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Whampoa Club, Shanghai

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This restaurant currently attracts lots of attention as an innovator in Shanghai cuisine. I looked forward to trying it, especially after reading a piece on the chef in a mid-August 2006 edition of Financial Times.

No doubt the place is interesting. Physically the restaurant is a lovely venue in the swanky 3 on the Bund building. However service is typically old-fashioned Chinese. The wait staff doesn't like to (or can't) explain the dishes very well. (And, by the way, I'm a fluent Mandarin speaker.)

We started, happily, with a light and tasty Peking duck appetizer. Just the flavorful, non-greasy duck and fragrant sauce, no baobing (crepes). Delightful.

Next was a signature dish: flash fried shrimp with wasabi coating. How this fits in to Shanghai cuisine was beyond me. That curiosity aside, the dish was very complex but not particularly satisfying. Interesting to try, yes, but I wouldn't order it again.

The two soups we tried were excellent: an intense chicken broth and a vegetable soup. As in almost any good restaurant in China, you can't go wrong with the soups here.

The veggy dish, qing chao (lightly stir fried) greens, was freshly delicious and light. No cloying corn starch sauce.

We finished with xiao long bao (soup dumplings). These were fresh and very good. Not the xiao long bao of my dreams (have to hit Taipei's Din Tai Feng for that), but quite nice.

Good wine list.

Bottom line: We had a good, but not life changing, dinner. Total cost for two with a bottle of wine was about 700 Yuan. Not expensive by US standards for the quality but in Shanghai you can find wonderful (though more traditional) similar dinners for much less -- however in modest surroundings WITHOUT good wine.

Somehow I couldn't make the leap and accept that this was Shanghai cuisine. It lacked the light, subtle touch that I have come to expect from top quality eateries in this city. Nevertheless Whampoa Club is worth a try for anyone interested in future direction of this region's cuisine.

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  1. Thanks for the review. We are visiting in a month and are starting our food research now. Although you weren’t overwhelming positive, this still sounds like an interesting option for one of our pricier dinners to me (as you noted, the ability to have great ambience and a bottle of wine is a plus.) You mention “It lacked the subtle touch I have come to expect from top quality eateries in this city.” Which would you recommend?

    1. A "light, subtle touch" is not exactly a hallmark of Shanghainese cuisine; just think of a red-cooked pork joint (which Chef Jereme Leung has in his repertoire). My suspicion is that Leung is trying to keep his offerings "grounded" in tradition.

      As I recall, Whampoa Club has a lunchtime prix fixe that is considerably more affordable than dinner.

      1. For highly rated, high-end Japanese, you might want to try Ambrosia, at 150 Fenyang Lu (on the same grounds as the Paulaner Brauhaus. I haven't actually tried it myself, but it is in one the most beautiful old mansions in Shanghai. I kmow the facility well because it used to house my favorite old-line Shanghainese restaurant for big family meals, Yue You ("Friends of Shaoxing Opera").

        3 Replies
        1. re: Gary Soup

          Sounds intriguing - thanks!

          1. re: meg944

            It just occurred to me that the reason I have the impression that the food at Ambrosia is noteworthy is because Conde Nast Traveller listed it as one of the five hottest new tables in the world the year it opened. Regarding the building, here's what Tess Johnston, author of several books on Shanghai's architectural heritage had to say about it in the Yue You days (second item down):

            http://www.shanghai-ed.com/tess/bundb...

            I think Tess was a bit overly harsh in her criticism; after all, the add-ons she detested were primarily designed to make it recognizably a restaurant. I haven't looked at it closely enough lately to know if Ambrosia undid some of the "damage" that Tess saw in it.

            1. re: Gary Soup

              had the harry crab lunch prefix at whampoa last winter...good, not great. but the indoor scenery made up for my high expectations.

              as for Ambrosia...went there 3 days ago for lunch. just got back to SF this morning and Ambrosia was...blah. average tepanyaki...again the the building was amazing nonetheless as you mentioned Gary.

        2. I have yet to goto Whampoa club but was wondering if anyone had made anything from his cookbook?

          1. Had the tasting menu last night consisting of..

            Marinated beef shank and pork in rice wine gelee
            Baby lobster served with onion and ginger dressing
            Chilled beancurd and pumpkin salad
            Shark'sfin and shark's bone soup with spinach juce
            Braised cod fish with roasted garlic and barbecue pork
            Pan-searded lamb served with winter melon in golden broth
            Steamed rice parcel with mushrooms, salted mustards and clams
            Lychee creme brulee served with lychee mousse jelly

            Hope to have time to elaborate later. Summary, gorgeous setting, very good food but not exceptional food. However, well worth the time of any food obsessed person visiting Shanghai.

            Also tried Xiao Long Bao at Nanxiang Mantou Dia - very mediocre. Hope to try Jia Jia Tang Bao today.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Paul H

              Out of curiosity, did you try the XLB from the takeout window, the second floor or the third floor? My SIL said they are actually better (and more pricey) on the third floor. Those on the second floor appeared to be of the same mediocre quality as those at the takeout window last year when I tired both.

              [Edit] Just noticed your handle. Have fun in Shanghai! You probably already know it, but Shikumen Restaurant at Xiantiandi is a venture of George Chen (Betelnut, Shanghai 1930). Might be interesting to take a look.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                I got the XLB from the third floor. Shrimp, Mushroom & "Seafood" which contained some crab. The wrappers were too thick, the fillings were too large, and I thought the seasoning was a bit bland.

                Still looking for suggestions for two more dinners. "Traditional" and "elegant" Shanghai cooking preferred. Was thinking of Chun (from the NYTs article) but haven't linked up with a Mandarin speaking friend yet. Hotel suggested Shanghai Uncle, which doesn't look too bad.

                1. re: Paul H

                  I'll second Shanghai Uncle, which is as elegant as I ever get.

                  Has anyone suggested Ye Shanghai at Xintiandi?

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    I like Lynn on Xikang Lu, off Nanjing Lu, right around the corner from the Shanghai Center. They're not strictly Shanghai food -- some Cantonese food and other modern food on the menu, but they're not too expensive & I think the food is of pretty good quality. Particularly their lotus root & glutinous rice appetizer, stone bowl rice with chopped meat & vegetable, chicken with pine nuts in sesame pockets and the lion's head.

                  2. re: Paul H

                    You might consider Xiao Nan Guo in the Rujin guesthouse. Great food. Make sure they seat you in the main, snazzy part of the restaurant, not upstairs (where we sat) in the rather plain room.

                    1. re: erica

                      I agree. Good food, and you'll be on hallowed grounds: Chairman Mao and JIang Qing used to stay at the mansion that is now Ruijin Guest House.

                2. re: Paul H

                  I would are with you and go one stop further: avoid Whampoa Club at all costs! Over-hyped, over-priced. The only thing they do well is PR. I was really exceptionally disappointed with my truly mediocre tasting menu at lunch today. Except for the soup and the noodles (which were the side to some lacklustre prawns) and were delicious, nothing else was better than blah. I'd just come from Tokyo were I paid about the same price for a tastig menu lunch at Iron Chef Michiba's place in Ginza. In terms of quality and originality of food, taste, and of course value, there is no comparison. And to top it all off, the waiter actually demanded a tip even before waiting to see whether I was going to give him one or not. SO not classy in what's supposed to be a classy place. I'm so peeved I'd say this is one place that should be shut down. I, like some of you who may be reading this, read a lot of mediocre things about it on these boards, but it got so much play in publications I respect that I figured there has to be something to it!
                  From now on I'll trust the foodies. And you should too!

                  1. re: mberniker

                    Hah!
                    I'm with you mberniker!
                    We had the lunch tasting menu about 2 months ago and it was very dissapointing. A spoonful of sweet soy braised fish was a delicious exception as was the crab (?) filling of a flaky dim sum pastry.
                    The lowlight of the meal (apart from a "dumpling" of something resembling cold. sodden potato wrapped in a cold omlette purse) was the dessert of tapioca pearl soup with a sticky rice dumpling that had been filled with puree of walnuts and pu-er tea. I can deal with pu-re but this just tasted like chef had pureed a half smoked cheap cigar with his walnuts... way overpowering, no one enjoyed it in the least. I have a great picture of my friend's face contorted in agony as he tasted the dumpling (no I didn't warn him).
                    Other tables seemed to be ordering more traditional (ie not fusion) dishes from the a la carte menu... am wondering if this is a better approach, not that I'll be venturing back of my own accord any time soon.
                    Service was uneven with one waiter (obviously experienced) offering spectacular service and the rest just fumbling in the dark... maybe they save the good staff for dinner.