Category Archives: eating out

The Freshary: natural-vegan-organic-environmentally friendly desserts?

I first heard about The Freshary back in March, but only made my way to the environmentally-conscious, all-natural, part-kosher, certified-organic vegan dessert shop on Julu Lu a few weeks ago. It was a sunny, ice-cream-perfect Friday afternoon and I was to meet Sean there for some sweet treats.

I’d been curious about this place for a while. The organic movement is only just starting to catch on here, environmental issues don’t seem to ring loud in the public’s mind, and vegan — well, that’s a hard sell in most places, let alone the pork-loving city that is Shanghai. Clearly this shop isn’t trying to go mainstream, but it did open its second store within six months of their initial SML Center opening. Who is their market? Mostly westerners with a sweet tooth and dietary restrictions?

The shop was devoid of customers when I arrived, so I started chatting with one of the servers inside. The first non-meat-eating Chinese I’ve met here, she was friendly and eager to share her favourite restaurants and how-I-became-vegan story (environmental reasons). When asked how she deals with social occasions with non-veggies, she told me that she often brings her own food when dining out with friends. When going for hotpot, she will request a pot of boiling water in lieu of a “meat/bone”-broth — which is brilliant, actually, since I don’t care much for the ubiquitous chemical-laden soup bases either, and much prefer to flavour my hotpot catches with (perhaps equally chemical-ridden) sauces. I wonder if she gets charged for the water, though. She also has a bunch of vegan friends (and boyfriend), which kinda amazed me. The chat was refreshing and gave me a welcome glimpse into the emerging environment-conscious scene in China.

Anyway, Sean soon arrived and we decided to share a vanilla-black sesame ice cream (you can also get the flavours separately). Their standard soft serve in a regular cone is 25 RMB, but since we were accidentally served a huge portion in a glass and then ordered a chocolate cone on top (which was delicious), it somehow came to 30 RMB.

The ice cream was closer to the texture of frozen yogurt, substantial and lightly sweet without being heavy or cloying, which made it quite refreshing. I liked the flavour of the black sesame, but wish the vanilla flavour could’ve come out stronger. Some would find it too bland, but this is probably the way ice-cream should be — we’ve all just been spoiled by high fructose corn syrup. Because there are no preservatives, we were told, it melts more quickly than regular ice-cream, so I’m not sure how it would’ve fared outdoors.

The Freshary’s website says you can get a free “minnie muffin” with the purchase of an ice cream, but it turned out there was no free muffin. Since we were there, though, we decided we might as well try them, and chose the blueberry and the peanut butter-jelly muffins (15 RMB for 2; 23 RMB for chocolate ones) from 8-10 different flavours. They were mini indeed — less than 2 inches in diameter — and tasted… healthy. Like whole grain and real ingredients healthy, the kind of muffin you could eat for breakfast and not feel guilty about — a far cry from City Shop’s sweet, greasy, indulgent cake-like affairs. Which was great, but at the price, the muffins were a little too bite-sized to become my breakfast staple.

The shop also sells chocolates, pretzels, and other baked goods, which we didn’t try. During the hour that we were there, one other couple (western guy and Chinese woman, surprise) came in and sat down. It seemed to me that with their location off bustling Jing’an on quiet Julu Road, it might take a little more than impressive certifications — a bigger drinks list, perhaps, and slightly lowered prices — to draw a steady in-store clientele. Of course, I was only there on a random Friday afternoon; for all I know the place could be packed on a weekend evening (I hope so!).

Since I can eat eggs and dairy, the Baker and Spice downstairs from my office will likely remain my go-to for splurging on baked goods. That said, being a fan of The Freshary’s forward-thinking values and practices, the shop’s decor and friendly service, I’ll be back next time I’m in the neighbourhood and craving something healthfully sweet.

The Freshary

Julu Road
907 Julu Lu near Changshu Lu
(21) 6445-2137

SML Center
618 Xujiahui Lu, B2, T-3
(21) 6093-8282



Filed under eating out, restaurants - vegetarian

Vegetarians need not visit Cantonese Uncle (表叔)

I may have mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: Cantonese and vegetarian don’t mix. Cantonese food, compared with probably all the other regional cuisines in China, is terribly vegetarian-unfriendly. Sure, there are the Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, but outside of those you are basically screwed. Tonight, the second time I’ve gone for Cantonese cha canting-style food since going off meat, was a disheartening reminder of that fact.

It used to be that whenever I was face-to-face with a menu at any Cantonese/Hong Kong style diner, my head would reel with indecision because everything looked so appealing: Char siu on rice? Greasy beef chow fun? Fujian fried rice? Soy sauce chicken? Hainanese chicken? Chicken congee? Curry beef brisket? One of each, please!

And that boring, overpriced plate of blanched lettuce/kai lan/choi sum that’s kind of a chore to eat but the only green item on the menu? I can go without if you can.

I grew up with this food (along with non-cha canting Canto cuisine), first as a tot in Hong Kong, then as an immigrant in uber-Cantonesey Vancouver, and then back in HK before I headed to Philadelphia for college, where I was able to get this stuff on the occasional trip to Chinatown (thank you Sang Kee). This food is a taste of home, a reminder of family, a source of comfort. It’s in my blood (perhaps literally).

I was brought up steeped in the food culture of one of the meat-lovingest regions on the planet, where roast duck and pork are ubiquitous but snake and cat and scorpion are all fair game, and the joy of eating revolves around meat. So it makes me very uneasy that my desire to positively contribute to the environment by rejecting meat necessitates a breaking away from this culture. Tonight at Uncle (表叔), a Guangzhou cha canting chain that recently made it to Shanghai (complete with Cantonese-speaking servers), I was faced with an inner conflict: the rational-ideological, that dutifully reminded me why I stopped eating meat, versus the cultural-emotional, that said HEY! This is home, this is what you love and crave. Are you sure you can give it up forever? Look, don’t these dishes all sound familiar and delicious?

They sounded familiar alright, but tonight I couldn’t dwell on their pleasurable properties. My eyes did not linger on the chicken and duck hanging by the window. Sean and I first scoured the extensive menu for savoury meatless dishes, which led us to a whopping three items under “Vegetables” and a plain cheung fun with hoisin/sesame suace. Then we looked for dishes we could “turn” vegetarian, and finally settled on a Fujian fried rice and a fried rice noodle, hold the meat. We don’t want meat. Is there shrimp in the rice? Put it on the side. Yes, talk to the cook.

The vibe at Uncle was casual and comforting, the toy model display of old-school Hong Kong buses and taxis endearing, but the food at this place wasn’t even great. The fried rice noodles, which looked crispy in the picture, was soaked in soy sauce and laden with strips of ham (c’mon, ham?!? if you’re going to ignore my request, at least do it right with shredded pork); the Fujian fried rice was over-salted and overloaded with squid, shrimp, and imitation crab; the pineapple bun was not crunchy or chewy (Tsui Wah still wins); and the greens in broth with preserved and salted egg was bland and one-dimensional — and topped with generic meat bits. The cheung fun was pretty good, though the sauces were watered down. Sean and I picked and danced our way around the meat, which likely made our friend at least slightly uncomfortable.

I dislike eating with picky eaters, but recently realized, to my horror, that I’ve become one myself. More so now than during any of my temporary diets in the past, I feel torn between my love of food — and the hearty, no-holds-barred meal– and the principles I’ve set up to guide my consumption. If we are what we eat, and eating meatlessly is shaping my current self, then my avoidance of the meat-centric food culture that has long been a part of me has also forged a dent in my identity. How much chipping away at a root before it can no longer hold up the tree?

Maybe I was just asking for trouble, dining at a Cantonese joint as a vegetarian. Thankfully there are other more veggie-friendly Chinese regional cuisines available in Shanghai, so I’ll let tofu and green beans and shredded potatoes keep me distracted until I visit my parents in Hong Kong this December…

Uncle (表叔茶餐厅)
456 Huichuan Lu near Kaixuan Lu
汇川路456号 近凯旋路
(21) 5273-6797


Filed under eating out, food news & issues, restaurants - non-vegetarian

All-you-can-eat that’s not meat: Jendow Vegetarian buffet (人道素菜)

Let’s face it: almost all all-you-can-eat deals around are, at best, not great value if you don’t eat meat, or, at worst, as with Brazilian BBQ buffets with their mobile meat servers, downright hostile to vegetarians. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never enjoy a lavish buffet at a 5-star hotel again. Sad, but ultimately good for my wallet and waistline.

Well, turns out there’s an innovation for every need. Jendow Vegetarian (人道素菜) is an upscale buffet establishment with several locations in vegetarian-friendly Taiwan (where it first opened in 1982) and one in Shanghai. Hidden away next to Long Hua Temple in Xuhui District, the restaurant is unassuming, even unappetizing, from the outside, but upon entering one is transported to a large, tastefully furnished hotel-like dining area with a seemingly never-ending, well-presented array of food. The seats are quite comfortable, a must considering buffets are generally minimum two-hour affairs.

The buffet consists of maybe a dozen spreads like this, representing primarily Asian cuisines but with a couple western plates thrown in for good measure. Its offerings range from create-your-own salad to Chinese-style cold dishes, from a Japanese sushi/sashimi and tempura station to dimsum and Taiwanese snacks. There are also a couple of stations where cooks will make you a bowl of soup noodle, a plate of pasta, or a veggie hotpot on the spot. Drinks include juices, Chinese herbal teas, coffee, and even Hong Kong style milk tea. There is a bar closer to the entrance but it was unmanned the night Sean and I were there.

Considering it’s all vegetarian, the selection is impressive, even overwhelming, making it a hefty challenge to get to even close to all of it even if you get there when it opens and don’t leave til they start shooing you out (not that we tried).

We started with the soups, a pumpkin soup and a cream of mushroom. The pumpkin was good, but the latter, rich and creamy and full of several varieties of mushroom, was so amazing I had two bowls. Not your average Campbell’s.

We tried maybe half the dishes in total, tasting only a bit of each in order to save room for the next plate and getting seconds on the stuff we liked. From the Japanese station, the sushi was good; the “salmon sashimi” was bland and rubbery; the tempura and made-to-order handrolls were delicious. There were a lot of dishes — aloe slices, coral, pumpkin cheese — I’d never encountered before, even at vegetarian restaurants, and they were a bit hit and miss.

For some reason I got full pretty quickly, so I didn’t get to the made-to-order noodles and such. Out of the Asian main course section, there was a pumpkin fried noodle that warranted seconds, but most of the other hot dishes were either not particularly memorable or not available when I was up there (one staff told me they were getting refilled in the kitchen, but I didn’t go back to check).

We saved room for the vast array of desserts: all manners of cakes, puffs, donuts, jellies, Chinese sweet soups, an interesting custard cooked in an eggshell, “homemade” chocolates (i.e. dark chocolate-covered nuts), and Häagen-Dazs as well as an egg-free brand of ice-cream. Not sure why they didn’t find a truly vegan ice-cream, but one kid who we saw make at least 6 trips to the ice-cream freezer seemed quite the fan. Though eye-popping in variety, only a few of the desserts were actually of decent quality; after a while, all the cakes started tasting the same.

As we were there on a Tuesday evening, the crowd was a bit thin, meaning more attentive service but less frequent turnover for the dishes. By 8:30pm they were already packing up. While it seemed at times they were going for quantity over quality, as in the case of the desserts, there were enough solid choices to get me happily full, and enough that I’d left untasted that could warrant a return trip. At 168 RMB (148 RMB for lunch, 15% gratuity on public holidays), it’s not a cheap meal, but the classy environment and the very fact of it being a genuine all-you-can-eat for vegetarians (a minority of the food is off limits for vegans) make this a good place to go for a special occasion.

After dinner, we biked over to the newish Xuhui Riverside Public Open Space (a.k.a. Shanghai Corniche) for a digestive stroll. On that summer weekday evening it was populated with locals of all ages dancing, rock-climbing, walking off their dinners and in general enjoying the breeze on the spacious, peaceful promenade.

Jendow Vegetarian (人道素菜)
2787 Longhua Road, near Longhua West Road (by Long Hua Temple), Xujiahui
龙华路2787号 (龙华迎宾馆内,近龙华寺)
(21) 6457-2299
Lunch: 11:30-14:00 ~ Dinner:17:30-21:00 (get there early!)


Filed under eating out, restaurants - vegetarian

Cleansing the body and spirit at Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食)

Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食) is a vegetarian restaurant located on tranquil, tree-lined Xinhua Road. Its storefront window claims a menu free of mock meats, fried or deep-fried dishes, MSG, and carbonated beverages.

Wu Guan Tang is another name for zhai tang (斋堂), the hall where meals are taken by monks in a Buddhist temple. Wu Guan refers to the five observations a monk must keep in mind during the meal. (Some more info in English and Chinese.) And indeed, the interior of the restaurant evokes a serene, spiritual atmosphere — ironically hard to find in Shanghai’s touristy and money-grabbing temples — that encourages slow and thoughtful eating.

Sean and I had come here once before when our vegan friend came to visit over a year ago, but had somehow forgotten about it since then. Another friend of mine told me recently he’d tried the place and didn’t like it at all (too bland), which subtly kept me away until a reminder from an employee at vegan dessert shop The Freshary (which I’ll write about soon) inspired us to give it another go on Friday.

Their Chinese and English-Chinese menus are handwritten, showcasing daily selections of juice/congee/soy drink/etc. that repeat by week. Unfortunately, there are no pictures and the English names of many of the items aren’t very descriptive (e.g. “Mixed vegetable in sauce”), so it can be hard to make informed choices on a first visit unless you have done some research beforehand or ask the server for recommendations.

We started with two cold dishes, a refreshing Cold noodle in vinegar-pepper sauce (酸辣凉皮, 25 RMB) — mung bean strips with peanuts, walnuts, cucumber strips, and three sauces — and an Eggplant in sesame paste (麻酱茄条, 22 RMB), which was melt-in-your-mouth tender but barely tasted of sesame paste, if at all.

We also ordered two of their signature dishes. The Special baked potato (烤土豆, 18 RMB) is to die for: soft and buttery (not sure if they actually used butter though) with a thin, slightly chewy skin that’s full of flavour. The Steamed potato with carrots and pears (一品鲜, 28 RMB), more like mashed potato/carrot with slivers of mushroom served inside a large bell pepper, is also one to be savoured. A photo of this dish graces every English and Chinese webpage about this restaurant.

We also threw in a recommendation from the waitress, drawn in by the word “pita”. The Pita with kale borecole and wing beans (榄菜龙豆口袋饼, 35 RMB), with its funnily-shaped beans and inky sauce, looked a bit ominous at first, but was quite good with the warm pita pockets. We added a strip of cold eggplant to each pita to add textural variety.

All of these dishes exhibited delicate flavours that some may find too bland. But Sean, who likes to add salt to every other dish I make at home, really liked it, so this says something! In a quiet, secluded environment like this where loud flavours would be out of place, it is perhaps easier to find appreciation for a more subtle set of flavours. While I enjoy Vegetarian Lifestyle’s flavourful mock-meat dishes, there is only so much deep-fried bean product I can take in a month. I like that this restaurant dares to celebrate the vegetable for what it is, and to make vegetarian food truly light and healthful.

All in all, Wu Guan Tang is the place to go if you are in the mood for a clean, unpresuming, well-made meatless meal (and some killer potato dishes) in a relaxing environment, or if you’re a vegetarian looking for a break from oily mock meats. I’ve read that there’s an outdoor third floor dining space, and plan to check that out when the temperature starts to drop again and mozzies go back into hibernation.

Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食)
349 Xinhua Road, near Dingxi Road
(21) 6281-3695 (reservations recommended)

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A bad phone break-up with our neighbourhood Dongbei diner

I broke up with one of my favourite restaurants yesterday. I’d been collecting photos to write a positive review of this place, but what I already have will do for a farewell.

As Sean and I don’t eat out super often, there are few restaurants where we would be considered “regulars”. The one place we’ve found ourselves going back to again and again, and has in recent weeks become our Sunday night ritual, is a small Dongbei (Northeastern Chinese) restaurant at the back gate of East China Normal University, a pleasant 15-minute walk/5-minute bike ride from our apartment.

The love

Known for its jiaozi (dumplings) and other solid, cheap eats, Dong Bei Ren Jia (东北人家, a very generic name) is somewhat of an institution among nearby residents as well as current and former students at the university. Sean and I have written about it on CNNGo and I gushed about its caramelized sugar-coated sweet potato fritters in a long-ago post.

It used to be a tired, grubby place with a dozen or so tables and way too many bored-looking employees, but early this year, after its usual month-long Chinese New Year hiatus, half the space was turned into a fried chicken stall, while the other half was given a makeover, its staff and menu — including the fritters — trimmed and delivery made available.

We loved it for its homestyle dishes, cheap and delicious jiaozi (including 2 vegetarian varieties), and its reliable presence in the midst of constant change along the back gate food street. I’ve taken out-of-towners here despite its unimpressive decor. We had been devastated to hear a few months back that the food street was going to be demolished, but had been elated to learn the closures wouldn’t reach this restaurant. While its laoban (owner), a no-nonsense middle-aged woman who barks and spends most of the time reading a magazine at the cashier, is less than charming, we grew to appreciate her gruff manner as part of the experience. On one of our recent visits, she asked if we were vegetarian, and that’s when I thought, awesome, she recognizes us now! and began to get that fuzzy feeling of home: This had become our Chinese neighbourhood diner.

This past Sunday, we decided to try out their delivery since I wanted to make a cold appetizer at home. As free delivery requires a minimum 30 RMB order, we ordered 4 dozen jiaozi — 2 dozen chive & egg, 2 dozen zucchini & egg — for 32 RMB. The dumplings arrived, hit the spot; our love for the place grew.

The break-up

Then yesterday. I’d taken the day off to rest up at home, and we were both in the mood for jiaozi even though we’d had them just three days ago. I called up the place at 11:30am, but was told that they couldn’t deliver to our apartment since the laoban‘s son wasn’t around. Sean agreed to bike over to pick up the 4 dozen dumplings, so I told them fine, I’ll come pick it up.

Ten minutes after Sean left for the restaurant, I got a call from the laoban, demanding to know why I wasn’t there yet and if I was coming ’cause the food was getting cold. Puzzled, since I’d assumed Sean would’ve arrived by then, I told them “Will be there soon”. I called Sean immediately after hanging up, and he said he’d just picked up the food. Cool.

A few minutes later, I got a call back from the woman, who immediately started yelling at me. She asked if I’d sent a “foreign student” to come pick up the dumplings, and I said yes. Why didn’t you tell me on the phone?? You didn’t say you were sending a foreigner to get your food so we made another 4 dozen for you. Now we have 4 dozen jiaozi that’s going to go to waste. What kind of customer are you??

A bit confused — how did she not have a clue that Sean was there to pick up the food I’d ordered? — and not knowing how to fight back, I took a deep breath and simply said Sorry.

Which unleashed another round of barking that made it seem as if I had tricked her into cooking a duplicate order. Feeling personally attacked at this point, I told her her attitude was bad and I was never going back there again… to which she snapped, It doesn’t matter if you don’t come back. The point is you made me waste all this food.

To that, I suggested that she serve the food to someone else, and hung up.

This was outrageous. How likely was it that two different parties had placed the exact same (vegetarian, no less) order at the same time? She had misinterpreted the situation, given him “my” dumplings that were ready to go, then called me to ask if I was still coming before I knew Sean had already been there and left, and when I told her “will be there soon” had started making another batch. A communication mix-up that could’ve easily been avoided if she’d checked with Sean — or asked me straight out if I’d sent a “foreign student” — before doing anything with the food. (Sean told me later that he had told her “I ordered” not “I want to order” so it wasn’t even a language problem.)

And really, what kind of business would call a regular customer (I’m sure she figured out who were were) and scream at them, and then basically tell them I don’t want your business? Maybe I hadn’t been clear on the phone, but it was she who made the mistake, so why not swallow the loss rather than end the relationship over 32 RMB (which really could be salvaged if she fed the food to someone else)?

Perhaps that — her lack of business and common sense — is the reason half her store got taken over by a fried chicken take-out. Dongbei diner, it was lovely getting dinner with you, but you’ve given me no choice but to look elsewhere for my dumpling fix. I’ve ripped up your delivery menu and deleted your number so I won’t be tempted to call, and won’t be coming ’round to your parts again ’til I’m in love with another.

Bulldozer, come get ’em if you want.


Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian

A cool stop on a warm day: Bellagio (鹿港小镇)

The first time I ate at Bellagio was for lunch on an unexpectedly warm Christmas Eve, my first in Shanghai. When my friend Jen texted me the name and address of this place, I got a bit nervous: were we going to an expensive Italian restaurant in tourist-trap pricey Xintiandi?

Turns out Bellagio is a mid-range Taiwanese joint with a dessert and drinks menu as thick as (if not thicker than) their regular menu. While their savoury dishes didn’t impress me much and the bill was on the high end of my then-student budget, their shaved ice desserts were unforgettable. Since that meal, Sean and I have been back a couple times, to the Xintiandi location as well as its Xujiahui and Jing’an ones.

All three branches feel clean and trendy-casual, and look the same with their shiny black tables and shiny black chairs and uniformed waitresses sporting uniform pixie cuts. Their vegetarian selection (marked with a green leaf) is not large or particularly remarkable, but during my last few visits I’ve found a few decent dishes that justify having a full meal there (as opposed to going just for dessert). These are my picks for meatless eaters:

The string beans with salted duck egg (咸蛋四季豆, 29 RMB) is wonderfully crunchy and salty and perfect on rice. I could eat an entire plate of the stuff if I were ever to come here by myself…

They do a decent vegetarian spin on their famous three-cup chicken (三杯鸡, 49 RMB) with the three-cup abalone mushroom (三杯杏鲍菇, 36 RMB). The mushrooms are nice and chunky, but unfortunately do not absorb the flavours from the sauce as well as meat does.

The eggplant in clay pot (鱼香茄子煲, 38 RMB), a sweet, spicy, and oily veggie staple originating in Sichuan (not sure what it’s doing in a Taiwanese place), is another solid choice — but I’m usually a fan of this dish wherever I go :-)

For me, though, shaved ice desserts remain the single draw of this restaurant. If you’re not adverse to the idea of beans as dessert, the Bellagio Breeze (综合冰, 33 RMB) — a veritable mountain of shaved ice blanketed in red beans, mung beans, sugary pineapple, pearl tapioca (boba), and chewy taro balls, all infused with sweetened condensed milk — is king. Sean and I usually follow up two dishes and rice with one of these bad boys, and leave completely satisfied.

If you have more people in your party, the strawberry shaved ice is also a great pick.

The one thing that really irks me about this place is that they really pressure you to order their overpriced drinks, even when you ask for just water. Half the time they’ve outright refused to bring us water, and half the time they eventually brought us warm tap water. I realize that restaurants’ profits depend largely on selling beverages and desserts, but it’s always the higher-end, trendy places that refuse to give free tea or water.

In spite of this, since there’s a Bellagio less than a block from my office, I’ll be back many times this summer (armed with a bottle of water, shhh), and maybe discover a few more worthwhile vegetarian dishes!

Bellagio (multiple locations)
Jing’an branch
111 Xikang Lu (西康路111号)
(21) 6247-2666

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Veggie Burger quest IV: Gourmet Cafe

Two Mondays ago some coworkers, Sean, and I hit up the Gourmet Cafe at Shanghai Centre for their “Double Double Monday” burger deal. Having been let down the week before by Malone’s, I was eager to give these so-called “gourmet” burgers a shot.

Gourmet Cafe is a clean, modern space that is at once casual and intimate, with indoor seating as well as picnic tables and loungy sofas on a large outdoor patio overlooking Nanjing West Road. The menu has a creative selection of cheekily/cheesily named burgers, deep-fried appetizers, salads, and milkshakes. It also does happy hour starting at 6pm, during which selected drinks are buy-one-get-one (meaning 16 RMB Coronas :-). Because of its location and clientele, the servers are generally pleasant and speak English.

The place offers lunchtime combo “deals” — which, at 70 RMB for burger+soft drink, is hardly a deal to me — and the more appealing buy-one-get-one burger special on Mondays.

Sean and I ordered the two unappetizingly christened vegetarian options: the Bun Laden and Beano.

The Bun Laden (64 RMB) was not so much a burger as a falafel sandwich. I first had this back in March, and was (and still am) quite impressed with the light and crispy falafel and the soft pita. However, I found the accompaniments a bit lacking this time around; the “yogurt sauce” could’ve been richer and less watered down. Still, it was overall a tasty sandwich.

The Beano (67 RMB) was what I’d come here to try, and it was very satisfying. The patty, made of mixed beans and jalapeno and fried in bread crumbs, was crunchy on the outside, substantial and flavourful on the inside, with a spice kick from the pepper rounding out the patty. The patty expanded from being squeezed as I made my way through the burger, but what do you expect with beans, eh. The burger was filled out with some raw onion, avocado, grated cucumber, and a pillow of greens. It came with salsa and another thin yogurty sauce that didn’t worked quite well, but on the whole, this felt as a burger should feel: big and a little messy, fresh-tasting with varying textures. It gets extra points for standing at least as tall as its meaty counterparts at the table.

In keeping with the clean, light, gourmet thing, the burgers were served with a side of unidentified greens (they were slightly bitter like arugula but didn’t look like arugula) rather than fries, which you could order on the side.

Sean and I also shared a “Mudslide” (35 RMB), a chocolate milkshake blended with a brownie, which was a bit on the sweet side (to me, but just right for Sean). It’d been a while since I’d had a proper milkshake (as opposed to a fruit smoothie), so this was nonetheless really satisfying.

Two solid burgers and a milkshake came to a reasonable 102 RMB. (We could’ve replaced the milkshake with two beers for less money, making this a clear winner over Malone’s.) Given its ridiculous proximity to my office, I’ll probably be back on a Monday :-)

Gourmet Cafe (Shanghai Centre)
1376 Nanjing West Road
(21) 6289-5733


Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian

Veggie Burger quest III: Malone’s

Monday screams burger special!!! here in Shanghai (or is that everywhere in the world?*): Malone’s, Blue Frog, Gourmet Cafe, and others make sure there’s at least one day in the week you can grab a burger without forking over American-sized dough.

My coworkers and I decided last week it was about time we partook in one of these burger specials, and with our office situated in expat-heavy Jing’an, we had two obvious choices: Malone’s, which offers a burger & a beer for 50 RMB, and Gourmet Cafe, which does a buy-one-get-one-free deal on Mondays. We went with Malone’s today.

I’d been here a couple times last year for the 50 RMB meal, which is quite a steal considering their giant selection of burgers ranges from 75 to 105 RMB (drink excluded). But then I’d been eating meat. Tonight I had but one choice: their veggie burger (normally 75 RMB) with a patty made from mushrooms, onions, and grains, which sounded alright on paper.

The first thing I noticed when our food came was how pitifully FLAT my burger was compared to everyone else’s. Sure, the patty was different, but did they have to skimp on everything else? A peek under the bun revealed two slices of tomato, some lettuce, and plain mayo. The “low-fat cheese” could barely be seen. No pickles, no creative sauce, no apparent effort put in at all to ensure that their vegetarian patrons feel taken care of amid a sea of meat burgers decked out with all sorts of interesting toppings. It felt almost as if they were making fun of the idea of vegetarians eating burgers — “you probably don’t know how to enjoy food anyway, so we’ll give you the bare minimum.” Maybe they were, but ouch.

Oh well, perhaps they designed the patty to hold its own in the face of scarce resources… or something like that? A couple careful bites dispelled that last hope: the mushroom taste was overpowering, and despite the “grains”, the whole thing was mushy and began to break apart as I made my way through the burger. The lettuce and overripe tomato didn’t help things, and I ended up spooning some crunchy coleslaw in just to add some depth of texture.

Granted, I didn’t go into it with high hopes, so it wasn’t the biggest disappointment ever. At least I’ve got one more crossed off the list in my slow-moving quest for the best (read: least shameful) veggie burger in Shanghai. And had a chance to unwind with coworkers after a long day (yes, it’s only Monday, but it really feels like it should be Friday already). And get to keep feeling smug about my homemade version. So it’s all good.

One of these coming Mondays: Gourmet Cafe. I’ve been there for lunch before and had a delicious — albeit distastefully named — “Bun Laden” (essentially falafel in pita… yeah, they really need to find a new name now), but they also have a bean-based burger. Stay tuned!

Malone’s American Cafe
255 Tongren Rd. near Nanjing West Rd.
(21) 6247-2400 (reservations not accepted on Mondays)

*Google search results suggest that, at least in the English-speaking world, “Wednesday burger special”s are the most common, with Monday being the second most economical day to satisfy your burger cravings. Don’t bother looking for a burger deal on Saturdays.


Filed under eating out, restaurants - non-vegetarian