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Archive for April 30th, 2009

Edwardian pie-and-mash shop interior of Shanghai restaurant in Dalston

Edwardian pie-and-mash shop interior of Shanghai restaurant in Dalston

A few weeks ago, on our way to Mangal Ocakbasi to pig out on tasty grilled meats, Jon and I once again passed Shanghai Restaurant on Kingsland Rd.

Two things have always made us curious about Shanghai: (1) we wondered if it served good xiao long bao (for which we will travel far and wide); and (2) the interior is gorgeous – colored-glass dome skylights, intricate tilework, marble-topped bar and dark wood booths.

So last weekend, on our way to check out Victoria Park (it’s truly amazing how you can live in London for years and still not have seen everything), we decided to try the dim sum at Shanghai.

There were lots of Chinese families in the back dining room (which is run-down-looking and furnished with the large round tables you normally see in Chinese restaurants), and lots of hipster (non-Chinese) guys hanging out along the bar, waiting for their takeaway. An interesting mix.

As we tend to do at dim sum, Jon and I ordered up a storm. The best of the dim sum was the luo bo gao (radish cake), which isn’t saying much given how simple it is to make, but at least it was served fresh from the pan, crispy on the outside and silky-smooth on the inside, with bits of shredded radish in there.

In contrast, all the prawn dishes (har gau, cheung fun) were packed with prawns, but sadly, the prawns didn’t taste like anything. Where I expected sweet, firm prawn flavor, I found only chewy blankness. Not good. Taro and yam croquettes were served lukewarm (a no-no when we’re talking about fried foods, wouldn’t you say?); black bean spare ribs were all fat and no kick; and shu mai were also all-fat-no-meat.

disappointing xiao long bao at Shanghai restaurant

disappointing xiao long bao at Shanghai restaurant

The worst was the xiao long bao. I mean, the place is called Shanghai, home of the xiao long bao! And *the above* is the best they could do? I could look past their shriveled ugliness if they were juicy-soupy on the inside, but alas, no soup to be found. The minced-pork-shitake-mushroom filling would’ve made a really excellent wonton, but it made for a rather poor xiao long bao. Contrast the photo above with the beauties here at Leong’s Legend, and you see how far off Shanghai was.

Based only on dim sum, Shanghai isn’t worth a re-visit. But we did order one item off the “regular food” menu, a rice dish served with pork and preserved fish, and it turned out to be quite good. Simple, hot and filling, and less than £5 – check it out:

pork and preserved fish, served with white rice

pork and preserved fish, served with white rice

The salty-meatiness of the pork and the preserved fish was perfect with fragrant white rice. And I always love a bit of scallion to lighten things up.

So because the front dining room is so pretty and atmospheric, the service so efficient and sweet, and this one rice dish so simple and good, I might go back to Shanghai the next time Dalston is on my way somewhere (rare). But I definitely won’t go back for the dim sum.

I normally don’t bother trashing on small, “unknown” places (since really, it’s hard enough running a mom-and-pop business without someone on the Internet giving you grief), but as I googled around for info on the restaurant to write this post, I saw that Shanghai seems to have serious financial backers as well as a loyal following (just look it up on Qype, TrustedPlaces, etc.). So they’re not the little ol’ underdog I thought they were, and therefore (I think), fair game.

Most dim sum dishes were £3-£4, so our (enormous) meal for two totaled £30.

Shanghai, 41 Kingsland High Street, E8 2JS; 0207 254 9322; closest station: Kingsland overground (or a 15-minute bus ride from Highbury & Islington tube station).
Shanghai on Urbanspoon

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