Tuesday, 8 January 2013


When discussing the best restaurants in town, there's one spot in Shanghai mentioned more than any other.

There's a bizarre mythology to this place, it's name whispered, referenced in reverential tones, and always followed by a collective gasp and war stories. After weeks of hearing wistful "I went once..."s, suspiciously quizzical "Ohmigod. What do you mean you haven't been?"s, and evangelical "You HAVE to go"s, I knew I needed to try the famed Californian cuisine.

So when a friend casually dropped the "G" bomb in a suggestion for dinner on a Saturday night, I restrained myself from leaping into her arms with joy and feigned indifference: "Oh, alright. Goga works". #NBD.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the week doing a Carlton-head-bob victory dance to myself in anticipation for the promising meal ahead, but eventually a tinge of anxiety crept into my unadulterated excitement - would Goga live up to its self-made legend?

Spoiler alert: I needn't have worried. But it was not exactly as was expected.

Goga is a shockingly tiny, one room restaurant with tables along the window and seats at the bar to watch the open kitchen at work. (I would have loved to sit at the bar, but three people sat shoulder to shoulder is just not conducive to conversation). After settling into a table, I searched the room for evidence of the mystique. The decor was a bit spare and strange, with references to San Francisco's bay in the blue tiles behind the kitchen and rough blue tableware, and the lights were antisocially bright. So far, so bizarre.

Admittedly not a great shot, in fact a very creepy shot, but perhaps you can see what I mean.

After opening a Decoy red from the California-heavy wine list, we checked out the garishly-colored menu.

We ordered three starters to share and than each a main. Our starters were the infamous lobster roll, nicely tarted up with a tarragon aioli and chunks of corn on the cob in a nod to New England summers; incredibly flavorful grilled beef to be dredged in a smear of spicy green chile sauce; and seared tuna tataki served over a sinus-clearing mustard sauce. My heavy breathing might have fogged the lens on the last.

They were all absolutely delicious. The size of the lobster roll was disappointing (and made me feel like a giantess more than I already do on a daily basis in China) but everything was impeccable in flavor, texture, and appearance.

We were still swooning when our mains appeared, strangely staggered in timing. My friends had respectively ordered roast chicken over a beautiful purple mash and a stunning steak, a tower of spice-rubbed ribeye.

And for the money shot...

I had the miso-broiled black cod punched up with a fresh shrimp salsa and edamame purée.

The fish itself was flakey and delicate, and the composed elements of the dish, all set against a thrumming truffle bass note, made each bite more flavorful and interesting than the last.

So after having drunk the Goga Kool-Aid, I will say this: yes, it is the best fine-dining restaurant I have been to in Shanghai. And I will prosthelytize with the best of them.

BUT there are some marked areas for improvement in my experience - ambiance was nonexistent, the decor is strange and shoddy, service wasn't as tight as it should have been, it's eye-wateringly expensive. Although Shanghai does have a surprisingly rich food scene, I will go as far to say that if this place were in any other city, it would not necessarily have the cult following it does.

But, all being said and this being Shanghai, I advocate everyone with a fat expense account going, and as often as possible.

You'll go googoo for Goga.

1 Yueyang Lu, near Dongping Lu
French Concession

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