One of three restaurants at Hyatt on the Bund is Xindalu, a Chinese kitchen. I asked Neil at check in where a good place to go for Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) near the hotel. He stated the hotel restaurant. Usually I have a hard time believing that the exact thing I wanted to eat happened to be a specialty of the hotel restaurant, but Neil seemed like a good guy so I thought I would take a chance.
Thank you Neil, thank you very much.
It’s exhaustive. Any time a menu comes in a binder, I am overwhelmed before the dishes arrive. This time was no different. I called the server over for help and explained that I was looking for soup dumplings, she pointed them out on the menu and I ordered them up. Having had soup dumplings more times than I could count, I thought I might want to try something else too. I had forgotten that usually I share the dumplings with others reducing my overall intake, but this didn’t stop me from ordering and finishing two full entrees. The second was a simple Shanghai noodle dish that the server recommended.
Homemade Chili sauce
The first thing to come out was a homemade chili sauce which the server instructed me to mix with the vinegar if I like spicy food. Naturally, I love spicy food and their homemade sauce looked amazing. I am a big fan of Sichuan food and the sauce was reminiscent of the oil based chili sauce used in that region’s cooking. I ended up putting it on everything. It was spicy enough to deliver a kick, but not so spicy that you had to be careful. I used the entire ramekin.
The noodles came out and instantly I was in love. There was a deep black bean sauce that coated the noodles which were block and rectangular in shape. Intermixed were slices of pork and Chinese broccoli. The bowl was large, and would be filling enough to be an entire entree for one person. While the meat wasn’t heaping, it also wasn’t the star of the dish and didn’t have to be. It was there for flavor and could have been missed. The noodles were the star of the show and they lived up to the role. I could tell right away that not only were they made in-house from scratch, but they were cooked perfectly and had a dense quality to them. In the same way that a steak – crispy and crossed from the grill on the outside and perfect medium rare on the inside are something to admire when done correctly – so too are noodles this good.
The soup dumplings came out and I couldn’t be sure how they would be. There are two types of soup dumplings. Some have an incredibly thin wonton that the slightest movement – even just separating them from the paper in the steam basket – will cause them to puncture and spill the soup inside. The other is a thick and chewy layer that better protects the contents but can mask the contents.
I prefer the thinner membrane and treat them delicately as I pinched the top of each one and place them on my spoon. I poked a hole with my chopstick in the wonton and slurp the soup inside. It’s savory and somehow makes me feel like home. I took the first one in one bite following with no sauce at all and it was unbelievable. There is a creamy roe they have added to the mix here which at first glance might make this all seem strange and at least sound rather awful. Pork dumplings with fish roe and soup topped with a vinegar mixed with chili sauce – that can’t be good.
It was. It really was.
The only lacking portion of the experience was the service. I walked by someone at the first host stand (yes there were two) who was deeply engrossed in… I don’t know, menus. I was seated by the hostess at the second host stand and taken to a table within the mostly empty restaurant just after 1PM on a Monday. My “waitress” was wearing a coat and seemed more like middle level management, she was helpful and delivered my food but it was a solid 20 minutes after I finished before I finally flagged down anyone I could see to get my check. My plates were never cleared from the table, a personal pet peeve.
Lunch was also quite expensive, though I did order two entrees in a hotel restaurant. It ended up just shy of $50 with tip, but it was worth it. Besides, it’s a tax write-off and it was one of the only meals I actually paid for over my two days in Shanghai which I thought was getting away with murder. My wife probably won’t pat me on the back for having this incredible lunch but I am not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy it.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in Shanghai? Any hotel restaurants that are worth going to if you’re not staying there?