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
Lunch: 11:30-14:00 ~ Dinner：17:30-21:00 (get there early!)