Thursday, March 29, 2012

Old Jesse, Shanghai


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.

Old Jesse
41 Tianping Lu
Tel: 6282-9260


rogermht said...

Beware of over-hyped restaurant especially those reviewed by Westerner or journalist. Sometime it is more marketing than the food itself.

Some of the best food I have tried in places like HK are in fact unpretentious hawker food... I can still remember the succulent roasted goose and steamed Mantis Prawn...

Michelle Chin said...


Anonymous said...

i think u need to have a bit of background on shanghainese food and have savored it extensively to be able to tell whether old jesse is good or not. with your personal tastebuds thats used to the typical southeast asian cooking and applying it to shanghainese cuisine is not fair and not appropriate.

thats why many malaysians and singaporeans who have not been exposed widely to differing types of cuisines remarks that its "nothing special". tasting food is exploring the culture of that dish, u need to know why its the way it is. to some it might taste good, to some it might taste so so. but the real taste is the way it is.

i know of many a msian that have traveled to hong kong and made the comment that hk food is bland... please.... know your food and know why u r remarking that and whether that is true or a remark based on your own tastebuds and not what its supposed to be.

be able to differentiate the true taste of the ingredient against the flavors that comes from heavy sauces.

masked msian foods are not real cuisine but a mixed up concoction of differing cuisines from different races. its very intense in flavor (due to a lack of quality and or fresh ingredients, thus has to use heavy taste to cover it up), widespread use of msg (again, lack of use of high quality and quantity of flavorful ingredients), spicy (again, due to weather and also masking food ingredients that are less than tasty by itself).

shanghainese do rate old jesse's food as very authentic and true to its taste but its very expensive vis-a-vis what they can get at some real local hole in the wall or home cooked shanghainese food. its as good as it gets shanghainese food wise but not value wise.

thats why u won't see a lot of locals dining there. shanghainese all knows how to cook their small dishes well and they always prefer to dine at their own home if they want shanghainese food.

in shanghai, the most popular restaurants are never shanghainese restaurants - its the other cuisines - as locals wants to try other cookings. when taco bell opened in shanghai about 9 years ago, there are lines outside the restaurant..... and its a fine dining taco bell, not a fast food joint.

shanghainese don't really eat shanghainese food when they dine out. they want to try new things, thus shanghai is the metropolitan city is was and now is turning back into.

every tom, dick and harry with access to the internet and a camera could be a food blogger nowadays. bulk of them are clueless in what is good and what is not. i suggest that they all study a bit more about the culture and history of the cuisine before making calls on it. msians and sporeans are probably some of the worse food bloggers out there as they know a bit of what these foods are and they go about spewing their version of whats good and whats not. as hkies would say - knowing just a little bit, wants to be the representative. pretty lame.

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

roger: roger:))

michelle: visit SH!

anon: you are the one spewing. what i'd respect is you being able to accept my honest opinion. if your dining partner doesn't like the food but you do, would you react the same way?

there are several points here i'd like to address:

1) i do happen to have a fair bit of background on SH food bc i'm married to a SHnese and his mom is the best cook i know, so are her brother in SH and her sisters in Beijing and HK. i've eaten fantastic SHnese food for the last 30 years. hv u?

2) i love to explore food of other culture and countries. if you don't know tt, you haven't been a regular reader of this blog. at least check my travel posts before commenting.

i've often heard ppl complaining about the food in China and i am also of the opinion tt these ppl stick to their own tastes n food they are accustomed to but i would never accuse them of what you accuse me of. n just bc i don't agree with you, i wouldn't say tt i know food better than you.

3)you try to sound knowledgable about food, and you defend Chinese food yet put down msian food. i thought you say i shd not knock a cuisine or dishes? so you can do tt and i can't?

4) be honest: hv you eaten at old jesse? you say SHnese do rate old jesse's food as very authentic and true to its taste; what about what your own opinion, or are you just reporting what others are reporting?

5) did i say tt old jesse's food wasn't tasty or unauthentic? i thought my post was very fair bc i did qualify tt i didn't try tt many dishes.
all i said was i don't think tt old jesse's food can't be had in any other old SHnese restaurant (i'm thinking of nanling; it's in my travel posts if you bother to read). gosh.

6)one of the reasons the SH don't dine at old jesse, other than the high price which they think is a rip off, is tt they can get the same food at other restaurants,n they'd rather leave old jesse to the tourists and ppl like you. frankly, i think old jesse is being propped up by the expat community who think tt they are so cool to be eating at a restaurant tt's on every expat's blog n magazine.

7)the long lines to try new restaurants are the same anywhere. i read about taco bell too; newsweek wasn't it and you weren't even there. don't whack the SH for being eager to try new stuff. so what if they do. it still doesn't mean they don't eat their own food.

finally, yes, any tom, dick or harry with a camera (preferable a dslr) can be a food blogger. the beauty of it is i'm not tom or dick or harry. don't read my blog if you can't accept diff in opinions.

and pls, don't think tt just bc you can make a comment about food that you are a real foodie. you don't impress me at all.

one more thing, lighten up, troll.

Angie L said...

My husband and I went to try this restaurant based on good review but found it rather disappointing.
I would not recommend this restaurant. There are many more eating places with delicious food in Shanghai. Yes, sadly this one is over-hyped! :(

pay per head said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
epermarket said...

It looks deliicous the first picture. I have not seen the same dishes for many years...
By the way, do you know if there is an restaurant in Shanghai specialised in organic food ? I am searching one.

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