When I want to search for restaurants to eat at overseas, or want to search for reviews (if urbanspoon doesn't have any or doesn't exist for the country), I always type "restaurant name blogspot".
It's so difficult when you've been put in charge to organize which restaurants you're going to with a group, when you've never been to the city before!
Xin Ji Shi was recommended by a friend and also by my mother who had been there on a recent visit to Shanghai with my dad, which also came with a plethora of specific dish recommendations as well.
So I went to google it, as you do and came across http://www.goingwithmygut.com with an absolutely marvellous and tantalising review of the place. On top of that, she mentioned at the end of her post that she was compiling a list of Shanghai restaurants for friends that were planning to go and was offering to share her list.
I promptly jumped on her offer and within the day she responded to me with a comprehensive list with review links, addresses and phone numbers and of course a brief blurb about the place.
The world of food bloggers really can be such a wonderful place.
Xin Ji Shi is located in Xin Tian Di in Shanghai, which is a very trendy and nicely done up shopping and eating area. It's been made to look even slightly European, with cobblestones and brick walls. However, when you do walk into Xin Ji Shi, it feels...like a clean, but traditional and homely type place. This ain't no hole in the wall, but it's not screaming out to be noticed either (which can be typical of some Chinese places I know in Melbourne...)
Our group was seated in a semi outdoor area, it wasn't in the warm confines of the building exactly, and there were outdoor heaters but it was still covered on all sides around us.
Whilst I decided to keep my drinking until a bit later in the night, my friends got into some Chinese beer and I sipped on Chinese tea. While nibbling on the delicious roasted peanuts in what I assume is seaweed salt. Or something of the like.
English menus! Pictures! Godsend! The menu naturally was quite generous in size and it took a little while to make a decision on what to eat, but it's nice to feel like the English menu hasn't been skimped on in size because the restaurant might have been too lazy to translate it (as some places do!).
One of the things we had been recommended by my mum to have was the sea cucumber, which I would have liked but at 90 Yuan a head, it was a pricey little number. When I reported this to my mum she was quite surprised, so there must have been a recent price change. Darn!
But nevermind that, we have plenty of other things to eat! Jaime and I love beef tendon, so we were quick to order it, but we were both quite surprised with what we were presented with. I'm typically quite used to getting beef tendon at yum cha, which is usually steamed, a little bit saucy, hot and almost gelatinous in texture, or jelly like anyway.
This beef tendon was chilled, thinly sliced, a little bit chewier than I'm used to and with a delicious spicy kick at the back the throat. We were amazed and very happy with the change, it was so refreshing and almost palette cleansing to have...for a meat dish.
Another dish Jaime and I both quickly decided we needed to order? Jellyfish. Again, I'm used to having it at Chinese restaurants, usually served with duck, long and noodle-y looking and devoured chilled. This was a little bit warm, served in a vinegary, soy sort of sauce, fan shaped and exceptionally crunchy. I don't know how many species of jellyfish you can eat, but I do wish I knew what this one was in particular, we again, both loved this and found it a perfect starting dish to share in size and lightness.
I have no idea what these are.
We tried to ask for vegetables and tried to ask for bok choy. The waiter responded 'Ah, bak chee!' and well, this isn't like any bok choy I've ever seen!
However, this was another surprise which we liked a lot. They were served in a very vinegary sauce that completely cleaned up your palette and were very crunchy and refreshing. I only wish I knew what they actually were....anyone have any ideas?
On to the mains! Oh my goodness. This was one of the chef's specialities, grandmother's recipe pork belly. Or something like that.
Urgh. I haven't had pork belly this decadent in a long time, it was just delicious. There was so much fat on the belly, the pieces just wobbled around on your plate, but the meaty bits were gorgeously cooked and just the perfect texture to bite through. The sauce it was cooked in was so comforting and hearty and just....easily one of the favourite dishes of the night. Also possibly one of the most sinfully delicious dishes I have ever eaten. I just don't have words to describe it!
Next up was fried prawns and chicken in dried red chillis. Whilst this dish looks intimidating to those who don't like spicy, the chillis are really there more for looks and don't add much spice to the dishes. When you managed to fish up a chicken or prawn under the bed of chillis, they were both cooked well, although maybe slightly drier than I like, but that's just me being picky.
Whilst normally soup is served first at most Chinese restaurants (back in Melbourne anyway) for some reason our soup came out last, maybe we needed to make it a special request to have it first?
However, it was actually a good thing for our twice cooked chicken soup to come out last. It was a beautiful chicken broth, that was absolutely bursting with flavour and didn't feel oily. I normally don't like having plain chicken soups as I find them a bit boring, but I easily had two or three servings of this. It was actually the perfect thing to have after all the fatty pork...it felt like it was helping us digest. Or so I like to tell myself.
All in all it was a wonderful meal, every dish was well seasoned, delicious and interesting to eat. I think we managed to pick an interesting mix of dishes as well, which tends to help a little.
I loved how Xin Ji Shi was bustling, but didn't feel that way, we felt like we had our own little corner of the world, but were being well attended to with friendly and (generally) smily waiters who tried very hard to understand my friend's broken Mandarin and speak to us in his broken English. We got there eventually.
And although dinner was over, the night was still young!
We ended up at not one, not two but three roof top bars (and another club afterwards) at the 'Bund', which is the area by the river, which is absolutely glorious at night.
The trendy bar scene tends to be a bit older, the crowd are usually expats who are in their 30's and 40's, who aren't that interesting to us, but when you're with a few of your best friends, who really cares who's around? We had an excellent night, filled with merry making and dancing. And who needs more?
Although if you'd like a bar recommendation, I would probably suggest Bar Rouge, which seems to like lighting everything on fire....
Xin Tian Di Unit 4, Building 9, 169 Taicang Lu