I was a bit uncertain about Shanghai Lane as we walked in. The large black and white photos of Old Shanghai, the neat soy sauce pots on each table, and the smartly uniformed waiters all felt very packaged. I imagined other identical restaurants being set up by the company across the city and feared the food would taste equally indistinct. Overall though, while not that remarkable, the restaurant offered solid Shanghai food at lower prices.
The ‘braised pork belly with bean curd knots’ (HK$50) had fatty cubes of meat that were pleasingly tender, but didn’t melt sumptuously in your mouth like the best braised pork can. The meat was soaked in a sauce which felt a little thin, potent with Chinese rice wine but lacking more subtle flavours. In comparison the dark sauce of Xiao Nan Guo’s ‘red braised pork’ is thicker and loaded with hints of liquorish and cinnamon that it has absorbed through the long cooking process and make it really exciting to eat. The dish is twice the price at Xiao Nan Guo, but I’d probably rather pay the extra for these more stimulating flavours that really enhance the meat.
I was hesitant to pay HK$68 for fried noodles when some you can get them for half the price elsewhere. Shanghai Lane’s ‘fried noodles with shrimp, chicken and ham’ warranted the higher price though, reminding me more of pasta dishes in finer Italian restaurants than the oily ‘chau mihn’ of a lot of local cha chaan tengs. The noodles were just lightly brushed with oil, which enhanced rather than smothered their own fresh, slightly floury taste. The shrimp and chicken had also been handled delicately so the frying just lightly cooked them and brought out the strong seafood and tender white meats flavours. Together the noodles and shrimp offered really soft, yet enticing tones that were very enjoyable.
The siu lung bau (dumplings with pork and soup inside) followed the trend of being good whilst not really blowing me away. The dumpling wrapper was thin and tasted fairly freshly made, free from that chewy, micro-waved texture that often marks cheap dumplings. But the wrapper still didn’t have the homemade texture of the best dumplings, and the soup inside was a little bland, lacking those soothing brothy flavours which explode out of the best siu lung bao. Again, Xia Nan Guo offers better dumplings, as do many of the higher end dim sum places in Hong Kong.
If you’re hungry and looking for decent Shanghai food at a low price then Shanghai Lane is definitely worth a visit. Some of the more special braised dishes like the ‘sea cucumber’ or ‘pigs trotter’ might also offer something a bit more special, though I’m yet to try these. If you want more stimulating Shanghai food though, it’s probably worth paying a little bit more to head over to Xiao Nan Guo or somewhere else.
35-37 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong Tel: 2850 7788
Open from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Around HK$50 a dish, Dumplings HK$15-35 with some ‘chef’s recommendations’ for up to $200