Generally, all-you-can-eat Japanese is an undiscriminating gluttonous affair; you’re willing to overlook second-rate fish and slam bam service in return for as much discount sake and sushi as you can cram in over a few hours. Wan Dao is an all-you-can-eat restaurant of a different order. There’s sophisticated lighting, lacquered red tables, parquet flooring and a mirrored bar with shelves of sake stretching nearly to the double-height ceiling, and service as fastidious as if you were in Tokyo.
While the 350RMB price tag is higher than the average buffet-style Japanese, the premium menu here means that within 20 minutes of ordering we feel we’ve already scoffed the value of our dinner and we’re only getting started.
Even the first dish to the table proves we are dining at a higher altitude. The standard fresh salad, which is often just iceberg lettuce, carrot slivers and gingery dressing, at Wan Dao is a mixture of mesclun leaves tangled with red and yellow bell pepper slivers, a shard of taro and slices of avocado. Our dish of natto illustrates similar detail; these sticky fermented beans are usually served naked in a dish. Here they are topped with small bites of salmon and tuna sashimi, hunks of avocado, strings of seaweed and a shiso leaf.
And so the feast begins. Many dishes here aren’t even available at your average all-you-can-eat.One after another, lush and showy seafood dishes pile up on our shining red table: giant briny snow crab legs, baked Boston lobster heads topped with gooey cheese, uni (sea urchin) stunningly presented atop their spiny shells and boats of crushed ice studded with dozens of sparkling botan shrimp (sashimi-grade shrimp normally 90RMB for just one serving). At one point we’re so stunned with our abundant catch, our whole table is struck with the giggles. The shrimp is flawless, the flesh is sweet and each crustacean has been carefully peeled so you only need to ease off the head – suck out the rich roe and then barely chew the body and tail.
We move on to seared foie gras with wine-poached fruit, massive sea scallops cooked delicately enough to preserve their tenderness (although on one visit the scallops are a touch overcooked, on the next they are perfect), fat slices of sashimi layered in ice-filled stone bowls stuck with fresh fern leaves, fatty ‘snowflake’beef and crunchy tempura.
Avocado and spicy tuna rolls and spicy salmon hand rolls are superb, but by this time we’re flagging. Don’t waste your appetite on the rice is our advice. While Wan Dao is an awesome value, it’s not a cheap date, so be shrewd and start with the lobster, botan shrimp and uni before dipping into the salmon and steak. As for noodles and fried rice, only those with heroic appetites need make their way to that end of the menu. Another tip: Wan Dao’s superiority has already been discovered. Book three days early or you’re unlikely to get in.
For drinks, there’s a unique variety including papaya coconut milk, watermelon, peach and even aloe juice, but the star is the tropically refreshing guava juice. For alcohol there’s sake, lemon shochu, Kirin and Tsingtao beers.
While there are (a very few) all-you-can-eat restaurants that approach Wan Dao on quality, not one of them is in the Former French Concession. The prime location, conscientious service and exceptional seafood– just the botan shrimp alone are calling us back – makes Wan Dao easily our critical pick for free-flow Japanese.
By Crystyl Mo