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Sunday 3 April 2011

Shanghai 456 Edmonton.. Great traditional Shanghai-nese food

Rating: 8.0/10
The Restaurant: Shanghai 456
Truth be told, there really is no great chinese food places in Edmonton when you compare them to places in Vancouver, Toronto, HK or *gasp* even Calgary... all us foodies out there know that. Shanghai 456 is simply.. simple food, done well... for Edmonton.

Keep in mind traditional Shanghai-nese cuisine differs from the mainly Westernized-Cantonese style endemic everywhere, so no, you won't find ginger beef here (although the chef will make you any chinese dish you wish to name providing he has all the ingredients at hand).

You've been warned - this place is hard to find - it is in an old dingy airport hanger cafeteria (so no wood paneling, dim lighting and lush carpets), but you have to give the chef credit for carving out a restaurant in such an obscure location! It epitomizes the term "hole in the wall". The chef does not speak english, though some of his staff do and service is prompt and friendly (so hard to come by in these times!). Review is for dinner only - apparently it functions as a cafeteria during lunch hours.

The Chef's Story
If you were wondering why Shanghai Grill's food has been a bit unpalatable lately.. its because the chef left and he's opened up his own place: Shanghai 456... and all of his loyal fans have followed him to this unpretentious cafeteria... with mismatched chair and tables lending it its own odd charm. We have tried this restaurant a handful of times with small and large groups after being recommended by some friends and the chef loves feedback from customers. He is a rare breed that insists on making everything from scratch, super friendly and is passionate about using high quality ingredients -sourcing locally whenever possible. Despite ordering a ridiculous amount of food for a large table, food came out promptly after ordering.

The reason why you're reading this! - Ideally, head to this place as a larger group so you can try more items... be adventurous! With a large group, you can almost try everything on the menu. The items that stood out are:

1) The traditional "xiao long boa" (小笼包) - these soupy dumplings are addictively good - the steamed dumpling has a paper thin wrapper encasing a savoury little nugget of meat that fills your mouth with a rich burst of soup when you bite into it. Your table will have squabbles if you only place one order. Just be careful removing it from the bamboo steamer tray, or you'll pop the dumpling and you'll miss out on the rich soup inside. And your friends will laugh at you.

2) The cold plate of drunken chicken is made the way its supposed to be - with generous amounts of wine. Chicken is tender and moist with aromatic floral notes from the wine... sitting in a pool of, yup you guessed it.. the wine used to infuse the chicken with subtle flavor.

3) The XO sauced green beans are a must - crisp and crunchy with just the right amount of garlic, heat and savoury flavor bits - it satisfied even the meat-a-tarians in our group.

4) Pan fried wor-teep (dumplings). Normally, I never order wor-teeps, however, I make the exception there - The chef puts his own twist on a classicly ubiquitous bland/oversalted item on chinese menus.. the wrapper is tender and evenly browned, with a seasoned meat morsel swimming with a rich au jus broth hidden inside. Yum.

5) Beef noodle - marinated beef shank sliced thin is floated in a light beef broth and gently flavors the tender wheat noodle.  A few pieces of blanched baby bok choy and some green onion bits serve as garnish.  Despite not having an intensely flavored broth, this simple bowl of noodles still satisfies and is a nice bowl of warm comfort yumminess on a cool evening.

6) A fried steamed bun with condensed milk - A unassuming steamed white bun, but when you rip it open, you can peel off threads of bread as if its imitating a cheesestring to dunk into a small bowl of sweetened condensed milk. I don't think you can get this dish anywhere in Alberta except here. A simple dish that takes skill to execute the multitude of "threads/strings" inside

7) Golden fried turnip cake - misnamed or something was lost in translation on the menu as you get a large deep fried incredibly flaky pastry with a moist mixture of meat, peppery diakon and minced vegetables. Bonus points for it not tasting or feeling greasy despite being an obviously deep fried item.

Almond cookies pic I took at home
8) Finish off with a deep fried sweetened red bean dessert encased in a bit of pastry for those who love things deep fried or with traditional almond cookies with a twist - light, airy little pressed cookies made with powdered roasted almonds with a hint of warm cinnamon... toasted gently just before being plated.  Unfortunately, it is not always available, so order it if they're not all gone by the time you finish dinner.


The Verdict
Shanghai 456 is unpretentious to the nth degree: The food and service makes Shanghai 456 worth the minutes of circling around locating it. Quibble- decor, few dishes oversalted, 8.0/10.  Its a shame the decor doesn't even come close to matching the caliber of the food, and the simple english menu descriptions don't do the food justice. Perhaps in time, it'll move to an easier to find and prettier location, though they may need to bring along the mismatched tables and chairs for nostalgia's sake like Bistro Praha when they moved.

But hey, if you much rather have a great looking location vs great food and service, it'll be easier for everyone else that knows of this uncut hidden gem to get a reservation for dinner. Thanks Shanghai 456 for good Shanghai-nese food I can recommend my friends to go to, without the caveat of ending my sentence in "for Edmonton".  For a return visit and more pics, click here!

Address: New Location! 14456 118 Ave Northwest, Edmonton, AB T5L2M5
Hours: Mon-Sunday for lunch and dinner, Closed Tuesdays


Alan said...

I think you mean tang bao (汤包) not "tong bao". Shanghai 456 lists these as xiao long bao (小笼包), which is a bit more specific as tang bao is also used for the ones that are big enough to stick a straw in. said...

whoops.. thought I had fixed them for all the Shanghai 456 posts. I originally called it that in my head as they were so nice and soupy!! Thanks for the catch! said...

Update - the old location at the Airport cafeteria has closed but they're up and running in new digs at 14456 118 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB!

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