There is something uniquely ‘Shanghai’ about Andaz Xintiandi – located in the fast-beating heart of the downtown area – and its signature restaurant is no exception. The name Hai Pai means ‘Shanghai spirit’, encompassing the glamour, local flavour and cosmopolitan atmosphere of China’s leading city.
Hai Pai Flavours
Hai Pai’s executive chef Jacqueline Qiu is a Shanghai native herself. Across her menu (which changes with the seasons), she offers diners a modern take on the region’s cuisine. “This requires an understanding of a dish’s original flavours,” she says, “then the addition of new elements — for both the palate and the eyes — to make a refreshing meal.”
For newcomers to Shanghai, the food of the city may be unfamiliar. Unlike Cantonese fare, which is the staple of Chinese dining overseas, Shanghainese dishes have not made so strong a mark elsewhere. However, as connoisseurs are quick to confirm, this has everything to do with migration patterns and nothing to do with quality; typical Shanghai food is impressive both in its diversity and its flavours, and Hai Pai is the ideal place to encounter it.
Located on the ground floor of Andaz Xintiandi, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch and dinner. The décor encapsulates traditional elements (such as cooking baskets, locally crafted porcelain, and the red bricks used to build Xintiandi’s shikumen lane houses) as well as sleek, contemporary lines. The colour palette is warm and easy – natural browns, and striking but subtle reds and ochres. The helpful, ever-friendly waitstaff wear vivid, casual uniforms designed by local fashion doyenne Han Feng.
We visited Hai Pai at Andaz Xintiandi on a late spring afternoon for brunch. Warm sun and a bright sky had brought throngs of visitors to Xintiandi’s café-strewn lanes, and the cool Andaz lobby was a calm respite from the rush. To take the edge off the heat we started with a glass of signature iced tea – chilled oolong laced with honey.
Hai Pai’s menu is comprehensive without being daunting. We decided to try the brunch sampler for an overview of the flavours, before moving on to explore the à la carte offerings. Laid out on a retro-inspired tray, the brunch dishes were a solid introduction to the cooking styles of the region. ‘Drunken chicken’ uses the technique of steeping cold meats in strong jiu spirits, creating a refreshingly piquant bite. A pair of scarlet, jiu-soaked wolfberries sat atop the glistening chicken skin for an injection of sweetness. Next was a cluster of ‘peony prawns’ – miniature shrimps griddled until crispy, followed by sesame-flecked slices of barbecued char siu pork, which are also common in Cantonese fare. The sampler was rounded out by a pair of tofu-skin wraps filled with juicy shredded mushroom and carrot.
Appetites pleasantly whetted, we moved on to a bowl of tangy hot and sour soup, enriched with silky fronds of tofu, egg and vegetables. As the meal progressed, the quality of the ingredients became increasingly obvious, particularly with the visually arresting Thousand-Slice Pork. A speciality of the menu, this dish is so difficult to construct that only three of Hai Pai’s chefs are qualified to make it. As its name suggests, it consists of a fan of thinly-sliced pork splayed neatly over a compact mound of stewed bamboo. Each mouthful is plucked up with chopsticks, folded into a slice of iceberg lettuce, and then eaten.
A plate of steamed vegetables and seafood in XO sauce augured a change of pace. Robust scallops and shelled shrimps lay among broccoli florets and sugarsnap peas, toeing the line between crunchy and soft, and showcasing the brusque, earthy zest of the sauce. A portion of fried dou miao pea-shoots continued the theme, stir-fried in expensive Wuliangye baijiu – China’s most famous liquor.
Shanghainese cuisine origins
Thanks to the city’s geographical position and vibrant history, Shanghainese food is a collection of aromas and textures that are heavily influenced by the surrounding provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu. Also known as Hu and Benbang, Shanghainese is the ‘newest’ of China’s major cuisines, having developed during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and into the Qing (1644–1911). Nowadays, with its modern migrant population, the city’s kitchens steam with the flavours of more distant provinces and cultures, but ‘true’ Shanghai food can be loosely characterised by sweet soy marinades, a profusion of seafood (including the famous hairy crab), and salt-pickle preservation techniques.
Join the gathering around any street-side food stall in the city and you’ll see pancakes bouncing in griddles, rice cakes frying in chive-flecked oil, and turnip cakes coming to the boil. Each of these traditional dishes finds a place on Hai Pai’s menu. From the chef’s table to the street, the city’s food journey covers higher-end banquet-style dishes all the way to steamed buns and dumplings. Hai Pai’s menu follows suit. The xiaolongbao came in a wicker steamer: four bite-sized pyramids of almost translucent wrapping, each holding a shot of hot broth and pork meat. Another famous dish from Shanghai’s streets and alleys is soy scallion noodles – a popular late breakfast or lunch – which Hai Pai executes with similar aplomb.
There is even more innovation to be found on the restaurant’s dessert list, with a firm nod to local tradition. If you take to the streets of Shanghai in the morning, you’ll see early risers stopping at breakfast stands on their way to work. Their spoils usually consist of a sealed plastic cup of soymilk and a brace of deep-fried crullers known as you tiao. The Hai Pai chefs decided to reconstruct this famous breakfast fare and turn it into dessert. In a wide-rimmed glass, slices of crispy dried you tiao criss-cross a plump cloud of soymilk ice cream, with just the right tinge sweetness to balance the mouthful out. Another typical early morning feast is reconfigured for dessert – a miniature Shanghainese donut (more pretzel-like in texture than its Western cousin) and a slab of rich but light vanilla and almond parfait.
Whether you stop by for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch or dinner, Hai Pai is a strong choice for a one-stop Shanghainese food experience. The resident sommelier at Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai, Delphin Duan, is on hand to recommend the ideal wine (usually white) for each dish.
Andaz Xintiandi’s maxim is ‘arrive as a guest, depart as a local’, and a meal at Hai Pai is part of the journey.