Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Old Jesse

Apologies for the hiatus - the circus, aka 8 (EIGHT!) members of my family, was in town.

The Chinese might consider "ba" an auspicious number, but let me tell you... no - totally kidding. They were all very well behaved (for the most part) and I miss them very much already.

As you can imagine, I especially miss the excuse that visitors give me to "introduce them to Chinese cuisine" or "show off Shanghai's best", both of which are blatant ways to 'repackage' my desire to eat at places I a) haven't tried, or b) can't afford.

After more than a week of living like I too was on holiday, now I'm strapped with ammo in the review department (but still so full that I'm afraid to even look at the pictures. A detox is in order. But I digress...).

One of the first places I wanted to take our group is one I had yet to visit myself, but had been hearing about as a bastion of Shanghainese cuisine: Old Jesse.

Old Jesse is on an unassuming street in Xuhui, right off Huaihai Lu, with a hanging wooden sign, invitingly illuminated by a soft golden glow, the only indication of its presence. Allegedly "legendary", it has spawned a chain of 'New' Jesse incarnations (and is apparently linked to the 3 Constellation whiskey bars), but this slightly shabby storefront is the original, and the only place for "Shanghai's best".

Unfortunately, as an Octomom corralling my charges for the week, we couldn't sit in the rambling main room, and had to sit next door, in a large, brightly-lit single room devoid of all of the atmosphere of the original. I've come to realize that in China, however, the worse the decor, the better the food, so we arranged ourselves around our King Arthur-sized table and ordered.

I had pre-ordered a special dish I had been told about - a whole fish cooked with a half kilo of scallions - but had my brother shoot from the hip on everything else.

We ended up with a Shanghainese feast: tomato sprinkled with sugar (apparently that's a thing), tofu strips with cilantro, cucumbers with garlic, duck, jellyfish, drunken chicken, the aforementioned fish, hong shao rou (red braised pork), braised whole green peppers, and a fried chicken and prawn dish. Not pictured is cai fan (because it was sold out, much to my chagrin), and a crab and crab roe tofu dish.

The spread.


Sizing up that not-so-shrimpy shrimp.

The tomato with sugar was inexplicable - I had heard that the Shanghainese have a traditionally sweet palate, but it was just strange. The cucumber was a classic crowd-pleaser; the jellyfish sufficiently 'exotic' to freak people out and demonstrate our nativeness as we suavely choked it down (the pieces were waaay too tough); the chicken boney enough to do the same. The pre-ordered fish was a complete disappointment - with no discernable flavor even after smothering it in vegetation - and the pork suuuper-sweet (although I found it fatty-licious), but three dishes were worth coming back for alone.

The tofu with crab and roe was fantastic - a rich yet delicate porridge that, although expensive, I wouldn't come without ordering again. The super-spicy fried chicken and colossal prawns, nestled in a nest of chilis, were also phenomenal. And the greatest surprise of the evening came in the form of those peppers, soft and smokey, glazed in a sweet and slightly spicy sauce.

Stuffed silly, I was happy that the crew got an authentic taste of (literally) sweet Shanghai.

On to the next...

Old Jesse
NB: Reservations recommended, and ask to sit in the main room if a smaller group!
41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Xi Lu

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