8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana
This second outpost of Umberto Bombana’s hot spot Hong Kong restaurant—the first outside of Europe to be awarded three Michelin stars—is Shanghai’s top Italian restaurant for a foodie experience. Located within the Rockbund development, Otto e Mezzo features a striking contemporary décor—don’t miss the cured meats and cheeses on display in a massive aging room—and upscale Northern Italian cuisine that still appeals to a wide audience. Chef Bombana, hailed as the ‘king of white truffles,’ has designed a menu that highlights the freshest produce and tried-and-true classics like homemade burrata ravioli and breaded veal Milanese. Those looking to celebrate a special occasion should opt for the five-course tasting menu and request a seat on the terrace, which affords stunning views of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and Huangpu river.
One of the hippest bars in the trendy Sanlitun neighborhood, Apothecary draws a sophisticated party crowd with its unusual cocktails and lively scene. The menu pays homage to New Orleans with Creole dishes.
Azul Tapas Lounge
Located in a buzzy complex named Ferguson Lane within the former French Concession, Azul delivers delicious tapas in a vibrant and fun setting. The owner draws his inspiration from both Spain and Latin America. Dishes to try are a refreshing Ecuadorian ceviche and the famous flan. The prices are reasonable and the portions large for tapas (check with the waiters to make sure you do not over-order). On the weekends the restaurant often turns into an impromptu salsa club, with diners dancing the night away. A bar section also means you can order drinks and nibbles without having to have a full meal. For a quiet time, on warm summer nights, ask to sit outside on the spacious roof terrace. It offers stunning views over the city’s skyline.
As the name suggests Baihe Courtyard sits in a picturesque renovated courtyard in a quiet hutong or alleyway. It is tucked away behind the buzzing Ghost Street (Gui Jie in Chinese), so called because of the rows of red lanterns that hang outside the hot pot restaurants there. But if Ghost Street is noisy and chaotic, Baihe Courtyard is an opposite experience: the restaurant breathes serenity. The food, all reasonably priced, is vegetarian and the space also includes a library of classical Chinese texts that adds to its charms. Must tries include an impressive selection of Buddhist fake meats, some of which taste surprisingly like the real thing.
Bar. No. 3
Bell Café and Bar
For an insider spot, seek out Bell, hidden in the maze that is Taikang Lu. It looks unassuming from the outside, but the owner has taken over the entire building and turned it into a Seussian maze of sitting, living and lounge rooms. Best of all is the serene living room on the top floor, with white couches and comfy armchairs. There’s also a small terrace for warm summer evenings. Tucked away at Bell, it’s hard to believe you’re in one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.
Black Sesame Kitchen
This cooking school was started by Jen Lin-Liu, a chef and the author of Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China. She was so inspired by her own culinary adventures that she began teaching friends and friends of friends in 2005 and has expanded to open a proper school and restaurant in a courtyard building in Beijing. She holds regular classes and takes reservations for meals in the private kitchen.
This newly opened restaurant in the south end of the 798 Art District is a perfect spot to try China’s Buddhist vegetarian cuisine following a hard day gazing at galleries. Dishes hail from all over China and the restaurant specializes in “health food” (or yangshengcai in Chinese) and fake meat. None of its ingredients are derived from animals and it is also MSG free. Typical fares on the reasonably priced menu include a dry hot pot of fake meat, “beef” strips with peppers, and Sichuan-style white fish (fake, of course). The classy surroundings are designed in the classical Chinese style and the staff is always eager to help. Best to stick with the health theme and sip the flavorsome flower teas on offer rather than delve into the limited wine list.
Inventive, affordable cuisine is a rarity in Shanghai, where options are usually either casual and inexpensive, or geared towards foodies and come with a hefty price tag. But Cabra, which opened in late 2015, provides a happy medium with Spanish tapas and a cool, atmospheric space that attracts a youthful, social crowd. Featuring high ceilings and tiled walls with brass showerheads and classic paintings adding an abstract element, the hip tapas spot is ideal for a light meal with quality drinks.
Café Gray Deluxe
Cantonese food is popular in the capital city, with chefs imported from the southern Guangdong province to ensure the ingredients and styles are spot-on. If you have a business dinner with a local Chinese contact, they will appreciate being treated to an evening feast at Celestial Court or lunchtime dim sum. Seafood tends to be on the expensive side in Beijing, so ordering up fish or lobster will be doubly welcome. By the way, don’t be too surprised if, when dining with locals, they ask for a doggie bag for any leftover food. Old habits of waste-not-want-not die hard for people who grew up with Cultural Revolution food shortages.
Travelers looking for classic Shanghai cuisine but for something a little more upscale and refined than Jishi should head to this bright, contemporary enclave in the Jin Jiang Hotel. Diners are seated in a soaring dining room, with white-leather banquette nooks and modern light fixtures, and the professional staff serves modern renditions of the classics, as well as some fusion cuisine. Photographs decorating the entrance show visiting international dignitaries as, but despite longtime renown, the restaurant maintains a quiet, private feel. A good spot for a lunch break when shopping in the French Concession.
Locals and expat swear that this is the best place for Sichuan food and worth dealing with the crowds and noise for a super spicy meal.
One of the toughest table to book in Shanghai is one of the four at this tiny restaurant. It specializes in home-style regional cuisine, and the dishes change every day, depending on what's in season. Don't expect anyone to speak English here, so come with a guide or be brave and try maneuvering a meal with your iPhone translation app.
This restaurant at the Rosewood Beijing is a culinary highlight of many travelers’ China itineraries. Guests can watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen, preparing a range of Northern Chinese delicacies, including hand-pulled Chinese noodles, an array of dumplings and the popular Peking duck.
To the far northwest of China lies the province of Xinjiang, which is home to the country’s Turkic speaking Uighur Muslim minority. Crescent Moon, located in a quiet hutong in the old town, is one of the most authentic Xinjiang cuisine restaurants in Beijing. Here, the hearty food and cheap prices more than make up for the basic décor and service. Huge portions include home made yogurt, juicy lamb kebabs (known as chuan’r), baked flatbread, and hand-pulled noodles. Unlike many Xinjiang restaurants in the city Crescent Moon is not a rough and ready hole in the wall; nor is it gaudy. There are no fake garish touches catering to tourists here, such as performances. Instead, most of the staff are Uighur, and the clientele is largely local.
Cupola at Three on the Bund
This is one of Shanghai's most exclusive dining experiences, at the top level of Three on the Bund with soaring views. Reserve a private dining room at the Cupola at Three on the Bund: one seats a group of eight; the other has just a table for two. In either, you may order from any of the restaurants at Three on the Bund (including several Jean-Georges restaurants). With spectacular views over the river and of Pudong, this may just be one of the most memorable tables you'll ever reserve.
Da Dong is considered the Ferran Adrià of China. In fact, when British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal (of the Fat Duck restaurant) came in search of the perfect Peking duck, it was Da Dong who he asked to teach him his secrets. At all three of his restaurants in the city, Da Dong merges molecular gastronomy with traditional Chinese cuisine. The menus, which look like coffee-table books that are illustrated with stunning photographs taken by the chef himself, feature more than 100 dishes.
The food is truly for the adventurous diner who will love such molecular concoctions as cherry tomatoes glazed in Champagne jelly with crispy mushrooms inside or the lobster noodles or persimmon capsules. The presentations are exquisite, like miniature paintings and the juxtaposition of flavors and textures are truly revolutionary. This branch, opposite from Wangfujing Bookstore, is within walking distance to the Raffles hotel.
Di Shui Dong
This popular restaurant specializes in Hunan cuisine, which is extremely spicy. There's a second branch (56 Maoming South Rd; 86-21-6253-2689) but this one is less likely to be packed and noisy.
Din Tai Fung
The company that owns this chain of dumpling joints is Taiwanese but this is one of the best spots to try the famous Shanghainese soup dumplings, as well as other tasty dim sum. There are several branches, including in the centrally located Shanghai Centre.
Duck de Chine
Part of the Hidden City dining complex in Sanlitun, Duck de Chine is one of the best places in town for Peking Duck. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a warehouse setting with wood beams and an industrial chic feeling, and the duck is superb.
This charming Spanish restaurant located in a garden villa in Shanghai’s former French Concession is one of the best places in the city to enjoy al fresco dining. Chef Willy Trullas Moreno's innovative food is hard to beat; particularly impressive are the piles of fresh seafood and a range of inventive tapas. Although any evening here will be expensive it is worth it for the breezy patio, jugs of sangria, and delicious cuisine. There's also deli that sells imported cheeses and cold cuts.
Recently relocated to a historic venue on The Bund, this restaurant is run by the charming Barcelona chef Willy Trullas Moreno. His menu is a creative jaunt through Spanish tapas—croquetas, tortilla Espanola, patatas brava, chorizo and jamon iberico—and many ingredients are imported from Europe. El Willy is a great choice for a big night out that’s not Chinese-oriented.
Flair Rooftop Restaurant & Bar
The rooftop bar and restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Pudong is one of the best venues to marvel at Shanghai’s futuristic skyline, and its most iconic monument, the Oriental Pearl TV tower, which is just a few blocks from the hotel. Located on the 58th floor, the Super Potato–designed lounge is a hot spot that draws a stylish crowd of locals and visitors, who imbibe on indulgent cocktails and Southeast Asian bites. Befitting of a restaurant that is often peeking through the clouds, Flair’s signature cocktail is a show-stopping concoction that comes topped with a fluffy tuft of cotton candy. When the weather is nice, the outdoor terrace is one of the best places to lounge in the entire city.
Housed in a three-story colonial villa from the 1930’s, this modern Shanghainese restaurant is perfect for an intimate dinner. With no outdoor signage, the antique-filled villa has transformed each of its rooms into private dining spaces, which feature simple but sophisticated furnishings like early 1900s antiques and white linen tablecloths. The cuisine, a western interpretation of Chinese classics, stays true enough to regional tastes that both locals and visitors frequent Fu 1088. Standout dishes include the drunken chicken and crab with egg white, served in an actual eggshell.
For an afternoon treat and a very local scene, head to HOF (an abbreviation for House of Flour), a chocolatier-cum-dessert spot off busy Middle Huaihai Road, in the French Concession. They serve cakes, six types of hot chocolate, gelato and pastries all made with high-quality cocoa (the place smells heavenly). It’s open late and becomes quite the hot spot after dinner.
Michael Graves designed this showstopper of a restaurant with a glamorous interior of rich velvets and dark wood to evoke the glory days of supper clubs. The menu reflects Jean-Georges’s love of classical French cooking methods and exotic flavors in dishes such as lobster tartine in a lemongrass broth with pea shoots.