Hunanese is right up there with Szechuan for mouth-numbingly spicy shredded pork and steamed fish. Here, it’s all about the chili-and-garlic-flecked ribs. Take a number (and a beer) and sit outside on the steps while the tables turn.
This location is the first and truest of the Jesse restaurant family, which serves hand-me-down Shanghainese recipes. Try the Jishi pork (tender glazed pork belly) and the Jishi Chicken Chicken (“drunken chicken”) in a cramped split-level townhouse.
Shanghai is not a duck town, but this Bund-side Hyatt brings the tradition south. Juicy, crispy birds come from an open oven at the centre of the room and arrive with thick sauces, spices and sugar (for dipping the roasted skin), to be carved tableside in ceremonial fashion.
The menu at cafeteria-style dumpling house is printed in Chinese only. Use your charades skills to order the specialty xiaolongbao, tidy cases of dough with a soupy filling that seeps onto your tongue when devoured in a single bite.
Sit at the communal table at the centre of the restaurant and you’ll get a front seat to your neighbours’ choice dishes. Point if you want what they’re having, or simply scroll down the menu for dim-sum favourites. The kitchen also does a roaring trade in deep-fried Mandarin fish, a traditional Chinese dish.
Enter the Shanghai Education Hall and take a tiny elevator to the seventh floor; then step onto a covered rooftop terrace with just 36 seats and a view of the Xuhui district. The pork belly was rated one of the top three in Shanghai, and the seared scallops with crushed cashews are a must.
This location is the more atmospheric of this small chain of Japanese speakeasies. Deep crescent-shaped booths accommodate parties of wild-haired creative types dressed in duds from the surrounding boutiques. Grab a stool at the backlit bar for the best service.
Single-origin coffee beans are roasted in-house at this laid-back café in the Jing’an District. Slurp your way through a guided tasting session on Saturday and Sunday mornings, or grab a java to go and explore the surrounding neighbourhood: To the north is a century-old synagogue; to the south, luxury fashion flagships abound.
Leave the chaos of the surrounding market streets for this 16th-century Ming sanctuary shaded with magnolia and gingko trees. Temples and tea houses with classic swooping clay roofs perch on rocky outcroppings, and the famous “crooked bridge” zigzags across a koi pond. Give the official restaurants a pass; you’ll fare better strolling to the Zhaozhou Road hawkers near Xintiandi.
This community of traditional shikumen houses was rebuilt then leased to new-generation boutiques and fine-dining restaurants. On warm days, head to the bustling cafes and wine bars that line the piazzas. Head to Danshui Road, at Xintiandi’s western edge, for cocktail joints, microbreweries and snack bars that are mash-ups of Asian and Western tastes.
Long Museum (West Bund)
For the contemporary art
Homegrown architects Atelier Deshaus paid homage to the dour concrete of mid-century Shanghai with this soaring, light-filled sanctuary, commissioned by two billionaires for their private collection. The vast main gallery shows a wealth of vibrant paintings. Get a closer view of this striking collection from the mezzanine balcony.
Take a three-hour all-you-can-eat breakfast excursion around the Former French Concession and sample fare from the tried-and-tested pancake-flippers, bun-steamers, egg-scramblers and dumpling-fryers. The CNY472 fee is reasonable, considering the constant flow of coffee and insider tips. A similar night-market tour includes bottomless beer.
Explore Shaanxi South Road metro, where hawkers tow wood carts past upstart boutiques like Culture Matters. Duck into the shady streets behind the Shanghai Library and peer past iron gates to deco manors. Behind stone walls on Wukang Road, Ferguson Lane claims some fine cafes, galleries and boutiques.
For the souvenirs
Locals teamed up with artists and crafters to save this maze of residential alleyways from developers, opening makeshift galleries to pay the rent. Homegrown fashion labels are popping up along Taikang Road, outside the gates of the enclave.
Lording over the Bund since 1929, this art deco beauty has welcomed world leaders and writers like Noël Coward, who penned <i>Private Lives</i> in room 314. Sip on a signature gin cocktail at the Jazz Bar, where the average age of the musicians is 80. There’s been a band playing here since the 1930s, with only one hiatus, during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Neri & Hu, one of the country’s best-known architectural design firms, outfitted this former warehouse on the South Bund in concrete and Corten steel, stark white walls and peek-a-boo windows between guestrooms. Rub elbows with the fashionable set at Table No. 1 on the main-floor or find cheap eats in the nearby restaurants.
By day, the hotel’s common rooms are black lacquered odes to calm, sheltered from the city by copses of evergreens; by night they’re low-lit and sexy with major buzz. In the spacious guestrooms, you can block off cozy nooks with floor-to-ceiling silk screens. The spa and glassy infinity pool are legendary for their tranquility.
Stay at this hotel in the thick of Shanghai’s shopping district and you won’t have to walk far to drop your bags. This distinctive building is an architectural triumph, and the rooms do it justice with floor-to-ceiling windows and marble bathrooms. Afternoon tea, served on fine Wedgwood china, features outlandishly decorated cakes.
Info about getting from the airport, public transportation and more.
Getting from the Airport
Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport is about 45 kilometres outside the city centre. High-speed Maglev trains (CNY50) take you to Longyang Road Station, east of the centre, in eight minutes, but you’ll likely have to connect to the subway. Splurge for a taxi (around CNY131) from a designated stand outside each terminal for the half-hour drive into town.
Shanghai’s 14 Metro lines are cheap, clean and well marked in English for easy navigation, though they are best used outside peak hours. Prices range according to distance, from around CNY3. Buy a three-day pass for CNY45 at any Metro station. Download the Explore Shanghai app for maps and directions, or visit travelchinaguide.com for more information.
Designated cars with roof lights abound in Shanghai – look for the driver’s license hanging over the back of the seat to make sure it’s legitimate. You can find them waiting outside most hotels. (There’s no guarantee they’ll stop if you try to hail one.) Be sure you have your destination address in English and Chinese; the Shanghai Taxi app helps translate most public destinations into Chinese characters. Shanghai taxis have proper meters and cost between CNY13 and CNY21. If you’d like a receipt with your change, ask for a fapiao. There is a local version of Uber called Didi Chuxing, but registering requires local bank details.
Touring art deco icons, post-industrial museums and hole-in-the-wall dumpling shops with a Canadian restaurant designer.
By Craig Stanghetta
I’ve just left Pudong International Airport and am thundering through the neon-lit night in a cab that reminds me I have a tailbone. The frail undercarriage of the car has me absorbing every bump and pothole in one of Shanghai’s thousand highways, but that doesn’t stop me from looking over my five-day itinerary. As usual, it’s filled with food, architecture and art. As the principal of Ste. Marie Art + Design, a Vancouver design studio with a hospitality focus, this kind of agenda is typical for me, whether I’m on a business trip or vacation. I’ve come to Shanghai to experience its mixed heritage of international and local influences, of industry and commerce through time. What got me most excited about what’s been called China’s first modern city is that it’s so fast – buildings go up, buildings come down – making even Hong Kong pale in comparison. But some architects and designers are taking the time to adopt industrial buildings loaded with history, character and charm, reinventing them as fresh-faced hotels, shops and galleries. They also look to historical narratives in French colonialism, industrial might and Hollywood glam to interpret and amplify the city’s rich art deco legacy. To walk through Shanghai is to walk through a film noir sequel.
1. The Waterhouse at South Bund
Lay down your head at the Waterhouse hotel to experience the city’s cool, punchier side.
It’s mid-morning in the lobby of the Waterhouse, and my third espresso is waking me up to the details of the hotel’s architecture. It’s one of several spaces I’m visiting by Neri&Hu Design and Research Office, the cardinal firm in Shanghai working to graft new life onto the ghostly fragments of old buildings – in this case, a warehouse from the 1930s used as a Japanese army barracks during WWII.
The stitching of old to new reminds me of a young bride dancing with her grandfather at her wedding – a frail, fleeting harmony. In one gesture, wispy neon offsets the original brickwork, and in another, a dowdy domestic tile finds new life next to a rigid structural steel girder. And there’s a wall with three different finishes that have been forensically revealed to show three generations and three separate interpretations of the built environment. For this history, the feel is contemporary – a perfect jumping-off point into an intricate and layered city.
Get a sense of what the epicentre of 1930s hedonism felt like in the octagonal atrium at the Fairmont Peace Hotel.
Considered a grande dame of Shanghai art deco, this stately block of a building symbolizes progress, speed and certainty. In its heyday, art deco was a celebration of industry and excess, and as I settle into the Jazz Bar at the Fairmont Peace with an old-fashioned in hand, I see the tenets of the era in every archway, inlay and motif throughout the hotel. You can’t spend five minutes in the central atrium without becoming energized by the force of the geometry and the light entering through the towering stained glass. I realize this is why the style is so at home in Shanghai: Speed and progress drive the culture of commerce here, even now. While some of the other designs I see in the city are a reaction to this (even in the best possible way), it’s not merely a resistance but an interpretation, a negotiation – selectively embracing and snubbing, courting and scorning.
See the best of contemporary art, from here and abroad, under the vaulted concrete forms at the Long Museum West Bund.
I’ve meandered my way by hired car to the West Bund district to explore another example of how the industry-driven city reinvents space: the Long Museum. (The owners’ original Shanghai outpost, the Long Museum Pudong, opened in 2012 in the Pudong New Area.) A contemporary art gallery rising up from the site of an old coal-shipping facility on the Huangpu River, the museum incorporates industrial spaces and relics, including a dilapidated conveyor framework embraced by the new build’s curved concrete walls.
As I stroll the grounds’ courtyard and open spaces, I notice an almost eerie silence contrasting with the hyper-rhythm of the city centre, and attribute the calming effect to the smooth, continuous concrete finishes and vast, sweeping vaults. To top it all off, the resolute simplicity of form, atypical of Shanghai’s architecture, makes it easy to lose myself in the artworks on display within.
Head to the West Bund Art & Design complex to see how the Chi She gallery makes waves by mixing tradition and technology, in this case old bricks and robotic design.
What I love about this gallery is that it looks as though it’s held together by magic. In true Shanghai fashion, the architects took tradition – the reclaimed bricks from an existing building on the site – and added something new: digital fabrication technology by way of a robotic arm that joined those old bricks together again. The result is a bulging facade, a form that pushes the boundaries of the material so drastically it’s alarming. I’ve seen this before, but usually with brand new buildings. Here, the wave that ripples across the facade is executed with a material so modest, so simple and so old, the structure is something altogether different – it feels mystic. I’m suddenly struck by the fact that I’m in a truly ancient part of the world. While it’s unnerving at first, soon I’m just inspired that a building can kick with such force.
Shop for international and Chinese modern furniture and home accessories at Design Republic Commune.
My host, Ricky, disappears into this vast police headquarters turned design hub, leaving me leafing through a booklet. I come across a section that describes the sense of play behind Neri&Hu’s revamp of the colonial building along the lines of: Logic exists, but sometimes the logic is that of a dream. That sums up the atmosphere of lightness and even amusement in this heavy brick structure, where whole sections of the original floor plate were erased, creating sweeping, Escher-like views from one level to the next. Lath walls were stripped of plaster to form space-dividing screens.
And in addition to showcasing high-end furniture from international and local brands, the complex draws with a restaurant, a café and even a one-room hotel. Ricky sneaks up on me with more literature before leading me back out to the renowned Jason Atherton tapas restaurant, Commune Social, adjacent to the Design Republic. Jamón ibérico and a glass of lambrusco in the middle of Shanghai – seems as dreamy as the setting to me.