetables, and organic proteins stays unchanged, even though menu varies every other week. But if you’re lucky, you will experience the Smoked Salmon Tartar — house-smoked salmon, red not pink, yielding instead of gloppy, is “cooked” in pickles, honey miso balls, and leaves of shiso — one spoonful may be soy savory and honey sweet, and the next palette-cleansingly minty. And all of these flavors contrast with a lactic acidity from lacto fermented cucumber purée, on the side and skirting the raw fish, rich as milk but much less pungent than vinegar. And the Grilled Atlantic Mackerel is amazing too, more consistent in taste than the tartar — a bitter smokiness of mackerel with skin on complements the natural sweetness of organic carrot purée. The result is a poetic surf and turf, creaminess massaged into chunky muscle fibers. And something to mention is their dessert counter: rich coconut milk with grapefruit pieces and dark chocolate in the shape of mushroom heads, just to name a couple, are guilt free and delicious.

 

Brunch hours: Sunday only, 11:30am - 3pm

Address: 357 Jiànguó West Road (建国西路357号)

 

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