Old Jesse is a legendary restaurant in Shanghai which you can't walk in without a booking. I was told that this is not only old Shanghai cuisine at its best, but also the likeliest place to sight a celebrity, western and local, as this is the restaurant that Shanghainese would bring visitors for a taste of old school Shanghainese food. Maybe because we wanted a small table for 3, we were lucky to get an 8:30 pm table with only 2 days' prior booking. The main restaurant is in a basement and is so small that there are only 4 tables. I've not seen another restaurant this small anywhere. The ceiling is unfriendly for anyone over 6 feet. We were ushered out into the street into the shoplot next to the basement. Again, it was a room big enough for 1 medium and 3 small tables only but at least the headroom was comfortable. There is another room above the basement, also big enough for about 4 tables. Don't expect a posh restaurant; Old Jesse reminded me of typical Chinatown hole-in-the-walls in western countries.
Maybe because we were late, some of the dishes we wanted were not available. I wanted to try the scallion fish a friend had told me about, and caifun (Shanghainese veg rice) which I've never eaten in Shanghai but the fish had to be pre-ordered a day ahead and the caifun was out.
Drunken chicken. The more popular chicken dish here is salted chicken and I should've ordered that because I found the drunken chicken rather mild. I like my drunken chicken very drunk.
Winter melon soup with salted pork was ordinary, like home-made soup.
Old Jesse's top dish is the hong saoro, red braised pork. We all agreed that this was way too sweet and we couldn't even finish this small portion. Shanghainese dishes are known to be highly flavored and sweet and Old Jesse's hong saoro is based on an old recipe that can be improved by reducing the sugar.
Tender, melt-in-the-mouth sweet piece of soy-braised pork.
Bamboo shoots with xuecai, the unsalted kind. Was good even though it was deep-fried.
This is another popular Old Jesse dish (the other 3 tables ordered about the same dishes as we did, but more, such as eight jewelled duck and crabs and I especially remember a table of American expats who spoilt my meal because one of them talked loudly all through the meal. It was so annoying) and although I don't remember the prices of the other dishes, I remember the price of this dish very well because it was outrageously expensive to me, RMB168/MYR84/USD28 for a medium-sized dish of crab and crab roe powder tofu! While it was very tasty, the tofu decadently silky and the crab roe powder very fragrant, it was slightly sugar-sweet, which I didn't like, and this is the most expensive tofu dish I've ever had.
In place of caifun, we had the fried niangow with veg. I liked this but found it a bit too salty.
Seedless red dates stuffed with glutinous rice flour is a popular appetizer/dessert in Shangha. the name for this dish--very cute-- is "soft-hearted" (xin tai run), because of the soft slightly chewy center.
Another famed Old Jesse dish is fish with 1/2 kg scallions. The other table had made prior order of the dish. I could only stare and imagine.
I don't know. I think Old Jesse's reputation has gone larger than life because of the need to prior book, necessary more because there are only 12 small to medium tables. While the dishes are good, and to be fair we didn't try many dishes, and their menu is authentically old Shanghainese dishes, unlike the newer restaurants that now include new unheard of dishes, I don't think the same food can't be had in other old Shanghai restaurants. After my meal there, I still don't get why this restaurant is always touted in blogs as the best Shanghainese restaurant in Shanghai. I wonder if the real Shanghainese think as highly of Old Jesse or if it's the non-Shanghainese (those not familiar with home-cooked Shanghainese food) who are more impressed.
41 Tianping Lu