Despite being a travel fanatic China is one continent I have barely explored… and Shanghai seemed like a good place to start, known for its vibrant food scene and thriving culture. After a long international flight from London, our senses were overwhelmed stepping out onto the streets of Shanghai. The language barrier was an immediate challenge, and without WeChat (the local Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app) we struggled to communicate in a lot of circumstances. But once we accepted the difficulties of travelling in China, Shanghai proved to be a real adventure and a brilliantly educational and exciting destination. Here are a few of my favourite discoveries…
The Middle House – The Middle House opened in 2018, a beautiful new addition to the House Collective group. This stylish and contemporary hotel is found in the heart of the city, with spacious luxurious bedrooms, wonderful eateries and amazing facilities.
Gracie’s – The temperature can get hot in Shanghai, cool off with the best ice cream from retro inspired Gracie’s. We loved the ‘Half-baked cookie dough’ but apparently ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ is a winner too.
HaiDiLao – Head to one of the many branches of this local institution for comforting hot pot. We visited the venue on the 4th floor of shopping centre in Du Pu. While you wait for your table manicures, board games, shoe shine and snacks are available to keep you occupied. Once it is time to eat there are many options to choose from – we opted for vibrant Tomato broth, with handstretched noodles, beef and lots of flavoursome toppings. Don’t miss the scallion roti prata on the side.
Egg – For a hearty Western brunch head to Egg, a charming all-day breakfast café on Xiangyang Lu. The eatery is by Shanghai Supperclub founder Camden Hauge, and the egg-centric offering includes classics like avocado on toast with sunny side up eggs, and great coffee.
Mr & Mrs Bund – I wasn’t a massive fan of the uptight (and forgetful) service at this refined restaurant, but the French food by chef Paul Pairet is wonderful and the city skyline views are second to none.
RAC – A stylish French cafe with good coffee and irresistible brunch dishes. Order the Far West Galette (cheese, mushroom, pancetta, egg, cream).
Strictly Cookies – Founded by Lexie Comstock, Strictly Cookies is the best biscuit shop in town. Unsurprisingly Lexie is American, and has always had a love of baking… when she moved to Shanghai in 2010 she noticed a gap in the market and began Strictly Cookies from her flat. The company now has its own premises and supplies cafes and restaurants all over China. The classic chocolate chip is the most popular, but I loved the highly inventive ‘Snack Box’ variety.
Sui Tang Li – The Chinese restaurant at the Middle House Hotel has very much become a destination in its own right. Highlights included Hairy Crab XiaoLongBao; Braised Beef Short Rib, Beef Tenderloin, Beef Puff; and gin cocktails made with Shanghainese Peddlers Gin.
Jia Jia Tang Bao – This simple canteen style cafe has become known as one of the best Xiao Long Bao outlets. Order the classic Xiao Long Bao (12 for ¥18) and the Hairy Crab Xiao Long Bao (12 for ¥35). Watch the ladies make the dumplings fresh and then enjoy them moments later. Watch how the locals ‘nip and slurp’ them to avoid burning your mouth!
Jianbing (348 Wulumuqi) – The perfect Shanghai breakfast. It is not easy to find the right stall, but the queue should give it away. The freshly made Jianbing (crepe, egg, spring onion, coriander, doughnut, red paste with options doughnut) are moreish and delicious, costing just ¥6.
Ah Da’s Spring Onion Pancake – If you have the time queue up for hours to try these famous street stall pancakes, which Rick Stein raved about when he visited Shanghai.
Speak Low – This Japanese style speakeasy is one of the best cocktail bars in Shanghai, and has recently been included on the ‘Worlds 50 Best’ list. You enter through a seemingly normal drinks equipment shop… to then discover three floors of mysterious cocktail bars. Try to get a booking on the middle floor bar where the cocktails are more elaborate and exciting… our favourite drink was the delicious ‘Into the Woods’.
Arabica – There is always a crowd of Shanghai trendsetters outside Arabic. I originally tried this coffee brand in Japan, and am pleased to report that the quality was just as good in China. Stop by for a strong iced coffee, or a creamy cappuccino.
Onirii – If you are looking for expertly sourced, roasted and poured coffee in Shanghai Onirii is the place for you. This tiny coffee shop is minimalist in design, with just a few seats for visitors. If you let the barista guide your caffeine decisions you are sure to receive a delicious, balanced cup of coffee.
SeeSaw Coffee – SeeSaw is a giant on the Shanghai speciality coffee scene. The fun, modern cafes are a favourite with the hipster crowd, serving up full-flavoured, fuss-free coffee. SeeSaw are also a stockist of the Strictly Cookies, the perfect accompaniment to a flat white!
Cafe del Volcan – This cute cafe is found on Yongkang Rd, amongst many lovely eateries and boutiques. Inside the roastery takes up most of the space, so I suggest getting a coffee to go. Pick one of their carefully selected coffee varieties and enjoy.
Sober Company – Sober Company is the sister company to Speak Low and comprises of three spaces: Sober Café offers small plates and all-day brunch, Sober Kitchen is a restaurant serving modern Chinese dishes and Sober Society is a bar focused on digestif cocktails. If you visit all three spaces you receive a special invitation to the private, most exclusive bar. In the Sober Society we sat at the bar and relished our innovative concoctions – favourites included the ‘Godfather 3’ and ‘Tiger’. The Sober Company team also have new bar called The Odd Couple, which is 1980s themed.
Long Museum – This private museum was founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei. The brutalist building was designed by Atelier Deshaus, built around the remains of a stand-alone 1950s coal-ferry unloading bridge, and houses contemporary art exhibitions. There is also a second museum in Pudong.
Tianzifang – Tianzifang or Tianzi Fang is a busy (and touristy) arts and crafts maze of small streets that has developed from a renovated traditional residential area in the French Concession area. It is home to boutique shops, bars and restaurants.small streets, shopping, cafes and bars.
Wukang Building – You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Wukang Building as you’ll see the hoards of photographers pointing their lenses towards it. Found in the French Concession district, the building would not be out of place in New York… a protected historic apartment building designed by the Hungarian-Slovak architect László Hudec and completed in 1924.
Jing’an Temple – Perhaps the most famous temple in Shanghai, the Jing’an Temple is located on West Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai and has over 780 years of history. There are three main halls to see here: The Mahavira Hall, the Hall of Heavenly Kings and the ThreeSage Hall.
FNJI – This wondrous furniture emporium showcasing both Chinese and Japanese designs in an atmospheric and beautiful space in the French Concession area of town.
Klee Klee – An eco-friendly fashion brand by Shanghai-based label ZUCZUG. The collection features luxurious organic materials and natural dyes in their chic clothes collection.
Lost & Found – A charming concept shop set up by Paul Gelinas and Xiao Mao in 2008, specialising in clothing and furniture inspired by the aesthetics of Old Beijing. Pick up a unique gift here to take home and treasure.
In the Park – This exhibition and clothes space in the Xintiandi district is a lovely place to while away an afternoon. The shop is a multi-brand collective with high quality products and a focus on design.
Zhouzhuang Ancient Water Village – If you fancy a day out of town the Unesco World Heritage site, Zhouzhuang is beautiful and calm, known by some as ‘Venice of the East’. You can get a fast train from Shanghai Railway Station (20 mins to Kunshan South Station, ¥25 pp and foreigners need a paper photocopy of their passport) and then a taxi from Kunshan South (45 mins, ¥112 on meter) to the village. Visitors must pay ¥100 to enter Ancient Village but then you can wander round and see everything easily. Things to see include the Double Bridge; Zhang’s Residence; Shen’s Residence; Fu’an Bridge; and the Quanfu/Changxu Temple. Sample the famous Wansan Pork Knuckle at Shen’s Restaurant/Shenting Restaurant and take a 20 min boat trip (¥150 per boat) around the water town.