Shanghai's chocolate wonderlands

Time Out visit two chocolate-themed exhibitions in town this month

As two chocolate-themed exhibitions come to town, Time Out heads to Happy Chocolate Land and World Chocolate Wonderland to see whether they’re choc stars or coco flops

Happy Chocolate Land

What’s it like The latest brainwave in the collective head scratch that is what to do with the former Expo site, Happy Chocolate Land has taken over what was once the South Africa Pavilion. The grounds of the much-delayed attraction (it was originally scheduled to open in December) are fairly bleak, in keeping with the bare ex-Expo landscape that surrounds them. On our visit, admittedly on only its second day in operation, the site is still undergoing a few finishing touches, with smoking workmen leaning against giant cannisters of anhydrous milk fat imported from New Zealand

Fortunately, things improve once you’re inside the various exhibition halls. We start at the ‘Children’s Fairytale Land’, which features chocolate characters from such classic fairy tales as Garfield, Hello Kitty and Transformers. In the middle of it all, stand a group of small children dressed as hamburgers, doughnuts and cupcakes who pose Choc party for photos with visitors. Despite their smiles and waves, they seem somewhat perplexed as to why they’re there and the spectacle is oddly unsettling.
Next door, the ‘Fashion Theme Pavilion’ hall opens with mannequins wearing chocolate underwear and bikinis overlooking a large chocolate sofa. Behind this is a life-size replica of a classic car and a chocolate Manneken Pis, about the closest Belgium gets to any involvement here. These models are surrounded by dozens of glass cases on two floors featuring enough shoes, bags and watches to make the hawkers on Huaihai Lu drool. 

Chocolate terracotta warriors and a model of the Forbidden City are the highlights at the ‘5,000 Years of China’ hall, whose two small TV screens are the only place in the park to show the actual process behind constructing the cacao collections. The glow-in-the-dark ‘Sweet Garden of Eden’, meanwhile, features a winding path through chocolate rabbits and mushrooms to oddly amusing models of Adam and Eve. 

Finally, the ‘Chocolate Kingdom of Fairytales’ has a giant chocolate castle as its centrepiece (the smell is overwhelming), with imitation sculptures such as of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ and the ‘Venus de Milo’ flanking it on either side. Behind the castle, pastry models of the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa are joined by giant portraits of Marilyn Monroe and the Mona Lisa made from creatively toasted squares of bread.

Highlight The most likely highlight is the DIY Classic Bakery School – the only area intended to provide any hands-on experience – but unfortunately, it’s closed on our visit.

Lowlight The ‘Bread Music Theatre’ features a series of half-baked culinary-themed musical shows where ‘chefs’ play tunes with their utensils. Sounds okay on paper, but doesn’t really come off in practice.

Verdict There are some interesting moments here, some of them from unintentionally bizarre exhibits, but the prevailing hands-off approach – signs everywhere plead with you not to touch anything and most pieces are behind glass cases – is a let-down and soon becomes dully repetitive.

Entry 120RMB (though touts outside will get you in for less).

Open Indefinitely.

Getting there Located in Expo Zone C, the park is about a 15-minute walk from the China Art Museum metro station along the long, deserted streets of Expo land. 

Happy Chocolate Land, Zone C, Shanghai Expo Site, 100 Bocheng Lu, near Houtan Lu. See full address details

World Chocolate Wonderland

What’s it like After last year’s stint at the Himalayas Centre in Pudong, World Chocolate Wonderland is back in Shanghai with a new location in Shanghai Indoor Stadium. Organisers China Art Source have rebooted last year’s largely static exhibition with an all-singing, all-dancing carnival affair complete with Teletubby-esque mascots, a low-rent Willy Wonka character, fashion shows and even a chocolate-themed musical.

Loosely based around a dubious re-telling of the creation story (when God created the world, He apparently also reserved ‘a wonderland stored in an ancient book’), the exhibition is split into eight sections which you pass through one-way, IKEA-style. After entering through the ‘spellbook of chocolate’, whizz through the first two areas – the ‘Fantastic Forest of Chocolate’, populated by oversized doughnuts and macarons, and the ‘Giant’s Home’– which are a naff, confusing medley of Disney fairytales, made worse by poor production values.

Instead, make a beeline for the chocolate volcano (actually a giant chocolate fountain), which is your first chance to sample some of the wares. Offset your gluttony with some relative culture by checking out the Mayan temple and ‘Coco Exchange’, which does a decent job of explaining the history of chocolate (the English captions are generally good throughout the exhibition). Plus, there’s a fun activity zone where you can weigh yourself on a giant pair of scales and barter with the English-speaking curators for some tasty chocolate coins.

Of the chocolate replicas, which include outsize Doc Martens, porcelain tea-sets, handbags, Easter scenes and toy cars, there’s nothing to top last year’s enormous dragon, but a life-size rendering of Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage and some vertiginous studded heels come close. Sadly, though, as with Chocolate Happy Land, most of the models are behind glass – presumably to preserve them from wandering grubby little fingers – which takes away from the experience.

Highlight While Happy Chocolate Land has a couple of lacklustre screens explaining the production process, at World Chocolate Wonderland you can check out how the creations are made at the ‘Chocolate Masters’ Palace’, where virtuosos from Belgium and Mexico craft galleons and Venetian masks with exciting-looking sculpting tools, or do it yourself at a chocolate lollipop-making tutorial (68RMB/child; 88RMB/adult for 20 minutes; classes every hour). If you’re not all cocoa-ed out, stop by the gift shop for Al Nassma’s intriguing camel-milk chocolate (158RMB/chocolate camel) or more mainstream offerings from Guylian, Lindt and Reber (of Mozart Kugeln fame).

Lowlight Some of the weaker links include the fashion show, as the creations we see are inspired by, rather than made with, chocolate, and the much-hyped musical – we were promised the cast of Cirque du Soleil but got clumsily dancing, budget Teletubbies instead. Verdict On the whole, World Chocolate Wonderland is an entertaining, if somewhat eccentric afternoon out, especially given its convenient location.

Entry 100RMB

Open Until Sunday 24 February.

Getting there World Chocolate Wonderland is right on top of Shanghai Indoor Stadium station.

World Chocolate Wonderland, East Asia Exhibition Hall, Shanghai Indoor Stadium, 666 Tianyaoqiao Lu. See full address details