Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing
Hi, this is my first post... and I am getting very excited about a very special trip to China next year. Looking to experience true Chinese food (can be expensive).
I'll be staying 2 nights (only one and a half days really, since my plane will arrive at 11pm) in Shanghai, staying at Park Hyatt.
In Shanghai, I am considering Jasse for dinner and Din Tai Fung for late lunch... Any other suggestions? Special places for dinner? Not too fancy though, as I think I'll be too jetlagged to appreciate a very long deal.
In Hangzhou, I'll be staying for 3 nights at the Amanfayun. I am having one dinner there (probably at the vegetarian restaurant), one dinner Dai Jianjun and a dinner at Jin Sha at the new Four Seasons hotel on West lake... Thoughts???
Now on to the real question :). I'll be 5 nights at Beijing, staying 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Beijing and 3 nights at Aman. For the first two nights -- I'll probably do Made in China (perhaps duck) and haven’t decided on the second night...
Now, as far as Aman is concerned -- I am having a lunch at Naoki (I kow it’s not Chinese), but from what I understand the food at other restaurants on the property is not that good and EXTREMELY expensive. Being, that Aman at Summer Palace is about 45 mins away from the city center, any recommendation for nice dining in the vicinity (short taxi ride)?
Not sure when you are going, but
1) Chinese food is not that expensive.. I had some amazing meals in Shanghai (I loved a hot pot place over in the Pudong area) where we ordered pretty freely and the bill was never even close to my expense limit..I am sure there may be a few elite places that cater to ex-pats and the like, but this was a cheap-to-eat city for me...
2) Street food or casual-sit-down is delicious and cheap - don't ignore it - steamed buns, scallion pancakes, this delicious bok-choyish sandwich I bought near a store name Brocade Country, and SOUP DUMPLINGS!
3) Other advice - never leave your hotel without a card telling the cab driver the address to get your back. Cabs are really cheap (at least in Shanghai). Have the hotel concierge write your destination out in Simplified Chinese to give to the cab driver as well.
And if you think you might need ANY over the counter drug, bring it with you.. sudafed, mucilex, benadryl, pepto-bismol, advil - this isn't like the U.S. with a CVS on every corner, Chinese drugstores are difficult places to find what you might need.
Aman is probably within walking distance (and definitely a short cab ride) away from a subway stop, you can quickly and easily get into the city center from there. If its on the weekend, you could always just take a cab ride to areas in the city center. Plus, Haidian has a ton of branches of popular city restaurants (Na Jia Xiao Guan, Xiao Fei Yang, Qiao Jiang Nan, etc) so there are options within a short cab ride.
In Shanghai, the main Jesse location can be hard to book, if you're worried about the trip, there is a branch of New Jesse in Pudong. The same is true with Yang's, there are branches all over the city, I haven't been to the Wujiang Lu one since renovations, so I'm guessing its no longer the hole in the wall it was, but maybe it still is. The last time in Shanghai I went to their location on Nanjing East Rd and it was pretty close to the Wujiang experience, just a little more sanitized.
Your list seems really heavy on hotel restaurants, Made in China's decent if way overpriced for everything other than the duck. From my experience, very few hotel restaurants are worth it and if you're just doing it for English menus/convenience, there are plenty of good places which offer them.
I wouldn't go out of my way to return to Made in China. There was certainly nothing wrong with it, but it was not a particularly unique or memorable experience. On the other hand, if someone is willing to pay for rooms at aman and park hyatt, they probably don't care very much whether their dinner for two costs $40 or $80, so i think convenience and uniqueness would be more the deciding factors, which makes hotel restaurants an okay choice for short vacations.
that's good to know there is a New Jesse in Pudong. Do you know, is the menu the same?
I've never been to those New Jesse's, but have been to the one in Xintiandi and the menu was the same. There are actually 2 branches in Pudong, but for whatever reason, neither can match the dianping score of the original. Then again, the Xintiandi one is also below the original, but the food was identical, at least to me.
Da Dong is a good choice over Made in China, better duck and the other dishes are far more creative. In Hangzhou, Grandma's Kitchen is a must, and Dragon Well Restaurant (龙井菜馆), not to be confused with Dragon Well Manor (龙井草堂) which is Dai's restaurant, is well worth a try. I think both are better than Manor, but its worth it to have the experience once, the setting is amazing for a meal.
For Sunday brunch, this is where I'd highly recommend checking out some of the hotels and especially those with buffet offerings. The Shangri-La would be a good choice in Pudong. You could also head to the Super Brand Mall and use this as a time to check out Din Tai Fung, or one of the many other restaurants in the mall. Lei Garden is also in Pudong and worth checking out.
there is also a din tai fung on the ground floor of the shanghai world financial center, so it would be right downstairs in the same building as the park hyatt, if you're staying there.
we found the duck at made in china to be dry and flavorless, while the duck at aman was the best we've ever had and full of flavor. I wondered if this was Aman catering to western tastes in how they served it (always fully wrapped in a [pancake] with cucumber and sauce as opposed to little slices for dipping in sugar or wrapping yourself at made in china)? The various ways it was presented at made in china certainly had interesting and diverse textures.
Or perhaps i'm taking the explanation of the appeal of shark fin and sea cucumber (it's all about the texture) too far?
now i really wish we had had time to try dadong as well... next time...
Re Made in China vs Aman: never tried the duck at Aman but I don't think it is a matter of Western taste bud. Judging from your description, I suspect you had a Cantonese style Peking Duck in Aman, which tend to have more flavor. It is the same style that is prepared in Duck de Chine or in Hong Kong, and many oversea and Southern Chinese actually prefer this style.
Re Shark fin & Sea Cucumber: it is not just texture, you need to have an acquired taste for these 2 dishes. The taste is subtle, very refined. And there is a big difference between a good SF/SC and a mediocre one, which explain a big price gap in the different quality standard.
Re Da Dong vs MIC: as you probably already noticed in previous threads, there are two camps on this issue. Hounds like modernleifeng loves the duck and the "creativity" in DD. While having visited DD once, I am not a fan and thought its "creativuty" failed on me. To each his own. How do you find the other dishes at MIC? They are not creative but I find their execution of Northern dishes to be authentic, refined and pretty good.
Re Lei Garden: this chain is always famous for its Daily Specialty Herbal Soup for its restaurants. Try it next time, whether you are in Beijing, Hong Kong or Singapore. For Cantonese people, they love to drink soup, it is almost like a daily meal routine. LG is really famous for this dish.
Re Roast Goose at FLM: not really fair to compare Roast Goose vs Peking Duck, they are two really different style of cooked meats. But FLM is actually not well known in roast goose; its specialty is more on expensive dishes like shark fin and abalone etc. I am actually impressed you would want to try goose web, just not the type of dish that will impress Westerners.
Judging from your review, I suspect you are more used to the Cantonese style Chinese food than the Shanghainese style and especially the Northern style. This is not a surprise since you are based in SF where the Cantonese style cooking dominates the Chinese food scene there. But it is also common to most other visitors. I think you will enjoy the food scene in Hong Kong even more so.
thanks for the response re: the duck. i had no idea cantonese-style peking duck was different from that served in beijing.
Could one compare the difference between good and mediocre Shark Fin and Sea Cucumber to good and mediocre sushi? To someone with an acquired taste, is it as pronounced as the difference between Safeway Sushi or a mayonnaise tempura roll and Masa / Urasawa or the best-of-tokyo sushi? Is all Shark Fin and Sea Cucumber prepared in the United States likely to be of mediocre quality? Is it even worth having these dishes in the United States? There are certainly plenty of shops in chinatown selling these ingredients dry, but there are of course plenty of outlets selling bad sushi here as well.
i also had the spinach, the noodles, and the steamed garoupa at made in china. I liked the spinach dish a lot, but we have very good vegetables in san francisco, so the bar is pretty high. It was actually the texture of vegetables at jesse and jade garden that surprised / impressed me the most in that category. The noodle dish was very light and not strongly flavored - i wonder if this is a bit of an acquired taste as well. i've had this dish at a place in sf, and felt the same way. i'll probably order it many more times here now. (though the MIC version is much more elegant.) The fish was really good, but not inexpensive. I didn't make it to guyi hunan in shanghai this trip, but ate plenty of meat from the fish head at MIC-- delicious. Overall, i thought made in china was better than my favorite chinese restaurants in the bay area, but not by so much that it is in a different league entirely.
Thanks for the tip RE: lei garden herbal soup. i'll definitely try these next time i'm in a city with a branch of lei garden. These dishes sounded interesting when i read about ryuan in the michelin tokyo guide. unfortunately i didn't make it there on my last trip to tokyo, so i haven't tried any yet.
We really liked the roast goose at fook lam moon nonetheless - i guess we will have to come to hong kong to try places well known for this dish! Regarding goose web, i'm an adventurous eater, and am trying to explore the best of chinese cuisine :-) We actually didn't have the goose web (we ate all the abalone and mushrooms from the pot -- we suspected goose web was there for flavoring. But now i remember dim sum places here serve chicken feet all the time, so maybe i missed the best part of this dish!
thanks again for all your suggestions. they were a great help! i loved shanghai and beijing, so i'll definitely be back!
My wife and I just returned from our first trip to China and found the duck to be average at the Jinbao Place location of Da Dong about three weeks ago. There was an intoxicating smokiness coming from the show firepits when we first walked in. And, the carving of the duck was very ostentatious with the slicing of the back skin into squares and the meat into thin slices arranged in a spiral on the serving plate. However, the skin, while crisp, had a noticeable layer of fat attached, and the meat, while smoky, was pretty dry. We also ordered sautéed bean sprouts (these were greens, so there may have been something lost in translation on the menu) that were some of the best vegetables we’ve ever had. We ordered them again a couple of nights later and they were just as good. We wanted to try Duck de Chine, too, for Beijing duck but never made it.
We were in Shanghai before that and ate at Din Tai Fung in Shanghai Centre on our last night. The crab xiaolongbao were very good with a delicate, thin skin, although the tops were dry and chewy. We also got sucked up in hairy crab fever and had a male and female for a cost of RMB228 per for a 228g male and a 175g female. They were average at best. Our hotel wanted to set us up with Wang Bao He for hairy crabs, but they didn’t think we could do that and the Shanghai Acrobats at Shanghai Centre on the same night, hence, our visit to Din Tai Fung.
I just returned from Shanghai and Beijing yesterday -- wow, your itinerary looks remarkably similar to ours!
The food at Jesse was excellent and our favorite in shanghai. The room is small but nice though the service is inattentive at best. It will be a long (at least 30 mins) cab ride from the park hyatt, so try to see something nearby to make it worth the trip. When there, don't miss the wild herbs wrapped in tofu skin, kumquats, dates with sticky rice, and pork in a clay pot. I was _really_ disappointed to learn we had to pre-order the fish head, which i had heard recommended. I'd perhaps recommend changing this to a lunch or early dinner reservation and eat here after you see sights in the french concession. Our meal for 2 was US $30 (downright cheap for the quality.)
The spa in the park hyatt is gorgeous. With such short time, I'm not sure it is worth leaving (even to just take the elevator to the ground floor) for mall food at Din Tai Fung. If you don't mind a hong kong chain, we had a very nice meal at fook lam moon, which is nearby. We pre-ordered roast goose there, which we preferred even to peking duck at made in china (but not to the peking duck at aman beijing.) Reeve's shad at Jade garden was also very good, if you don't mind bones! (I believe there is a branch near the park hyatt.) The congee, wonton noodle soup, beef noodle soup, smoothies, and teas at park hyatt are excellent. the spaghetti with tomato and bolognese is decent (if you get sick of chinese food.) the fried noodles were not great.
To my great surprise, the Chinese Restaurant at Aman was excellent, and very fairly priced. It was overall our favorite restaurant in China. I wasn't planning on eating there, because i heard bad things on chowhound and tripadvisor, but i'm glad i got lazy and did anyway. I wouldn't be afraid to eat many of your meals there. We didn't try any of the other restaurants at aman, but will next time. The whole peking duck was something like ~250 RMB.
Anyway, as someone who isn't afraid of gorging on street food at 3 in the morning, i'm slightly embarassed to say that our favorite food of the trip was the chinese comfort food at park hyatt, and the duck (both peking and with plum sauce) at the chinese restaurant at aman summer palace. My most interesting eats (the things i hadn't had before, and would love to have alongside any chinese meal in the US) were the cold dishes at jesse and jade garden.
Please report back how Naoki is, was well as how Amanfayun and the Hangzhou restaurants are. I'd also be very interested to hear how park hyatt beijing compares with the one in shanghai. Overall, this was probably my favorite trip i've ever taken, and would repeat it in a heartbeat. to my great surprise, I prefered it to my trips eating michelin *** in paris, eating michelin stars in tokyo, and staying at fancy ryokans in kyoto.
For reference, our trip consisted of:
3 nights le royal meridian, shanghai
2 nights park hyatt, shanghai
2 night grand hyatt, beijing
1 night aman, beijing
And we ate:
Various Street Food
Yang's Fry Dumplings
Xin Guan crab feast
Fook Lam Moon
Park Hyatt Shanghai, many meals in the room, lobby, and spa
Made in China
A _terrible_ chinese restaurant attached to a jade gallery our driver recommended to us when we were seeing the great wall at badaling.
Aman Beijing Chinese Restaurant (2 meals)
Dustin, thank you so much for your reply! Aman in Beijing... very good news on the restaurant prices. They sent me a special dinner menu and it was 1,880 +15% service CNY pp... but included a Gu Zheng player :)... Happy to forward/attach the menu if anyone is interested.
I think it's a really good idea to change Jesse to lunch... and, if you had one place to try around the PH Shanghai for dinner? Although I am not sure if I'll be too stuffed after lunch at Jesse.
Also, how far is Yahg's Fry Dumplings from PH? Thanks again!
Like most nice restaurants in china we visited, aman has set menus from around $100 to $500 per person, but i didn't see anyone ordering them. They also had expensive single dishes (such as "Buddha Jump" at 2500 RMB per person or herbal soups at 600 RMB per person.) If you try any of these, please report back! :-) The only very pricey dish we tried was a half-portion of abalone, goose web and mushroom at fook lam moon for 600 RMB. It was like a stew with big chunks of expensive abalone.
You won't be too stuffed after lunch at jesse -- i found their dishes to be pretty light.
Yang's fry dumplings is far but could be a stop on the way to jesse. If you go there, it's worth also stopping by jia jia, and looking/trying some of the nearby street food as well. I question whether these places are worth a detour, though, as there was lots of similar looking fry dumplings and similar street food off most side streets in shanghai. Yang's is near the shanghai museum, which i would say isn't worth a stop if you are from new york and only in shanghai for a couple days -- i think i saw better chinese art at the met!
My perfect day in shanghai would be:
1. Be woken up with room service of congee and wonton soup at park hyatt.
2. have a swim and take free tai chi lessons at park hyatt spa at 8am (no one else uses them so it will be 1-on-1) have some tea, juice, and/or smoothies at the spa as you swim.
3. take a cab to the yu gardens.
4. take a cab to jesse for lunch.
5. walk around french concessions and huihai lu until you are bored or run out of time.
6. take a cab back, hang out at the park hyatt spa until dinner time.
7. get dinner. not sure where, though. fook lam moon is good and close, but cantonese, not shanghaiese. i'd say jade garden, but it is far. xin guan is a crab feast place that is definitely unique (with mediocre service and decor) and definitely challenged my american taste buds, but in a good way. But it is also far. I'd say just bite the bullet, take a cab at night to one of these places, then walk nanjing lu and the bund at night after dinner before the lights go out at 10:30. if you go to jade garden, try the radish dish, the lotus with sticky rice, the reeve's shad, and some other dishes. i wasn't overly impressed with their duck. wasn't bad, just wasn't outstanding.)
Perhaps walk on the bund and make a quick stop at the shanghai aquarium on the next day... the street food on Sipailou Lu (near yu gardens) or near yang's fry dumplings on xinchang lu and feng yang lu may also be worth a stop if you have extra time, but since you are in shanghai for so little time, i'd do street food and casual eats in beijing instead.
i'm sure there are other / better places to go and dishes to order, but based on my single 1-week trip to china, these were my favorites.