Shanghai is home to what has become one of my favourite dishes of all: Xia Long Bao. Nowhere else have I eaten Xia Long Bao which were more tasty, juicy, and amazing than here. Funnily enough, this rather complex dish is best enjoyed in very simple places. Contrasting one of the latter and what can arguably be seen as being one of the more expensive restaurants in the city can lead to some surprising outcomes! Take for instance Yu Gardens, where you will find a host of stands, restaurants, and god knows who, who will sell you these fantastic soup-filled dumplings. We came for breakfast, as this place is seriously popular, and went to what is considered the best restaurant around. Dare I say that I have not had a better breakfast yet? I think I can safely state that fact.
Now, these places aren’t fancy, they’re simple, clean, honest, and very popular(at least some of them are). Most offer good value for money too, as a meal here can cost as little as a fiver (€). If you call that excessive, rest assured that you’ll always find something cheaper if you look for it. However, we wanted the best, and found this spectacular place (as I was with Chinese friends, I have no idea about the name). Not because of the service, not because of the design of the dining room, but because of the bustling ambience and much more importantly the bloody marvellous food.
You can eat dumplings filled with various things, from crab, to pork to mushrooms and many other nice things. We tried about 8 different types and loved every single one of them. All had beautiful, perfect dough, intense and very tasty soup inside them, and simply fantastic fillings. Taking one of these and dipping it into vinegar before letting it disappear in one’s mouth is about as great as food can get. They explode, and overwhelm your palate the stunning stock. Wow wow wow! Outstanding stuff.
Less enjoyable and very different was the experience of the Park Hyatt’s restaurant. Due to the hotel’s fantastic location and building the view here is breathtaking, but the Xia Long Bao are simply not that great. Certainly capable, but far away from what one can get in Yu Gardens. At about twice the price of a whole meal in the best restaurants of the latter, one gets about three pieces here. Foolish and still not expensive for what is the city’s most luxurious hotel, but the only reason to go here is the view (for me at least). Don’t expect too much from the food and you’ll have a lovely time.
Unfortunately, the rest of the food in this restaurant is not all that exciting neither. There is safe, bland and uninteresting selection of sushi, the odd piece of grilled cod, and a dry, over-salted crispy pigeon.
The only thing that can make up for it is the fantastic wine list. With that of the Opposite House in Beijing, this was the best wine list I saw in China. It had Selosse, Vouette & Sorbée, Chave, and tons of other interesting wines. Kudos for that! However that and the view are the only reasons why one should go here. Service was not stunning neither and rather unfriendly compared to other places of similar standards. So lesson learned for me: Xia Long Bao does not necessarily go that well with luxurious restaurants. There are some that can pull it off (notably in London), but in China, I did not come across a single fancy place that beat the most down to earth, simple eateries.