Chinatown didn’t appear to be damaged earlier than the planners set out to restore it. Still, here we’re, many years later, with the new Central Cross, a gleaming, 48,000 square toes plaza just off Charing Cross Road. Shanghai Modern is one of Central Cross’s first openings.
It is yards from the previous Dive Bar beneath the King’s Head pub, which at one level become one of the West End’s most wonderful subterranean hidey-hole. “Call the police, there’s a mad guy around,” sang Neil Tennant, immortalizing Gerrard Street’s melee: a glut of Cantonese, Sichuan, and Hunan restaurants, plus a rolling cast of tipsy gays, Wag clubbers, glamour studio women, OAP mahjong leagues and jobbing sari seamstresses.
Then again, Central Cross is more approximately fresh cement and attracting vacationer footfall; however, all regeneration is tricky. Some will say that Shanghai Modern and its new neighbor Jini are precisely the kind of Instagram-pretty, destiny-facing, 150-seat projects that Chinatown needs right now. Give the ’Grammars their smooth-shell crab perched on a tropical island of mango fried rice and their signature novelty, pastel-crimson-colored beef xiao long bao with cute ears and snout.
Give them their front display kitchen to recognition a zoom lens up to a chef’s nostril as he crimps the dough. Other onlookers would possibly ask how larger, better, brighter Chinatown hopes to live on whilst “fishing raids” via immigration have ended up so “violent,” in line with the London Chinatown Chinese Association. That final July, there was a mass restaurant shut down in protest.
What Shanghai Modern absolutely – yes, absolutely – is: it’s far marginally nicer to hang around in than Din Tai Fung. That Taiwanese behemoth opened closing year serving xiao long bao to great hype, no matter how it feels like the inside of a cavernous cruise ship stripped down for parts. Din Tai Fung makes its dumpling technicians toil solemnly in a glass box, whereas Shanghai Modern allows them to breathe sparkling air.
There’s additionally a quiet, brilliant chessboard ground and vaguely secure seats. The welcome may be brusque – don’t assume something as over the pinnacle as eye contact – but, on the intense side, you’ll fast keep a sizable purchasing list of dumplings, wonton noodles, Sichuan broths, and “Chinese tapas” (their phrases), plus a pen. Tick your list and hand returned the slip. Do not, repeat, do no longer doodle on your order, or permit your bored toddler to deface it. (I loved one superb client assessment where this passed off, and allow’s say it did no longer cease nicely).
On our go-to, dishes commenced arriving almost instantly, first a bowl of steamed however now bloodless okra with a snotty trail of fierce wasabi and soy, extra cleansing and saintly than delicious, but a pleasant start. Drunken hen wings in rice wine have been pale and decidedly sober, but next came to a real highlight: roasted bran dough with assorted fungus, a mystical, barely gothic-searching bowl of dank sponginess.
Similar to Seiten (no longer Satan), bran dough is the hinterland between tofu and the heel of a Warburtons thick wholemeal loaf. It is umami, Hoover. I am a convert. Next along, baskets of pan-fried beef Shanghai buns and vegetable dumplings, both well made, yielding, and with the baggage of seasoning and shade on the right surfaces.
By this factor, we have been already plotting to come returned. Shanghai Modern may not be lifestyles-converting; however, in a few approaches, it’s comforting that, after all the builders’ intentions to flatten, rebuild and reinvent the wheel, those proprietors have unveiled something that’s, at exceptional, definitely dependable and wouldn’t have set the sector alight in 1988. There isn’t any shame in this. However, if you need fireworks, I suggest the ebulliently numbing Sichuan fish broth, which appears in a large tureen, fabulous, bright purple, and brimming with peppers. It might feed four, at the least.
I wildly misjudged how an awful lot of food we wished and using this factor, the staff was sighing even as pulling up adjoining tables to host our dishes. I’d have been extra sheepish if I ought to experience something from the ears downwards. The lots-talked-approximately soft-shell crab on a pinnacle of mango fried rice is genuine as an alternative pretty. Naff, but pretty.
If you ask them for the candy crimson bean xiao long bao, they’ll deliver a heated basket of 9, pristine gob-fillers filled with an impossible to resist, salty-sweet, burgundy sludge. The bill arrived in 11 seconds. Shanghai Modern continues the wealthy, 4-decade-long Chinatown subculture of serving first-rate, pretty priced, unsentimentally served food. Some matters don’t go out of favor.