•  Travel Diaries

    Shanghai Odyssey

  • Nikhil Agarwal

    Shanghai is a city flooded with cash & ferraris, but beneath there’s more culinary substance than ever.

    There’s something about modern cities in Asia that I thoroughly enjoy. The infectious energy from the sheer number of people, the tall buildings and this beautiful mesh between traditional architecture, food and lifestyle on one hand and the best of western luxuries, brands, food and drink on the other. Shanghai is no exception and I have explored this massive city carefully over the last three years on three separate occasions. I had gone to present at SIAL, one of Asia’s leading exhibitions on food, wine and spirits.

    I flew Business class on my Singapore Airlines flight to Shanghai and I got to say the legendary service of Singapore Airlines is truly flawless. Everything from the seats to the food and wine or tea and coffee list for that matter is exemplary. Drinking Charles Heidsick Champagne followed by a selection of wines like Selbach Riesling, Joseph Drouhin Rully and Chateau Peyrabon to go along with a five course gourmet dinner up in the air is an experience that I will not mind going back to again and again on this airline.

    From the airport take the Maglev, the world’s fastest train to the centre of town at speeds over 350 kilometers per hour for the thrill and convenience of it.


    You can’t visit Shanghai and not visit the Bund. The Bund overlooks the River Huangpu in the district of Pudong with its sky kissing futuristic space age like glass buildings including the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Jin Mao Tower, what the locals refer to as the bottle opener building on one side and old colonial styled buildings on the other. Both sides are equally eye catching in exactly opposite ways. The river itself is full of activity with floating restaurants, cruise and cargo ships; all slowly moving along this ancient river.

    When at the Bund, you have to visit Shanghai’s most famous restaurant called Mr. & Mrs. Bund by Paul Pairet; which does live up to its hype. This restaurant offers incredibly delicious French food, great cocktails and a brilliant wine and spirit list with a view of Pudong to die for. A glass of wine on the terrace here is pure bliss. One floor above on the terrace of the building you have the Bar Rouge which is a must visit for some late night shenanigans.

    In doing my research for this trip I discovered The House of Roosevelt on an Anthony Bourdain show I had seen. I had to visit to see this place for myself. The House of Roosevelt is a majestic colonial style building on the Bund which houses one of the best wine centric restaurants I have ever been to. The Roosevelt family is none other than the family that had two United States Presidents – President Franklin Roosevelt and President Theodore Rooservelt.

    This restaurant/wine bar is enormous with private dining spaces and wine cellars on every wall glistening with bottles of wine from every corner of the world. Luckily I walked in on a Wednesday evening where they host their weekly wine tastings. The audience is a mix of expats and local wine enthusiasts and like any wine event the group was friendly. The old world architecture of the room, excellent wine, candles and a view of Pudong made this tasting quite remarkable.

    I met by chance Mr. Tse who is Chairman of Roosevelt China Investment Corporation and he invited me to a hidden private cellar that could be accessed only by punching in a code behind a book on a shelf, very James Bond like. The private cellar contains back dated vintages of  some of the most iconic wines from all over the world covering practically every corner of the world. On another floor they have a private members lounge and on the terrace they have an open air bar and serve the entire gamut of wines they serve downstairs.  If you’re into wine don’t miss this place.

    Napa Valley Wine Bar and Kitchen is super too and so is Burdigala that serves only wines from Bordeaux. Speaking of wine do give Chinese wine a shot, you would be surprised by the quality of some and the sheer number of options. The Chinese also believe that the colour red is lucky and have taken to their lucky red wines with some serious aggression. So much so that now in a relatively small period of time they have become the world’s largest consumers of red wine. How’s that for progress!

    If you have the budget, approximately rupees forty thousand a head, you should definitely have the UV experience. This restaurant is in a secret location and takes dining experience to a whole new level using sounds, light and aromas to take you on a gastronomical journey like no other.

    Further down the road along the Bund is a high-end yet casual tapas bar called Unico, which I thoroughly loved. They have live music there and the food is delicious.

    Not too far in an area called Xintiandi you will be spoilt for choice. This area is a little touristy I must warn you but excellent nevertheless. Head for a beer at the Paulaner Brauhaus (brewpub) or have a glass of vino at the wine bar right next to it.

    But I digress, if you want some live jazz, head to the jazz bar slightly ahead or visit The Devil’s Share for a range of whiskies as you watch the world go by down below. Try the famed Xiao Long Bao at the local Din Tai Fung and try to not burn your tongue. Oh and if you’re looking for some seriously good steak there is a spanking new Wolfgang Puk restaurant bang in the middle.

    Shanghai is a serious food and drink town and you can have great food anywhere. If you’re the adventurous kind, try the many street food options that include duck tongue, insects, bamboo shoots and a variety of pork-based dishes; it’s something one would have never had before.

    In Pudong, you could walk around the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and IFC Mall area and see swarms of people go from one place to another. The mall has a great number of restaurants on top and some with terraces. You could sit there with your neck cracked upwards and look at some of the world’s tallest structures around you.

    All this and I frankly haven’t even scratched the surface; I don’t think anyone could even after living there for a year. I like that there are people from all over the world who call it home, so much so that you might not even bump into a local Shanghainese at many of the restaurants and bars. I got to say that I love this town and Shanghai has quickly become one of my top two favourite cities in Asia with Hong Kong being the other one!

    Nikhil Agarwal, a trained sommelier who received his degree from WSET, London, is the mastermind who conceptualized ALL THINGS NICE. He has been in wine business for over 16 yrs and has hosted over 2000 wine events.