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.
907 Julu Lu near Changshu Lu
618 Xujiahui Lu, B2, T-3