I squeezed in a Shanghai weekend on my most recent trip to Beijing, and lived out the 36 Hour Food Marathon that I preached in an earlier post. Joining me in the shenanigans was my friend Tracey, who was happy to oblige when I asked her to come along for FREE. You see, I entered a contest a while back on CNNGo, asking readers to submit an overlooked restaurant in their Best Eats rankings in different cities. My entry for Gogawon for Shanghai, and the prize was a two night stay at the HoJo Plaza by the nice folks over at CNNGo. Of course, the stay wouldn’t have been complete without another visit to Goga to celebrate, so that’s what we planned. A weekend of leisure and repose, mixed in with some good food and wine.
What ended up transpiring was something I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest, most excessive dreams.
We did it big. Everything was over the top. Largess was the word, and we stopped short of nothing. There was free flow champagne and cigarettes. There was a cheese chamber. Tasting menus followed larger tasting menus. We napped to eat again. And somewhere in a mini fridge of the HoJo sits the remainder of a 900 RMB Chaozhou fish, stupidly forgotten by yours truly.
I admit that for days after, it was hard to live and eat like mere mortals.
The weekend began with a restaurant I’ve heard about for a while now, Howard’s Kitchen out in Changning district. I was shown in to a small room with table set for two and Tracey joined soon afterwards with suitcases in tow, fresh from Hongqiao airport. Service was impeccable from the first moment, our tea cups were kept filled with Tieguanyin and cold appetizers of cooked peanuts, cucumbers, and dried mustard greens were brought immediately. The only thing a bit off putting was the LCD screen on the wall with rotating images of luxury advertisements from Bugatti and Prada. Perhaps its purpose was subliminal messaging, to make you think yea, you’re in the right place, keep ordering.
Chaozhou cuisine originates from the north-eastern area of Guangdong province and is heavy on seafood and vegetables. Dishes aren’t seasoned as liberally as other cuisines so quality and freshness of ingredients are of utmost importance. I found the flavours rich but not overpowering, The fish (pictured on top) tasted impossibly fresh. Steamed, cured and chilled to dip in a dish of ??? shachajiang, a savoury sauce made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilis, fish and dried shrimp.
Some of the most beautiful dishes were also the most simple. A bowl of fresh seasonal greens in broth, deep friend silken chunks of tofu, braised carrots, and foie gras fried rice for example. The waiter helped us order a good balance of dishes, and the only truly expensive dish was the fish, but if not careful one can easily ring up a hefty tab. We left feeling satiated but with considerably lighter pockets.
The next night we took our seats at the bar of Goga and waited to see what Brad Turley was serving up. You can read more about Turley and Goga here. The best thing about this place is how tight the space is. There was no walking space between my bar stool and the lady’s chair behind me, and you are forced to strike up conversation with your neighbours, because you are quite possibly sitting on their lap.
I order a pinot grigio and Tracey a sauvignon blanc. We are told that Brad is still upstairs but has prepared a special menu for us. No need to order.
The sous chefs get started on preparing our meal and we get a front row seat to the action. There were blow torches, long japanese knives, multiple pans of sauces, and fresh cuts of tuna flying around in the tiny open air kitchen.
The first dish was a seared tuna on rice, marinated in shiso broth and topped with micro greens. Simple. Perfect. One bite and I’m in heaven. Brad said this is the one dish he could eat every day for the rest of his life, and I would second that. The dishes came quickly and were consumed just as quickly after that. There was beef, there was cod, there was pasta, there was chicken, there was more tuna. At one point we started sharing with the diners next to us and everyone had a merry time lubricated with a lot of good wine.
Brad came in and made his rounds, joking and cajoling with every table as is his style. Everyone feels like an old friend at Goga. Friends who are often reluctant to leave at the end of a night, after being taken care of all night by the host. A few of the other patrons were also friends of Brads, and we took the party upstairs to an as yet unfinished rooftop space he just acquired in the building next door. There we played quarters with 1rmb coins and expensive beer until people started to pass out and it was a wise idea to go home.
But go home we didn’t.
Mr. & Mrs. Bund
I’ll keep this short, because there really isn’t anything to report.
According to Tracey, when we left Goga (at oh, 3 am), I insisted on going to have Mr & Mrs Bund’s late night menu. We hopped in a cab and ended up in front of the imposing building on the Bund. At which point I woke up and asked where we were and why on earth we were having another meal. That decision will forever remain a mystery to you and I both, my friend, you and I both. Since we were already there, we had more drinks at Bar Rouge and edged our way into Mr & Mrs Bund just as they were closing. Somehow it was communicated to the kitchen that there were two hungry girls who demanded multiple courses of fine French food and VITE! The staff got to work.
Unfortunately I got as far as ordering the food before I sank to sleep in an extremely comfortable armchair. (In my defence it had been a long week.) And thus began the greatest feast that I can’t remember. The only evidence I have of the meal is the below photo, a receipt, and Tracey’s assurance that I was force fed a few mouthfuls at every course. We left at 6 am.
Some detective work revealed our meal: 1 bacon caesar salad, 1 beef carpaccio. 1 croque madame, 1 beef bourguignon, 1 tomato salad, 1 spinach with garlic and 2 glasses Moet brut.
Needless to say, I need to go back and redeem myself.
Our last morning, we trekked out to the newly opened Kerry Hotel in Pudong to try the much-hyped new brunch extravaganza called “The Cook”. If you want to sit in the lap of Shanghai’s luxurious excess, you can’t do better than a 5 star hotel brunch. New ones keep popping up, so they are needing to become a bit more innovative, to stand out from the rest.
The newly opened Kerry Hotel is a display of a well-funded establishment looking to make a big impression. There are probably ten cooking stations all together, offering every cuisine you can think of, and boast the best cheese selection in town. According to my friend C St Cavish, a French affineur named Philippe Olivier hunts down small-batch cheeses across France, aging them in his cheese caves in Brittany, and supplies the whole range to The Cook and other places in Shanghai.
Upon entry, you are given a personal card, which you swipe in exchange for whatever goodies you want, and the food is brought to your table without you having to lift a finger. Those smart people at The Cook really know how to get you. Credit cards are my greatest weakness.
The other problem with this system is that you don’t communicate with fellow diners while you’re out pillaging the cooking stations, so you end up with 2 or 3 or 4 of everything. Our table of four couldn’t support the torrent of food that arrived, and we had to request side tables.
The food wasn’t great, save for the cheese, but that is to be expected at a hotel brunch in Shanghai. What was truly abysmal though, was the service. These are early days, so perhaps forgivable, but waiting 45 minutes for the bill is never ok. We were not alone in thinking the service was horrendous. One gentleman was so fed up in fact, that he threw a plate on the ground to protest. The novelty and excitement of that kerfuffle passed quickly, and we were back to grumbling about our bill, threatening to start throwing plates ourselves.
And so that wraps up another episode of “Weekends with Jenny”. As my friends can tell you, its not for the faint of heart.
1 Yueyang Lu, near Dongping Lu, Shanghai
House 2, Lane 1829 Hongqiao Lu, near Shuichen Lu
The Kerry Hotel, No.1388 Hua Mu Road, Pudong, Shanghai
The Shanghai Binge: Howard’s Kitchen, Goga, The cook – JING THEORY