Normally, brunch for me is classic Western food: eggs, bacon, pancakes, fresh juice, all of the above. But Shanghai has some wonderful brunch options for Asian food too. I recently experienced two great brunches in Shanghai, one at Hakkasan (5/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu; 中山东一路18号5楼) and the other at Café Sambal (Block A, No 37, 259 Jiashan Lu; 嘉善路259弄37号A栋).
Straight from London, Hakkasan is a Cantonese-style restaurant on the Bund. If you want a nice meal on the Bund without having to pay an arm and a leg, dim sum brunch at Hakkasan is a great option. For 298 RMB (plus a service charge), you can get the crispy duck salad, soup, assorted dim sum, main dish, sautéed vegetables, rice, dessert, mocktail and tea. That is a healthy amount of food.
The crispy duck salad is Hakkasan’s signature salad and I can definitely see why. It is a light and refreshing mix of pomelo, pine nuts, duck, chopped shallots, lotus root and watercress. I could have eaten an entire bowl of that for brunch and been perfectly content. For dim sum, you can choose three steamed or three fried pieces. My girlfriend and I ordered one of each so we could see the assortment. There were some clever twists (deep-fried pumpkin dumpling with truffle oil) and also some classics (har gau). Truthfully speaking, it is not the best dim sum I’ve ever had in my entire life. I have really high standards though since dim sum is one of my all-time favorite past times and I used to live in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from eating it all.
For our main dishes, I ordered the stir-fried black pepper Angus striploin cubes and my friend got the grilled Chilean seabass in Chinese honey. The beef was so incredibly tender and tasty. It had this wonderful caramelization on the outside while still being slightly spicy with the black pepper. It was some of the best beef dishes I’ve had in Shanghai. I was pleasantly surprised when the seabass arrived “char siu” way. I love BBQ honey pork and this seabass was served in the same style. I liked that the seabass wasn’t too sweet and had a nice crispy exterior.
For dessert, we ordered the lemon pot and five spice carmel apple. The caramel apple wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I was expecting a play on a caramel apple (like the type that you can get at a state fair). Instead, it was a play on tarte tatin and they even bruléed the top. I didn’t love it and wouldn’t order it again. I did LOVE the lemon pot. It was basically a deconstructed lemon tart with a beautiful lemon curd, meringues and cake pieces. I like my lemon desserts sour and this definitely delivered. I would happily order this again. As if this wasn’t enough food, you’re still welcome to pick macarons and petit fours from their gorgeous macaron display.
While Hakkasan is an option if you want fine dining, Café Sambal provides a delicious Malaysian meal for a steal of a price. Nestled in the Jiashan Market, Café Sambal is a modern restaurant with concrete walls and a great outdoor patio in warmer weather. For 98 RMB, you get a plate of assorted dishes (the menu changes seasonally). We got a papaya and cucumber salad, nasi lemak, five spice meat loaf, deep-fried prawn fitter, roti canai with dhall and chicken curry. Brunch also comes with a drink (tea, coffee or fruit punch) and an Asian dessert (coconut soup with sago and pumpkin).
It was my first time at Café Sambal, but my girlfriend had frequented it many times. She swears by their honey chicken so we had to order it. The honey chicken was delectable. It was lightly fried pieces of boneless dark meat chicken. I think that’s my favorite kind of chicken– boneless chicken thighs. The chicken was tender and moist with a hint of soy sauce and honey. It was absolutely delectable and probably the highlight of the meal.
I can’t claim to be an expert on Malaysian food, but I really liked having an assortment of things to try. Out of the brunch selection, I really liked the roti (deep-fried pancake) and being able to dip it in the dhall curry and chicken curry (also boneless dark meat). For brunch in Shanghai, 98 RMB is a real steal. I really liked Café Sambal and would definitely go back for dinner to try more dishes. But make sure you place an order of the honey chicken. You won’t regret it!