Amazing and quirky eats in Shanghai

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I debated on splitting this day’s blog entry into two, because each restaurant is notable in its own right, but in the interest of time and space, I gotta keep them together.

On our last full day in Shanghai, we had lunch at Commune Social at the (high) recommendation of expat Candice Kraughto. It was one of the most beautifully creative meals I’d ever had, and it turns out the chef, Jason Atherton, was the first British chef to complete a stage at Spain’s famous elBulli restaurant in 1998. This experience laid the foundation for his unique creative style, which is reflected in his food. I didn’t find it to be outrageously expensive, at least not like Shintori. This was do-able, especially since the plates are meant to be shared.

Why eat Western food in Shanghai? The city is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan melting pot due to its location. With all the commerce around, you can’t help but find some of the most amazing Western as well as Shanghainese restaurants here. Just roll with it and eat it, and enjoy.

Commune Social

I should have read up on this place before I went, because I didn't realize how special it was. The Commune Social is the creation of Chef Jason Atherton, award winning Shanghai design firm Neri & Hu, and acclaimed Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng.

511 Jiang-ning Road, Jing-an District
+ 86 021 6047 7638

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The waitresses put on a show every night in Pyongyang. Photo by UnTour Shanghai

The waitresses put on a show every night at 7:30 in Pyongyang. Photo by UnTour Shanghai

That night, after going to the fabric market, we headed to Pyongyang — not the North Korean city, the North Korean restaurant. Unfortunately, due to traffic, we got there quite late, and now that I’m reading up on the place, it looks like we missed a surreal show at 7:30 p.m. with songs paying tribute to the Dear Leader Kim Jong Un. As you know, North Korea is a mysterious place, and these restaurants are a bit of a suspicious novelty even to the communist Chinese.

Here’s the rundown: No one is sure why these restaurants are here. They say that North Korean tourists are able to travel to China since it’s a communist country (but I’m not sure how true that is), and this serves as a taste of home for those tourists. Most people think it’s to help generate revenue to acquire foreign currency, and also a little bit of gathering foreign intelligence. Our waitress was pleasant, but distant, and chit chatted as much as we did. (She wanted to know what Americans eat, which we thought was odd.) One of our friends in Beijing said that when she went to Pyongyang Restaurant, she asked why the waitresses were there, and was told they were doing a college internship. As our friend relayed the story to us, she made “air quotations” with her hands to show that she also thought the college story was a little far-fetched.

There are no male staff visible in the restaurant, which is also a little weird. You know there’s gotta be a man running the show behind the scenes, or in the kitchen. On top of that, all of the waitresses are super pretty — not just at our restaurant, but at every restaurant, apparently. We’re pretty sure they have been hand-picked for this job, to make people think that everyone in North Korea is so attractive.

We were the last ones out of the restaurant, so as we stood on the street deciding where to go next, we saw the entire staff leave the restaurant together with their chaperone. All the waitresses live nearby, presumably together or at least in the same complex; other than this escorted walk, they are not allowed to leave the premises of the restaurant or communicate with foreigners, and have to attend ideological trainings every day.

Even though we missed the 7:30 show, I still walked away from the restaurant tripping out on the experience. When you go to China, try to set aside time to go to Pyongyang Restaurant, and report back on how the show was.

Pyongyang: A taste of North Korea

As noted below, there are seven branches of Pyongyang restaurants in Shanghai, and you can apparently find them in other parts of China. The ones located in north China are close to the DPRK border, and there are also branches in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal and United Arab Emirates.

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Locations in Shanghai:
Pudong:
Address: 969 Dongfang Lu, 3rd floor, near Pudian Lu
浦东新区东方路969号3楼, 近浦电路
Telephone: +86 21 5049 9680

Address: 357 Songlin Lu, 1st floor, near Pudian Lu
浦东新区松林路357号1楼近浦电路
Telephone: +86 21 6840 5184

Xuhui:
Address: 359 Zhaojiabang Lu, 2nd floor, near Jiashan Lu
徐汇区肇嘉浜路359号2楼(近地铁9号线嘉善路5号口)
Telephone: +86 21 6417 1777

Address: 439 Caoxi Bei Lu, 3rd floor inside Jianguo Hotel, near Nandan Lu
徐汇区漕溪北路439号建国宾馆3楼,南丹路口
Telephone: +86 21 6481 1569 or +86 138 1880 0839

Changning District
Address: 1088 Gubei Lu, 2nd floor, near China Citibank
长宁区古北路1088号2楼, 近中信银行
Telephone: +86 21 6278 1606

Minhang District
Address: 1078 Hongquan Lu, 2nd floor, near Hongshen Lu
闵行区虹泉路1078号井亭天地2楼(近虹莘路)
Telephone: +86 133 7000 1679 or +86 131 2237 8126

These were just the highlights. For more photos, click here.

Up next: One last day in China to see the “real” Beijing!