One thing we applaud: affordable restaurants in the middle of Xintiandi. Another thing? Authentic homestyle Cantonese, which is ostensibly offered at a thousand places in this town, but only perfected at a fraction of them.
The first buoys signalling we’re in the culinary waters of the South China Sea are the tables of families and couples we overhear speaking Cantonese. And when we crack the hyper-designed photo menu, it’s crammed with that idiosyncratic mish-mash of international dishes that illustrate colonial Hong Kong. There are the classic shrimp wontons but also, spaghetti Bolognese (48RMB), fish and chips (58RMB) and Russian borscht (28RMB) as well as dishes peculiar to Hong Kong such as luncheon meat with instant noodles (28RMB).
Molokai is opened by the Hong Kong owners of Barbarossa
and the same attention to decor is apparent here.
The long curving dining room, a handsome, polished space with an open kitchen, has wooden floors, lots of chocolate brown cushy benches and the ubiquitous shelves stocked with canned and dried goods that are the current viral design meme for pan- Asian restaurants.
Scrambled egg with shrimp (52RMB) might not sound special, but the ideal cooking of an egg is considered an exacting task for even top cooks, and the Hong Kong chef here – previously of the famed Tsui Wah in Hong Kong – has it mastered. The eggs arrive fried so delicately they are still shiny and wet, yet fluffy as foggy clouds. The Singapore laksa (48RMB), another dish rarely done right, sings with freshly fried shrimp paste and fragrant chilli oil.
The wonton noodle soup (28RMB) is the dish we’ll return for, though, as these silky, shrimp-stuffed packages are so often mediocre. At many places you get past-prime shrimp in carelessly folded skins, swimming in broth so concentrated with MSG it makes your tongue curl. Here, the broth is light and the shrimp are squeaky fresh.For sweets, there’s a ‘Thai Banana’ (38RMB), a glass of banana ice cream, banana chips, chocolate wafers and a few Pocky sticks that is earnestly calling us back. The deeply chocolaty brownie (38RMB) is neither dry nor fall-apart gooey; you can fork it into chunks and top each with a dollop of the accompanying vanilla ice cream.
We are in the minority, but apart from a few virtuosos like T8 and Shinmachi, we never thought of Xintiandi as a sensible dining destination for residents of Shanghai, when there’s so much choice in the non-touristic, more charismatic areas of the city. Yet Molokai has enough genuine Hong Kong flavour that its setting in a mall in a crowded downtown area is actually the picture perfect locale, just like home in Hong Kong.