Presented by the same Taiwanese company who own the Thai Town chain (a branch of which is upstairs from Ten Ten), this newcomer in the Reel shopping mall has launched with no short amount of pomp. Weeks before they swung open the doors to their slick space, there were adverts dotted all over Jingan Temple metro station announcing the opening date, while huge banners bearing the restaurant’s name have been hung in Reel’s atriums. Dispensing with the meek apologies of many a Shanghai ‘soft opening’, Ten Ten have decided to go big and bold right from the off, displaying a clear confidence in their concept. Thankfully, the early evidence is that such confidence is not misplaced.
The restaurant is pitching for the fashionable, white collar crowd with a simple but stylish interior that highlights just how tired the decor at rival Guyi
has become. Their price points are higher than those at the likes of old favourite Di Shui Dong
and there’s a 10 percent service charge, but in general the higher prices at Ten Ten are justified by a similar rise in quality.
The menu is concise, focusing on Hunanese classics. Many of the cuisine’s staple dishes are given a subtle twist – nothing so serious that devotees will be crying sacrilege, but little touches that make the offerings stand out from the originals. The huge ‘fish head steamed with minced preserved green pepper with fish noodle’ (107RMB) for example, comes atop a tangle of ‘noodles’ that are actually squiggles of soft fish shaped into ribbons – an unusual, but thoroughly tasty, addition. The steamed catfish itself is wonderfully tender, though the garnish on our visit is composed of peppers with plenty of heat but none of the sour suan flavours that define Hunan cuisine.
These flavours are better realised with another cornerstone of the province’s cooking, the ‘sauteed minced pork with pickled bean’ (58RMB), or suandoujiao larou. Here, squeaky sections of sour green beans mix with deliciously smokey slices of larou (bacon-like pork) and just a touch of garlic for one of the best versions of this dish we’ve had outside of Hunan itself. The larou is present again – vegetarians beware – in the ‘stir fried Hunan organic cauliflower’ (48RMB) where it’s hidden among vegetable clumps that come with slightly blackened edges, adding a charred flavour while still maintaining a soft texture. A smattering of cumin seeds accentuates the taste even further.
Another twist on a Hunanese classic is harder to discern. The bundle of ‘fried shrimp skewers’ (98RMB) comes with a sauce that features over a dozen ingredients, none of which Ten Ten is willing to divulge. Everything from ginger to douban jiang (bean paste) blends together as a member of the wait staff spins the foil-wrapped skewers in front of you, adding a unique coating to the generous portion of barbecued shrimps. The dish is a greasy delight.
Our ‘hot pot chicken with tea shrub funghi’ (88RMB) is slightly less impressive. The chewy mushrooms are too few and far between, while far from being a ‘dry pot’ dish (as its Chinese prefix ganguo suggests), there is a tomatoey broth enveloping the ingredients. The chicken, which tussles with spicy chillies for domination of this serving, is nicely cooked however, and the order is still tasty, just not quite as advertised.
There’s no soothing Wanglaoji or Jiaduobao soft drinks to wash the punchy dishes down with, though that other traditional Chinese spicy food accompaniment, beer, is in good supply with a range that includes Stella Artois (42RMB), Guinness (46RMB) and English bitter Boddingtons (58RMB). Matching the casual, classy feel, there’s also a short wine list, with glasses from 58RMB.
So often the fanfare accompanying a newly opened restaurant only serves to heighten expectations which are then disappointingly dashed. And while Ten Ten may not quite be earning full marks, with dishes and presentation as good as those on offer here, this time you can believe the hype.
By Jake Newby