Tag Archives: burgers

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

Shanghai Veggie Burger quest II: DIY cookin

Sean and I had a mini pre-summer cookin (as opposed to a cookout) this past Tuesday. As it has been very warm in Shanghai these last few weeks — hitting 34C on Tuesday before a bit of rain (very briefly) cooled things off — we wanted to make some grub that’d put us in the mood for the season.

The menu:

  • Corn on the cob
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Veggie burgers

  • The corn was easy: rather than grilling it, boiling for 5 minutes or so worked just as well — and kept the corn juicier, too, in my opinion. A dab of butter made it heavenly.

    For the fries, we deviated from our usual method, cutting the fries thinner and skipping the boiling part. I wanted to see if it would make the fries crispier, but was stingy with the oil so they turned out equally soft. We’re sticking to the original recipe, or making mashed sweet potatoes instead from now on.

    As for the veggie burgers, we basically used our recipe for falafel and shaped them into larger, slightly thicker patties to fry (1 full recipe makes 4 regular-sized patties or 8-10 smaller patties). Since we didn’t have regular bread, we toasted half a large pita for the bread crumbs. We layered raw tomato, cucumber, and onion and a generous schmear of dill aioli on lightly pan-toasted hamburger buns.

    …It was damn good. We had two each, in quick succession. Our burger cravings were satisfied.

    All this, along with bananas & ice-cream (Nestle, 8.5 RMB tubs) for dessert, came to 20 RMB (3 USD) per person — for all who maintain eating out in China is cheaper than cooking, think again! (Unless you’re ordering from Lanzhou Lamian all the time, in which case you win.) It did take a little over an hour to make, but the satisfaction is that much greater knowing it is possible to make affordable, healthful (minus the ice-cream), uber colourful and delicious meals :)

    I think this meal also spelled the end of my short-lived quest for the best veggie burger in Shanghai, though I’ll still review any that I end up trying. It’s just so much cheaper doing it myself!

    Where to find…

  • Hamburger buns: City Shop (multiple locations), 8 RMB/pack of 4 standard buns; 6 RMB/pack of 6 smaller buns
  • Another note: while a lot of City Shop’s produce (esp. fruit) is way overpriced, I’ve found their tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and corn to be pretty reasonably priced, and fresher/better-looking than their Carrefour/Trustmart counterparts. I’m not sure if that means pesticide levels are higher, though… :\


    Filed under eating in

    Veggie burger quest I: Anna Maya

    After reading an NYTimes article on the proliferation of creative and delicious veggie burgers in restaurants across America, I was inspired to go forth, albeit with hopes set pretty low, to see what Shanghai has to offer in that department.

    My first chance came a few days ago, when I met up with a friend at Anna Maya, a cute, cozy vegetarian café in the French Concession that looks and feels miles away from China. Its interior is thoughtfully decorated and feels kind of rustic, like the inside of someone’s cottage, with wooden floorboards and rafters, antique furniture, vases and potted plants, and sofas on one end. There was also a display of yoga-related pamphlets and free booklets (in Chinese) on vegetarianism.

    Their small hand-written menu listed an assortment of soups, salads, Japanese-style fare like soba noodles and curry, fresh juices, desserts — and, of course, the “ultimate veggie burger” (65 RMB) that I’d read about online and come for. My friend ordered the same thing. When we asked the waitress, in Chinese, whether the burger came with anything on the side, she got confused and tried to convince us to order a soup or a salad. After a frustrating minute of dialogue we decided just to wait and see what we would get.

    What we got looked promising, and healthful:

    The patty, which was made from chickpeas, corn, cauliflower, brown rice, turmeric, and coriander, had a fresh, albeit subtle, flavour, and the patty didn’t crumble excessively, which was a plus. The whole-wheat bun it was served on, however, was too dense and dry, and the half of a cherry tomato, lettuce leaf, and slice of avocado did little to moisten our mouths. The owner was nice enough to come around and ask us how we were doing, and when we told her it was a bit dry she brought over a dish of white sauce, which made it slightly better. But it still didn’t give me the full, satisfying feeling I expect from a burger, meat-based or not — especially one that claims to be “ultimate”. Maybe if they livened it up by toasting the bread and throwing in a couple more tomatoes, raw onion, and other garnishes… it would stand a chance.

    After we were done, we went up to the vegan dessert display, which had 6 or 7 items ranging from banana pudding to strawberry tofu tart to apple crumble. The owner, a Japanese lady who was friendly and clearly passionate about the food she served, lit up as she explained the desserts to us. We were intrigued by a brown rice-red bean tart of sorts and decided to share a slice (35 RMB).

    It cradled in its nutty vegan crust sweetened brown rice, red bean paste, and other unknown sweet things, and came with a small bowl of red bean paste, which was much needed as the tart itself was somewhat dry and tough and required a bit of jaw work. In spite of the texture, I enjoyed its deep and wholesome sweetness as well as the idea that for a dessert, it was pretty damn nutritious.

    I really wanted to love my meal at Anna Maya, just because I liked the café’s ambiance and friendly owner. But even though the flavours were well-mixed, the textures weren’t quite right in the two dishes we tried (maybe that’s just how it has to be if you can’t use dairy and eggs?). While it wasn’t outrageously overpriced as one might fear such a niche restaurant might be, it would’ve added up if I wanted a soup or a drink (~30 RMB). The service was on the slow side, which was ok with me, but while the staff were nice, they could have been better trained.

    I might return to try their other desserts — like their most popular chocolate tofu tart, which was sold out that night — but I won’t be ordering the burger again.

    Anna Maya Vegetarian Cafe
    3 Taojiang Lu, near Hengshan Lu (上海市桃江路3号,近衡山路)
    Tel: 021-6433-4602


    Filed under eating out, restaurants - vegetarian