Shanghai snack café nestled in the basement of the new L'Avenue
The Dining Room is nestled in the basement of the new L'Avenue, an imposing amoeba-shaped luxury mall which is a partnership between Hong Kong magnate Stanley Ho and the president of LVMH, Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault. Located on Zunyi Lu in Hongqiao, a block from Yanan Lu, the mall houses LVMH luxury brands as well as a supermarket and plenty of dining options.
Labelling itself a Shanghai snack café, The Dining Room is a trendy new entrant from one of Shanghai's most renowned local cuisine brands Xiao Nanguo (Shanghai Min), which has branches in cities across the country. The concept incorporates all the critical design memes for fashionable dining these days, including mismatched wooden furniture, shelves stocked with kitchen staples and of course, a blackboard menu. It's quirky done with sophisticated polish.
The compilation of typical casual Shanghai dishes pairs historic favourites with subtle re-interpretations of classics, ranging from dumplings to noodles and simple seafood. While many a chef has attempted to modernise Shanghainese cuisine with mixed results, the gentle creative updates by head chef Tony Huang are successfully delicious here. A standout is the shrimp with carmelised Longjing leaves (78RMB). The carmelisation adds an unexpected crispy coating and smoky sweetness to the tea leaves with contrasts with the squeaky fresh shrimp.
Luffa melon poaches in soymilk (38RMB) is another innovation, replacing the common chicken broth with a soothing soup which is absorbed into the spongy vegetable. The delicate classic pork xiaolongbao (22RMB) are flawless and we prefer them over the sweeter Wuxi-style variety (22RMB). Besides Shanghainese, there are a few Sichuan standouts, such as the excellent dandan noodles enriched with sesame paste and a fiery fish fillet in hot chilli oil (58RMB) which rivals top Sichuan venues.
Xiao Nanguo is a veteran of the competitive restaurant business and their experience shows with this shrewdly designed and targeted concept. The kitchen may be brand new, but the cuisine coming out of it is already polished and consistently good across the whole menu, an admirable feat.
While this Hongqiao branch is a little of out of the way for central Shanghai, we send folks we usually refer to Din Tai Fung to The Dining Room's Taikang Lu branch for a fresh taste of Shanghai's fashion-forward cuisine downtown.