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Kikujiro

Shanghai Blues

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Shanghai Blues, in what used to be the St Giles Library in Holborn, must be the most ambitious Chinese restaurant to open in London since Alan Yau's. His influence, in fact, is pretty felt -- the (apparently feng-shui-considerate) conversion isn't quite as overwhelmingly gorgeous as Hakkasan, but it's dark and sensual, with little ripples of light and big, widely-spaced tables. (The loos, a bit of a maze of mirrors, are very post-Yau what with their shallow sinks and Molton Brown soaps.)

 

The menu -- the head chef, Hong Qiu Feng, apparently arrives from cooking for government types in Beijing -- is a reasonable brace of accessible and interesting, with particular focus on seafood. This isn't cheap, the lobster and crab dishes approaching 40 quid, but poultry, pork and so on are around a tenner, and starters, from various dumplings and steamed scallops through cold razor clams and crispy squid with salted egg yolk, around 5-8.

 

Nibbles included good fried nuts, barely pickled cucumber with chilli and prawn crackers that I couldn't help gobbling. We had a 'supreme seafood' version of shanghai soupy xiao long bao, with crab and scallop, which was fine although I hankered more for the porky original (also on the menu). Then steamed razor clams with beansprouts and chinese chives (delicate and the clams themselves surprisingly thin and frilly); pan-grilled aubergine stuffed with minced fish and orange peel (texturally good but the flavours a bit drowned by the sauce); salted pork belly slices with chinese chives and spring garlic stems (what's not to like there?) and 'crispy' (they mean crisp, it was stir-fried) morning glory with shanghai sea spice and chilli. And steamed rice. All of this was good to good-plus without blowing me away, but then my standards for asian food have been quite high recently. With it we drunk a not exciting chablis from a wine list that irritatingly starts at £20. Comped a dessert of glutinous rice wrapped around custard and red bean paste with grated coconut.

 

Service was very pleasant and attentive. Someone needs to tell the waitresses they don't have to say 'thank you very much' every time they do anything (unroll your napkin, refill your glass, etc), and there were a couple of glitches with the bill -- first, they charged us for the comped dessert (which when pointed out was met with huge apologies from numerous staff members); second, they haven't worked out how to use their portable card readers, and tried to tell me two of my cards had been declined when it slowly became clear that the unit's memory was full and couldn't process any more transactions. They were doing their best to sort it out but seemed not to pick up on this key point, so in the end I walked over the road to a cash machine ...

 

Bill would have come to nearly £90 before service, but they're operating a 40% discount until 9 February so it was £57 all in. Toptable's version seems to be food only -- easier to call directly and quote 'urban junkies', should you feel like it.

 

Shanghai Blues

193-197 High Holborn (nb it's the stretch of HH west of Holborn tube)

London WC1V 7BD

 

020 7404 1668

 

website (not yet operative)

 

edit: there's also a large bar area, which I didn't investigate

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Thanks for letting us know, Kiku. C and I went. I liked it, overall, and I'm hoping it continues to develop.

 

Let me get the things that I did not like out of the way.

 

 

His influence, in fact, is pretty felt -- the (apparently feng-shui-considerate) conversion isn't quite as overwhelmingly gorgeous as Hakkasan, but it's dark and sensual

 

 

Exactly. It struck me as "Hakkasan-Lite". A cheaper imitation (on the interior decor) of what Hakkasan did so incredibly well. I really wish they had gone for something more individual. Especially, since everything at Shanghai Blues is so mismatched as a result of limited budget (I'm assuming the budget is the reason as opposed to bad taste). I think the choice of dark wood and silk is great, but why use so many colours when you are going for dark and sensual? mint green chairs, evergreen light fixtures, cream coloured lamps, bright red silk covered lamps, amber lights over the bar, wine coloured silk paintings on the walls, and then plum curtains.

 

And then that horrible dishware. Mismatchy. I don't mind mismatched plates and bowls when it all makes sense together but this just looked like they went to the Asian version of the $1 or £1 store and picked up everything they could find in bulk. In fact, I have a few of the dishes they were using and they did come from the 100 yen store.

 

Although I did like the water glasses. Heavy oval shaped high glasses.

 

And the music... Hip hoppy, to very bad electronic jazz is what they were playing when we were there. And a little bit too loud. I'm thinking that we'll actually tell them that its the wrong kind of music for what they are trying to do if they are still playing that the next time we go back.

 

And the starters

 

 

barely pickled cucumber with chilli

 

I love cucumber so we did polish this off. But anyone can do a better job making these at home.

 

 

We had a 'supreme seafood' version of shanghai soupy xiao long bao, with crab and scallop, which was fine although I hankered more for the porky original (also on the menu

 

 

We had the original porky version. Unfortunately not wonderfully succulent and deliciously soupy in thin skin the way xiao long bao should be. And why don't they give you a spoon to eat these with?

 

We also had Drunken Chicken with jellyfish. Same underpickled cucumbers were in this dish, tough chicken, and flaccid jellyfish.

 

But their mains....

 

Shanghai Blues makes excellent rice. Fragrant, individual grains yet moist.

 

We also had the morning glory which they do perfectly crisp with lovely flavor.

 

shanghai sea spice and chilli

What do you think Shanghai sea spice is? I want to get my hands on some of this.

 

Chicken MaPo Tofu. Oooooh, their siken tofu is incredible. Custard like texture. I couldn't stop eating this. Their version is a little soupier than I like but the tiny veg and mushroom dice that was part of the dish more than made up for it. Lovely.

 

Stir fried Alaskan Crab in garlic, black bean, and szechuan spices. I love asian crab dishes, but this is an exceptional version. Not a dish for those who don't like to get their hands dirty. It comes in the shell (the only way it ought to come) chopped into manageable pieces. And the way they prepare it, it is wonderfully tender, snowy white, in this amazing sauce. The black beans they are using in the dish are not your typical fermented black beans you get at the chinese grocery store. They were better quality than I've ever had.

 

Does anyone know what it would cost you to buy a good sized Alaskan Crab in London? The dish isn't cheap - £38. But I'd pay that to eat this dish again.

 

The manager walked us around the space after our meal. There is a beautiful front room to the side (better than the main room, in my opinion) and then a glassed private party room (also better than the main room).

 

And the staff are absolutely lovely.

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A bit of an aside: I wonder if Dunlop orders in Chinese or English when she's reviewing Chinese restaurants?

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It's Lobster Month this month down at Shanghai Blues-lobster dishes down from £42 to £25, presumably in an attempt to induce some people to order them, since lobster dishes are about £25 as a norm in places like Yi-Ban.

 

We forewent the bargain lobsters in favour of some pretty ordinary dishes. Grilled Chilean Sea Bass with Barbeque Sauce had juicy fresh fish, but so it should have been at £28 :lol: A Shanghai Devilled Lamb dish was more reasonably priced but was far too over black peppered. Probably best to stick to the steamed Dim Sum type starters, of which there are many, and of which we enjoyed the Vegatable Dumplings in "Carrot Juice pastry" (actually, orange coloured dumplings).

 

This restaurant was full and buzzy on a Saturday night with a 50/50 mix of young Western/Chinese diners and a jazzy trio noodling away with MOR sounds up on one of the overlooking balconies.

 

Best dish of the night (and only £6 :lol: ) was a dessert of Coconut Custard. The menu specified a 25 minute wait, and it was worth it for a bowl of hot white coconut custard accompanied by coconut candy floss. The dish was really light, clean, sweetish, but completely uncloying-delicious.

 

In all I don't think this restaurant is so much better than many places two or three notches cheaper. It would appear to be fashioning itself on Hakkasan, but it really isn't in its league. But if you like lobster...this is the month to go

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