1. Bites and Bottle-O
This cosy space serves a well-curated menu of hearty, unpretentious tapas dishes. Standouts include the Thunder Pork, a strip of roasted pork belly with a super-crispy crust, a sinfully unctuous layer of fat and immaculately tender meat; the incredibly addictive garlic prawns; white wine clams; roasted bone marrow; and beef ribs with potato mash so good you’d be vying to polish the bowl off.
Owners Anthony Chow and Joey Cheong are self-taught cooks who used to ply their trade in the advertising industry. The eatery features one Singaporean dish every weekend (chef Cheong hails from the Lion City) that comes with a slight modern twist. The bistro’s wine selection, too, is impressive.
While it has been around only for slightly less than a year, the bistro has gained a considerable fan base, so it’s best to make a reservation before heading over. The ground floor sits up to only 20 people, and that’s already quite a squeeze.
There are private rooms on the upper level that can host large groups – just speak to either of the two friendly chefs.
246 Danshui Rd
2. Lin Long Fang
No trip to Shanghai would be complete until you’ve eaten the city’s famous xiao long bao. While it’s certainly not hard to find a place that sells these delicate meat dumplings, there are only a handful that can be considered to be in a league of their own.
The problem with the perennial favourites such as Jia Jia Tang Bao is that you often have to brave long queues to get in. But here, at this small eatery, customers are often able to find seats within a few minutes.
That is not to say the dumplings here are any less delicious. Besides the fact that Lin Long Fang is the acclaimed Jia Jia Tang Bao’s sister establishment (and hence has a reputation to upkeep), it was rated among Shanghai’s top xiaolongbao eateries by American chef and dumpling fanatic Christopher St Cavish in his book, The Shanghai Soup Dumpling Index.
The must-haves here are the salted egg yolk and crab roe dumplings. Oh, don’t forget the deceptively simple scallion noodles too.
10 Jian Guo Dong Rd
3. Jackie’s Beer Nest
There are many craft-beer bars in Shanghai, but none of them have a charm as special as this one. Nestled in an old-school neighbourhood a few minutes from the glitzy luxury malls, this hole-in-the-wall drinking spot serves more than 30 beers on tap and a wide variety of bottled options.
Run by the affable Jackie Zhou, this intimate place sits no more than 15 people, though small chairs and tables often get set up along the sidewalk during peak periods. The place stocks an incredibly diverse selection that changes every few months, with creations by independent breweries from New Zealand, Denmark and Belgium among the lot.
The beauty of this establishment’s limited space is that patrons, most of whom are avid beer lovers instead of white-collar yuppies, inadvertently end up chatting with one another. So, besides getting to taste fantastic brews from around the world, you’re likely to make new friends too.
Make sure you have cash on hand, because cards aren’t accepted.
76 Zhaozhou Rd
4. Cafe del Volcan
It is certainly one of the smallest speciality coffee joints in Shanghai – it sits no more than five people – but Cafe del Volcan goes a long way to show how size doesn’t matter.
Situated on a bustling stretch of pubs and restaurants, it was founded in 2012 by Nils Weisensee, a self-dubbed coffee fanatic, whose eye for detail may probably be attributed to the fact that he’s German and a former correspondent for the Associated Press.
Besides importing coffee beans from Ethiopia, Sumatra and Costa Rica, Weisensee also sources a large part of his stash from a famous plantation in Guatemala that is owned by the family of his business partner. His other quality-control measures include roasting the beans in-house, hiring only full-time baristas and conducting regular training and tasting sessions for his staff.
This cafe is all about the coffee, so don’t expect sandwiches, cakes or desserts. Its small selection of cookies, however, is divine.
80 Yongkang Rd
5. Madison Kitchen
Many a local foodie shed a tear when the casual fine-dining restaurant Madison closed down a couple of years ago. Word on the street was that chef Austin Hu would be making a comeback at a different location.
It’s now official – he’s back, albeit with a completely different concept. While it looks as if Hu has chosen to downsize his operations with Madison Kitchen, a tiny sandwich outpost located along one of Shanghai’s busiest streets, he has stayed true to his roots in contemporary American cuisine. Almost everything here is handmade in its cosy kitchen, from the bread and other baked items to its salads.
The roast beef and horseradish sandwich is a moreish delight, as is the eggs and ham option. If you’re in the mood for something a little more extravagant, get the 100 yuan (US$15) lobster roll – you won’t regret it.
1414 Huaihai Middle Rd
– TEXT BY ALYWIN CHEW
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.