SHEX Reviews: The Hard Rock Cafe Shanghai
Started in London back in 1971, The Hard Rock Cafe now has almost 200 locations across the globe. While fans of the brand can usually expect a fairly consistent culinary experience at whichever branch they visit, the same cannot be said for the chain’s newly opened Shanghai location.
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Let’s start with the décor. My first experience of a Hard Rock Cafe was walking into the original London branch years ago. Back then, the walls were plastered with rock history, instruments, outfits and other memorabilia that had been signed and used by the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Axl Rose.
Probably the most "hard rock" piece of memorabilia at the Shanghai cafe
While I don’t expect Shanghai to be able to compete with the likes of the London original, I would’ve hoped they’d be able to do better than a Katy Perry top, a Justin Timberlake necklace and a few bits and bobs signed by Tool, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, AC/DC’s Young brothers and a couple of other pieces. Props to them for incorporating costumes and outfits from Chinese bands like Tang Dynasty and Taiwan’s Mayday, but in terms of actual hard rock history, they fall quite short here.
Now the restaurant does have a second floor complete with a stage, private dining rooms and a bar -- but it isn’t open to the public yet. We’re hoping that in future the chain will be able to attract some decent acts to make up for their current lack of hard rockiness.
The "Legendary Burger" left a lot to be desired, namely food
Onto the food. Now I don’t want to judge them too harshly here given that it is their soft opening. However, when you go to a Hard Rock you expect to be able to eat the exact same food wherever you are in the world. It’s something that the chain prides themselves on, and for the most part a burger in their Las Vegas cafe will taste almost identically as good to one cooked up in their Hong Kong or Seoul locations. In Shanghai that’s not the case. On my first visit I was given a burger that looked like it’d been put together by a kid working at McDonald’s. The flavor was kind of there but the onion ring was undercooked and the meat fairly dry.
The cafe’s “Rocking Wings” had similar issues. The wings were dry, small and slightly burnt. When we asked the waitress about it, she confessed that the size of the chicken wings in Shanghai weren’t as big as their other locations but that they made up for that by serving up more of them. Again, based on my experience, this wasn’t the case.
Don’t get me wrong, I usually love the Hard Rock’s food, particularly their wings. When I’m in Hong Kong and get a craving for spicy chicken wings, I’ll make the trek out to the Lan Kwai Fong location. They’re usually juicy, smothered in a spicy “heavy metal” sauce and served on a bed of lettuce. In Shanghai, I wouldn’t even make the 5-minute scooter ride over to make an order.
I also noticed similar issues with the milkshake, which my colleague Ben described as “tasting like it still had the pipe cleaning fluid in it.” For those thinking they’ll be able to wash the bad taste away with the chain’s famous American-style unlimited soft drink refills, don’t hold your breath. The Pepsi I ordered was brought over in a can and when I asked the wait staff about it they revealed that the unlimited soft drink deal would not be coming to China.
Dancing waiters - another worrying trend
As a side note, if anyone from the Hard Rock is reading this, please stop encouraging your waiters to ask how the food is. While I don’t usually mind this, during the SHEX teams visits we were asked no fewer than eight times per trip how the food was. After a point, it gets damn irritating.
In conclusion then, don’t go to The Hard Rock Cafe yet. The restaurant’s still in their super soft opening phase and the food is nowhere near as good as it should’ve been for the RMB568 we paid for ribs, a burger, wings and a few drinks. If you’re looking for a good burger, head to Fat Cow, if you want good chicken wings, head to Cages and if you’re looking for hard rock music, Metallica is coming to play Shanghai soon.