You really can’t call yourself a hot restaurant in this town if your line is less than an hour long. Part of dining out is exclaiming how long you waited for your table. Four hours at The Grandma’s. One hour at Spicy Joint. And now: two hours at Jiangbian Chengwai’s first Shanghai branch.
This chain with 12 outlets in Beijing was founded in 2006 by two Beijingers who sampled roast fish and rustic Sichuan cuisine when travelling in Wushan Town, Chongqing. Savvy marketers, they then strategised to combine the countryside cooking with smart service and flash decor, all at bogglingly low prices. The result is a restaurant which has captivated hordes in the capital.
With their reputation preceding them, there were lines on the first day in Shanghai. Now, if you’re not as fond of lines as the next person, you can reserve about a week in advance. But you must arrive before 6pm to be seated, otherwise your table will be given away with zero ceremony.
The giant colour menu lists loads of traditional dishes that you don’t find so much in the big city anymore, like tomato slices with sugar, pickled winter melon and radish sprouts (6RMB each). The seasonings abundant in nearly everything are garlic, sesame seeds and chilies of all kinds: green, red, round, pointed, pickled, dried.
Apart from a terrific version of dandan
noodles (8RMB) in a numbing lava-like sauce, most side dishes are an afterthought. You’re here for the signature dish, the fish de resistance. Five varieties are offered from catfish (nianyu
, 32RMB/jin) to snakehead fish (heiyu
, 42RMB/jin) with myraid sauce combinations like ‘eggplant fish flavour’ (yuxiang qiezi
) and ‘Chinese sauerkraut flavour’.
All the fish come butterflied on trays, blackened into delightful stickiness and covered with a thick blanket of your topping of choice. The interior is juicy and infused with smokiness, especially once it starts bubbling from the coal stove beneath.The smart diners order two whole fish per table. This fish’s flavour can’t beat the paojiao
catfish at the far shabbier Yumen Kezhan from our 50 Best Dishes feature, but for service and trend-factor alone, Jiangbian Chengwai’s is a fish worth waiting for.Crystyl Mo