Shanghai Shanghai – Chinese/Szechuan – Nottingham
If you follow national restaurant critics you will notice they often get stick for not venturing outside of the M25. With that in mind must take something special to get two of them to Nottingham, that something special is Shanghai Shanghai.
Located toward the unfashionable end of Hockley it isn’t unfair to say the restaurant’s aesthetics are not its strong point. In fact shabby and bare are adjectives that come to mind. Not many restaurants can offer tables in box room with no windows and a cramped upstairs with an industrial ventelor overhead.
As if to make up for the décor the food is seriously good, seriously grown up, that primarily attracts a crowd from the city’s student population. The usual UK Chinese fare is present, crispy beef, chow mein, black bean sauce and it’s good. But as little as it is about the décor and ambience, it isn’t about sweet and sour sauce either. Shanghai Shanghai majors, in Szechuan cooking. In the UK we are more familiar with Cantonese cooking than other styles in China. Each has its own distinction, with Szechuan bring distinctive in a number of ways. To the Western palate the most noticeable is that of heat. On any given evening visitors to Shanghai Shanghai will be seen dabbing at their brows, but never will you see people more happily struggling through the scovilles.
I have visited a handful of times now and sampled both Szechuan cooking as well as more traditional dishes. From Szechuan ChongQing chicken and pork ribs best demonstrate the distinctive dry burning heat; the ribs pack their own smokey meaty punch, the chicken a more neutral foil for the chilli.
On other visits a slightly misguided, but no less delicious, prawn dish saw the crustaceans served shell-on but bathed in sauce. Frustration and mountains of discarded napkins ensued. At the less exciting end of the spectrum the offering is still accomplished. Duck with black bean sauce has some of the best meat I have had in a Chinese restaurant, moist and succulent.
Service is very well meaning but can be a challenge with few of the staff speaking any English. It also might not be the place for vegetarians, when asked for a suggestion a friend of mine had a scallop dish suggested! Pricing is reasonable; the price point of (£8-12 for a main dish) comparable to Mandarin not far away in a much more polished setting. The fact of the matter is though that Shanghai Shanghai produces food that few other places do, not just in Nottingham but in the East Midlands and even the UK. I might not travel from London for it but I will definitely be back.
Restaurant website: http://www.shanghai-shanghai.co.uk/indexnotts.html