July 17, 2013

MODERN SHANGHAI, My Chinese (Food) Love Affair in Makati

Modern Shanghai is one of the latest must-try restaurants that populate the newly renovated Glorietta 2 in the heart of Makati. Tucked away from the rest of the food establishments on the third floor of the mall’s new wing, the restaurant’s simple signage might be easy to miss, but once you’ve eaten there, you’re not going to forget about it anytime soon.

As you walk past, the restaurant’s glass doors invite you in. Its luxurious contemporary ambiance tells you that the meal you’re about to have is going to cost you a pretty penny, but the scents that waft to you from the half-open kitchen tell you it’s going to be worth it. But before you dig in, a little history. Originally Modern China from Hong Kong, Modern Shanghai came to the Philippines, boasting of its unique Shanghainese dining experience – everything, from the dark interiors with happy golden koi accents to the delectable signature dishes, put you in mind of a cheerful, rural province. 

Because Shanghai was a cultural hub and the center of trade much like our own Manila, it developed a cuisine that resembles a medley of culinary traditions from neighbouring provinces and frequent visitors. As a result, Shanghai cuisine, also known as Hu cuisine, isn’t truly indigenous. However, it is every bit as distinctive as those of other provinces, like Sichuan and Cantonese cooking. It’s a little sweeter than most Chinese cooking, and makes generous use of alcohol, both traits endearing the fare to Pinoy taste buds.

Like most restaurants that claim authenticity, Modern Shanghai is proud to uphold many of the traditions and techniques of Chinese cooking in most of its dishes. The succulent deep-fried chickens are flown in from Hong Kong and prepared in the traditional way, much like roast duck. The noodles are made fresh daily, by hand and from scratch, by the scowl-y chef on display at the restaurant’s viewing window.

The noodles are then dropped into all sorts of steaming flavorful broths and topped off with a wide array of meat and veggies. Or they’re fried and heaped with all sorts of goodies and a thick, savory sauce (Crispy Yellow Noodles with Seafood, P358 per heaping plate).

The new menu includes two seafood specialties: Deep-fried fish with spicy sweet sauce and Deep Fried Squid (P388). The squid is served super simply, looking the ever-familiar fish crackling. A couple of tips to keep in mind when ordering this dish: ask for vinegar, and set upon the dish as soon as it hits your table. If you miss that magical moment when the freshly-cooked squid is perfectly tender, you’ll find yourself chewing something reminiscent of old slippers. Given, they’re old slippers in a yummy breading, but still.

The Deep-Fried Fish with Spicy Fish Sauce (P248), on the other hand, is doused with a sweet-spicy sauce and a sprinkling of mushrooms. The sauce has just the right amount of kick, and highlights the delicate flavour of fish. Though be forewarned – it looks nothing like what it does on the menu. Strangely enough, it looks better.

I had my qualms about the chicken. For one thing, P688 for half a bird was quite a hefty price tag. When I was told it was flown in from HK, my first thought was, “well, that’s unusual”. Philippine-raised chicken, IMHO, is just as good, and better for the planet than flying in fowls from abroad. But we were assured that these were specially raised chicken, a little tougher than our local ones, but hardier and more flavorful. The bird was treated similarly to peking duck and hung before frying. The result is a beautiful coat of paper-thin, evenly crisp skin, dark from frying. The meat is tasty through and through, and there’s a teensy bit of gaminess you always get from farm-bred birds. It’s also served simply, topped with a heaping helping of golden, crispy garlic bits.

If you’re against buying imported birds, then order the wok-fried beef (P338), which is lovingly cradled by broccoli cooked to crisp-tender perfection. Or the enigmatic Eight Treasures in Hot Bean Sauce (P358), a beautiful cacophony of textures and tastes.

While I loved the food, it was the drink menu that tipped Modern Shanghai from a “must try once” resto to a “have to visit at least quarterly” one. Aside from a very comprehensive tea list which included the pretty blooming floral teas and the strong black tea I particularly enjoy, the restaurant also featured shakes and fruit juices. I ordered a Pear Apple Juice, which was supposed to be a detoxifyingbeverage. Initially, I thought it was a mite expensive at P245 per serving. But then the serving arrived, and it was in a glass carafe. It was enough for the meal and was delightful to linger over after we’d finished eating, not to mention absolutely refreshing and delightful. It was light, with subtle floral hints and fruity flavour, and not too sweet. It tingled slightly on the tongue, so I guess there must have been carbonated soda water in it, but the fizz and pop only served to highlight the drink’s freshness. It was like drinking in a sunny spot in a garden, and it was thrillingly delicious.

Although it’s more attuned to group dining than to dates, The Girl and I are already planning to hop back to Modern Shanghai sometime soon to sample as many dumplings as possible. As soon as I find out which are safe for seafood-allergic lil’ me to try, that is. :D

Modern Shanghai is at the 2nd Level, North Veranda of the SM Mall of Asia and at the 2nd Level of the New Glorietta 2. Come by and visit when you’re craving for really good, authentic Chinese food. Take a budget of about P1,500 for a hearty meal for two people, and enjoy.


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