Tony from Toowoomba and I spent our last night in Shanghai enjoying the delights of the French Concession. This part of Shanghai is a real joy to visit. The French Concession was a cool part of Shangahi to live in the 1920′s and remains so with many buildings from the early 1900′s preserved. It actually reminds me of the inner-city streets of Glebe or Newtown in Sydney. Many of the residential buildings have been preserved and are either still used as homes or have become boutiques or in rare cases brew pubs! (Come on down Boxing Cat Brewery) We had planned to have a walk around the French Concession before hitting a few bars, but with the heatwave continuing to grip Shanghai we were soon driven indoors. After a quick unexpected stop at Oscars – a tired old expat bar – we found our main target for the evening – the Shanghai Brewery.
Without doubt, the last time I visited Shanghai Boxing Cat Brewery was the discovery of that particular trip. On this particular evening, we found a venue to well and truly rival Boxing Cat and that is the French Concession outlet of the Shanghai Brewery. Shanghai Brewery launched its first outlet in 2010 and in 2012 the French Concession site was opened. They’ve done a fantastic job to find such a huge site. Two stories of really well appointed pub. The place was heaving and we struggled to get a spot on the bottom floor. We managed to grab a table for two upstairs and started to work our way through the Shanghai Brewery beer line-up. In addition to providing an awesome range of beers, the Shanghai Brewery dishes out huge plates of food and has plenty of televisions showing sport. I’d missed the Super 15 final and Tony and I watched the Brumbies v the Chiefs as we knocked off the beer list. Even though we knew the result it was still a very exciting game to watch. Gees the Brumbies had a go. Maybe they should just give that team gold jerseys and not worry about the other states.
The Shanghai Brewery beers were (almost) universally fantastic. TfT is a massive Hefeweizen fan and the Shanghai Brewery provides plenty of options. We started with the West River Weizen and it was an auspicious beginning. We then ripped into the Hong Mei Amber Hefeweizen and pretty much decided that our pub crawl was going to end here. This was a superb Hefe. We would have gone a second, but we had to work our way through the list and we moved onto the North Star IPA. This was well bittered and a fine example of the style – more American that British in style. We finished off with the Black Eyed Bear Stout. We toasted the gallant Brumbies and considered buying a t-shirt, but the one failing of the Shanghai Brewery was the 150RMB price of the t-shirt. Still a minor quibble – the Shanghai Brewery is a must visit in Shanghai.
I had to take Tony to the Boxing Cat Brewery. He was very impressed. This is quite different to the Shanghai Brewery and is more refined. The beers are still excellent and we had a plate of fiery wings which really hit the spot. You really can’t split the two (though Boxing Cat’s t-shirts are more reasonable). So the solution is visit both. We had a night cap at the Camel, which is apparently has the most live sports feeds in Asia. Amazingly, we watched the Storm play the Bunnies over some very ordinary but cheap beer. French Concession – a wonderful place.
The sojourn to Shanghai to team up Bladdamaster for a fabulous couple days of beer-exploration would have been remiss without a visit to our old friend Leon at the Brew. Not much has changed the offing is still fantastic but judging by the number of awards since our last visit the Brew is definitely gaining notoriety. BotF is not at all surprised by the success.
Once again Mash was the clear standout. A wonderfully citrusy flavoured ale that lingers with the partaker well after sampling. It is not for the light of heart though. Our Chinese friends who joined us are more comfortable with watery but flavorsome beers available in China were physically shaken by the oral delights of Mash.
Shanghai really does offer a fantastic array for craft beer lovers, the groovy bars in the French Concession and also those in the modern part of the city. If the Brew lack any “grooviness” relative to its location it more than makes up for that in the quality of its beers. Congratulations on your success Leon keep punching them out and we look forward to our next visit.
The Bund is an iconic part of Shanghai. The buildings on the Eastern Side of the Huangpu River were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were originally the property of banks and in a couple of cases, clubs. The Chinese government confiscated them in the 50s, but in the last 30 years the buildings have started to return to their former glories. They’ve become high-end fashion houses, top-end hotels or headquarters for Chinese and foreign banks – and Bund now looks awesome. When a wind is blowing the Chinese flags that must be mandatory create quite a spectacle as they proudly on top of these stone beauties.
The Bund is about walking along the promenade alongside the Huangpu and looking East to the skyline of the Pudong. Day or night this looks fantastic. If you’ve got plenty of coin it can also be about eating and drinking very well, but gees – you’ve got to have the coin. Tony from Toowoomba came to Shanghai by train from Beijing and I pulled up a stool at the Waldorf Astoria’s legendary Long Bar to wait for him. The Waldorf Astoria has restored the old Shanghai Club building into a spectacular hotel. The Long Bar was famous for being, well, long. Originally 110 feet long, I’m not sure if it still that long, but it is still probably longer than the bar at the Railway Hotel, West Melbourne. It is a fine looking place and you can’t last 5 minutes without a very keen member of staff wanting to tell you the history of the Long Bar. In a way it was lucky so many people wanted a yarn – because at $12 a Tsingtao stubbie – this ain’t cheap drinking. TfT arrived and we had our most expensive beer in Shanghai together. Great place for one drink and look – but that’s it.
Our dinner venue was the Bund Brewery. The Bund Brewery is half a block from the waterfront and the Oriental Pearl Tower looks great from the street. There is a reasonable space inside with a pool table, plenty of seating and some large screen TVs. We opted to order the entire Bund Brewery range in our opening shout with a pale ale and a dark. The glasses look magnificent, but that is about the highlight. The pale, whilst cloudy, was pretty underwhelming without any discernible flavour. The dark was OK – a lttle rough, which isn’t a bad thing for a dark, but again not particularly distinctive. Apart from some soy fried fish, the food was also disappointing. At 8.30pm on a Thursday – you might have expected a crowd – but this place was pretty quiet. Go to get your Untappd uniques – but that’s it.
Our last stop was Captain Bar. This is a rooftop bar on top of a hostel, which is a remarkable find in amongst such high end accommodation. You pass by the eponymous Captain on the way to the clapped out elevator. You hop out at the fifth floor and walk up a set of metal stairs and you enter one of the darkest bars of all time. It is a shame, because the inside of Captain Bar is designed to resemble an old boat. The main source of light is a set of illuminated tapheads that guide you to the bar. The star attraction of Captain Bar is the outside drinking area with its views of the Huangpu River and the Pudong Skyline. TfT and I grabbed a couple of tankards of Tsingtao (60RMB or $10.60) and took in the view from Captain Bar, which is el primo and just about justifies the price. At 11pm, it was still a ridiculous 35 degrees.
Last night this correspondent and Back of the Ferry’s North-East Asian correspondent – Tony from Toowoomba teamed up to give the French Concession a going over. More about that later, but on the way home we experienced a wonderful piece of what I love about China. 100m from our hotel, which is directly on the Bund, was a “pop up” “food truck” grill that was just going off. On the corner of Sichuan Middle Road and Guangdong Road a well oiled machine was shovelling out freshly grilled meat, fish and veggies to the masses and it was magnificent.
The boys have converted an old farmers bike into a full on grill. On one edge they’ve hung a kind of gutter to which they constantly add coals. Grill plates go on top and they simply cook to order whatever you want and gees there’s some variety. Mushrooms, cauliflower florets, fish, lamb, pork, beef, octopus – it’s all there. Each stick is constantly basted and spices are added from an array of tins from a shelf hanging off the bike. As you can see from the photo, there’s no dress code at this restaurant. We arrived a midnight, had half an hour there and the stream of customers was constant. We paid about $14 Aussie for a couple of longies of Suntory and 10 sticks of spiced heaven.
After over 4 years, TfT’s mandarin has developed well. We had a terrific yarn with these blokes that have run this for a couple of years now. They offered us a couple of seats and then pulled a couple of longies of Suntory from a bucket and we had our most enjoyable feed since I arrived. We watched in awe as the head griller had to constantly douse his forearms in a bucket to manage the heat. OH&S par excellence. All of this was conducted in the open air on what during the day is a busy street in one the ritziest parts of Shanghai. The friendliness shown to us was warm and the sense of community as regulars showed up was palpable. As good as some of places I’ve been on this trip, the Sichuan/Guangdong Corner Grill provided the highlight. This is what I love about China.
Shanghai has been bitten by the microbrew bug. There are at least 6 bars brewing their own and it is possible to pub crawl by microbrews, but a cab is necessary. I took it easy and went to three – Boxing Cat Brewery, Dr. Beer and The Brew. Boxing Cat and Dr. Beer area in the French Concession part of Shanghai, whilst The Brew is in the Kerry Hotel out the back of Pudong near an International Expo Centre.
Of the three I visited, Boxing Cat was the standout. Great beer, laid back feel, comfy seats and a decent happy hour. Dr. Beer has potential but was a little clinical and pristine for mine, and the beer was so-so. The Brew was dazzling in appearance, but it was A big Saturday night and the joint was pumping and it was hard to find a quiet place for sip. Needs a revisit at a more leisurely pace. I am disappointed because place that names a beer “Dugite” – needs close attention. Still – I’m the 3rd BackoftheFerry correspondent to darken its doors.
Boxing Cat is a very unassuming place on a typical French Concession boulevard. There’s a a combination of indoor and outdoor seating, sofa, lounges and barstools. The menu looked solid and Evil Knievil would have struggled to jump over the nachos that was delivered to a nearby table. The tasting rack comes with a very helpful menu with full descriptions provided. I’ve included the final beer of the six – a stunning Imperial Stout that was as smooth as Lou Rawls. Many of the beers have a pugilistic reference in their name. The six beers were Standing 8 Pilsner, TKO IPA, Brewer’s Choice (a red ale), Belgian Witbier, Glasgow Kiss Scottish Ale and the standout King Louie Imperial Stout. The stout was a crippling 8%, whilst to Glasgow Kiss was a robust 6.4%. All places are worth visiting, but at Boxing Cat it was worth buying the shirt and misappropriating a glass.
This beer is travelling at 309km on an engineering masterpiece – otherwise known as the Beijing-Shanghai Express. The beer is yet another “variety” from the Beijing Yanjing Brewery Co. Ltd. I’ve seen about 8 versions of Yanjing Beer since I’ve been here. I’m convinced it is all the same weak, watery beer flavoured fizzy water – just in different designed cans and bottles. It’s tough to avoid, due to its often exclusive ubiquity.
The Beijing-Shanghai Express is a fabulous way to travel. The 1318km journey is covered in a little under 5 hours and a ticket costs 555RMB or AUD$85. It flies along at over 300km for much of the journey and second class is very comfortable. The dining car is a cool place to hang and even has the smallest of bars. It could improve its menu, but then again they aren’t catering for laowei like me. There is no better way to travel between Shanghai and Beijing, particularly with the domestic air travel being so prone to delay. Given this isn’t run by NSW State Rail, everything here runs like clockwork.
One of the highlights of Sydney’s Level 41 restaurant was taking a leak. The men’s urinals had the most amazing view and it felt like you were pissing all over the Eastern Suburbs. Well, I’ve got to say I’ve found a better and higher place to bleed the lizard.
On the 94th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Centre building is one of the world’s great bathrooms. The view on the day I strained the spuds wasn’t the best, but it still took the breath away. On a clear day, there would be no better place to drain the main vein (thanks Barry McKenzie).
The SWFC stands at 492m tall and is known as the bottle opener. According to a local, the shape was supposed to be a circle, but the building’s owner is Japanese and the authorities felt it would look like a japanese flag. The observatory walk is on the 100th floor and there is glass in the floor, which is at the top of the bottle opening bit. A must do in Shanghai. They’re building one next door which will be 200m taller!
The beer of the day is a real surprise. It is a dark lager from Vietnam. I think the standard pale lager has graced the pages of BotF before. Beerlao Dark Lager is a thick, treacly drop, which packs a 6.5% punch. A bit sweet for mine, but given I’ll be drinking gallons of pale Chinese lager, this was a welcome diversion.
This BofF correspondant, whilst looking for some afternoon relief from a rather uninspiring first day of a conference, marched with purpose to the taxi rank of the Pudong Shangri-La. “Kerry Hotel!”, I demanded. Fortunately Peter Brock’s Chinese cousin sensed my need of oral irrigation and in a cloud of diesel smoke we tore out of the driveway, heading East.
15 minutes later we arrived at the Kerry Hotel, RMB30 (AU$5) was thrust into Chan’s hand and in I went. The Brew is very central to the foyer of this rather pleasant and modern establishment. The hotel itself is set against Century Park, south-east of the centre of Shanghai
Enquiries were made for Leon the brewer, but he wasn’t in. Righto, show me the menu then.
The menu is clean and crisp with names like White Ant and Razorback Cider stirring the mind. The Indian Pale Ale was my choice for a hasty imbibing.
The Indian Pale ale was a very enjoyable drop with a lot of throwbacks to some of the fine brews at The Australian Hotel in Sydney. Served in a floating glass (think pot size). The surrounding interior of The Brew was extremely pleasant. Dark timbers, leather and a Steinway being gently caressed in the corner made a very pleasant change to a Wednesday afternoon.
Whilst the foam was clinging to the glass this drop was very light and quite sweet. I’m tempted to draw parralels with a James Squire Golden Ale for obvious reasons, but I think a Little Creatures or a Beez Neez is more appropriate.
It was time to head back and as I departed I felt a sense of sadness that Sydney and other Antipodean locales don’t do the micro-brewery thing with a little more sophistication like The Brew.