Shanghai Shanghai in Nottingham lies just down the hill in Hockley at 15 Goose Gate. It is a small and simple space serving up seriously authentic Sichuan cuisine. I have walked by many times and seen that it was filled with members of the local Chinese community which is always a good sign.
Even though it had received rave reviews from food critics including Giles Coren, I am somewhat ashamed that given my love for this type of food, that I had not crossed it’s threshold before. Instead it took a nudge from a work colleague on a weekday night out to venture into Hockley to try out some of their dishes.
So what did we eat?
Chengdu Hot and Spicy Cold Noodles
The first dish that I ordered was a bowl of the Chengdu Hot and Spicy Cold Noodles, I thought that it might have been similar to the Reg a Mian that I so much love from Wuhan, but in the end it was quite different. A huge bowlful of thin and cold noodles filled the bowl and on top of those a fiery thick sauce had been spooned. The sauce and noodles were topped with a garnish of sliced blanched cucumber, spring onions, coriander and peanuts.
This was a pretty interesting dish, the fiery sauce was countered by the cold noodles. The garnish added a really good crunch to the dish. This was a dish that you needed to be careful and patient with, I started with a mouthful and thought this was not as spicy as I expected, but by the third mouthful my mouth was on fire and I was chugging down my beer trying to stop the pain. This was a good start to the meal.
Ma Po Dofu
The second dish I ordered was the Ma Po Dofu, soft and silken cubes of tofu in a spicy red oily sauce packed with chilli and fermented red beans. This was to be the dish of the night in my opinion, I have eaten this at many a Wuhan restaurant table in Hubei and this was so reminiscent it took me right back to those meals.
Authentic is a word often overused but in this case for this dish it is the only word. Hot beyond fiery and spicy enough to make you sweat beyond sweat, the kind of pleasurable experience from the numbing yet cooling effect of the Sichuan peppercorns is hard to describe. It is like pain and anaesthetic at the same time. If you used a thermal imaging camera you would probably see the spicy chilli beads seeping out from my mouth and a few escaping from my brow too.
The name of the dish is a curiosity in itself roughly translating as Pock Marked Grandma Bean Curd, but forget the image that might conjure it tastes great. Just imagine instead an old Chinese lady huddled over her bubbling pot on a street or down an alleyway stirring away with love and passion to produce a bowlful of spicy heaven (tinged with a little fiery hell)
Deep Fried fish with Braised Tofu
The next dish to the table was also so reminiscent of plates that I ate in China back in the late 90’s. I am not sure what the official name for this dish is but essentially you have stir fried fish in a hot spicy sauce combined with braised tofu. I love tofu cooked this way and I also loved the fish in this dish. I loved it even more as normally when I have had it before in China it can be full of small bones so can be tricky to eat. Here though at Shanghai Shanghai that was one bonus thing as this was made with fish fillet so no bones (bonus for me). This dish was put together for us off menu as my friend Paul doesn’t eat meat so the waitress suggested braised tofu with fish. If I come here again I will have to show her the picture so that we can order this again.
Now those were my choices and I was very happy with them, around the table we ordered other plates with differing degrees of adventurousness. I think everyone was happy with what they got, even if some were a bit tame for me, but also some did cast a slight feeling of envy through my mind.
Dan Dan Noodle Soup
This dish is one that I would have liked to have taken ownership off. Just one look at the liquid in the bowl sends alarm bells ringing in the taste buds. I have heard this to be described as a fiercely spicy and addictive noodle dish that can burn and numb your face off at the same time.
Does that sound scary or does that make you mouth water ever so slightly just thinking about it?
Typically this dish is made with both red and green sichuan peppercorns (no-one is messing about here) and to make sure that it is packed with that expected heat it also uses “douban chili paste” (the soul of Sichuan cuisine). In this particular dish there was plenty of minced pork, sesame, pak choi, coriander, spring onion and a lot of thin noodle. As I hinted I was a little jealous of this one.
Sweet and Sour Pork
On the face of it I would not have ordered the sweet and sour pork dish, but when it arrived I could see that it was not like that awful generic stuff served up enmasse to us European that has been bastardized beyond recognition. No here at Shanghai Shanghai it was more like a dish called Tang Cu Li Chi that I ate in Wuhan. Now admittedly when I did that I was slightly mocked by my Chinese work colleagues at the time as it contained no spice and was quite tame. At that time I didn’t care as I was just finding my feet with all that really hot spicy food that they kept on serving to me, so this dish has good memories as a kind of respite to my mind and taste buds. I didn’t try it but it could find its way onto the table again.
Other dishes on the table included a beef and peppers with noodles, fried rice with Chinese Sausage, and a Crispy Noodle and Prawn dish. All a bit tame for me but also they were enjoyed by their respective plate owners
The last time I had food of this type as good as this I was over working in Shenzhen last year at a Hubei style restaurant called Wuhan after the city of the same name. Check out that story here on one of my Sister Sites MyFoodHunt “China Day 2: In Food Memory Dreamland – Finding some Hubei Food from Wuhan in Shenzhen”
There were a couple of dishes that I did not spot on the menu that I will ask for next time, in particular Huí Guō Ròu (Twice Cooked Pork), Yuxiang sliced pork (Fish Fragrance Pork), and Ganbian Sijidou (Dry Fry Sichuan Green Beans).
I know that I am late to the party when it comes to eating at Shanghai Shanghai but I hope that I am fashionably late and that this party will be going on for as long time. I will be back to try more of their fare on another occasion for certain perhaps those dishes I didn’t find this time.