Hidden Gem: Dongpo Pork At Dianshi Zhai Small Feast
Dianshi Zhai Small Feast is the Asphodel Fields of Shanghai cuisine: everyone agrees it’s solid, but no one puts it in their top ten restaurants, or really talks about it. As such, we were wary of the soaring 1930s mansion and the cloyingly friendly staff. The rule of thumb in Shanghai seems to be the meaner the surroundings and servers, the meaner the food. Thankfully, they proved us wrong. Dianshi Zhai serves among the most pristine examples of Shanghai food in town, without the gratuitous grease, sugar and portions found at most depots.
Case in point: their fun-sized roast fish (RMB68) with a skein of caramelized spring onions. Seasoned Shanghai diners will recognize this garnish from the roast cod head at Jesse Restaurant or the yellow fish at Jianguo 328. The dish evokes a grouper wearing a Ghillie suit, but tastes wonderfully flaky, crispy and just a smidgen sweet. Craving something more savory? Dianshi Zhai’s got you covered with a steamed pomfret that’s splayed open and doused in Shaoxing wine. If that’s too fishy, go with their fried river shrimp (RMB68), a homestyle staple that’s eaten with the shells on.
But nothing puts a bow on a Shanghainese meal like braised pork. Dianshi Zhai swaps out the ubiquitous meat cubes for Dongpo pork (東坡肉 dōngpōròu, RMB28), a Hangzhou specialty entailing a brownie-sized block of pork belly that’s pan-fried, then braised in dark soy, light soy, and Shaoxing. Don’t be fooled by its minimalist presentation; this morsel’s so succulent it’s as if ten hong shao rou cubes gelled together into one like a T-1000 of meat and fat. The scrawny helping means you’ll want to order another—don’t. One’s a snack, two will make your blood congeal like the Dongpo dressing.
Put Lantern Festival out to pasture by ordering tangyuan, glutinous pearls of rice flour engorged with black sesame paste. The gritty, obsidian substance looks like something you rub on baseball bats to give them extra grip, but it’s nothing nefarious. It consists of roast sesame seeds that are pestle-ground and whacked with honey, and tastes pleasantly viscous and nectary. Dianshi Zhai’s rice dumplings (RMB28) come bobbing in a sweet broth that’s “lilypadded” with boiled peanuts. To eat, place one on a spoon, nip a vent in the side to release steam, and then throw it down the hatch.
Find it: 320 Yongjia Lu (near Xiangyang Nan Lu) 永嘉路320号 (近襄阳南路), Tel: 5465-0270