Having been to Shanghai Blues a couple of times before, I didn't have quite a good impression of the Chinese restaurant just a short stroll of Holborn Tube station. I first visited it soon after we touched down in London some years back and I was taken aback by the fact that tea was charged per pot per person basis; each transparent pot came with a tea blossom, which opened up nicely when hot water was added (with free refills of hot water thereafter).
Not only that, I recalled that the dim sum dishes were £3.50 and above each, which is dear even by today's standard. And you would expect that given the price, the service would be at least pleasant. Well, it was perfunctory at best. I returned twice after that but it was only because my companions would like to try it out. Unfortunately, the verdict remained unchanged.
So I don't know what came over me when I turned out to be the one who suggested lunching at Shanghai Blues with CY and his family over the weekend.
The reservation was made at 1pm. While we arrived on the spot, CY was held back. On hearing that we would be waiting for someone, the staff promptly directed us to the bar area. Even before we settled down on the comfortable sofa, we were served roasted peanuts and prawn crackers. CY was later than expected and we were done with peanuts and crackers soon after. Another portion of each was served without prompting. We found out that those were complementary when the bill came at the end of the meal.
While we were somewhat relieved that CY eventually turned up 45min later, credit must be given to the staff for not rushing us throughout the wait - not a single time.
Tea at Shanghai Blues was still charged per pot person at a minimum of £3.50 per pot. Though I noticed some tables sharing an entire (large) pot of tea, that option was not apparent to us on the menu.
A smattering of dim sum dishes were ordered and among them the usual suspects: yam croquettes (£3.80), charsiew pork buns (£3.80), charsiew pork cheung fun (£4.50), har gau (£4), xiao long bao (£4) and quail egg seafood siu mai (£4.80).
What struck me was that the xiao long bao's skin was stuck onto the bamboo steamer and as a result we didn't get to taste much of the soup as the skin at its base tore. Shanghai Blues could perhaps take a page out of Imperial China's books and add a thin slice of carrot beneath its xiao long bao.
Shanghai Blues' har gau (or prawn dumplings) came with substantial fillings with fresh whole prawns to boot. Easily the best har gau I have come across in London. At one quid a piece, they were also among the most expensive. I can't say the same for its cheung fun though; its skin was too thick, which made the dish rather bland. The few accompanying strands of greens hardly made up for it.
The highlight of the dim sum dishes that we ordered must be the quail egg seafood siu mai. Came with half a quail egg perched on them, the 'siu mai' was made of reformed crab meat wrapped in seaweed. The rather odd combination worked wonders and provided a refreshing twist from the usual pork offering.
We went for the roasted duck slices congee (£5.50) and seafood rice wrapped in lotus leaves (£11.80). While I find the congee's consistency agreeable, I was a tad disappointed to find the duck slices came with bone attached. The saving grace came in the form of roasted peanuts and pickled cabbage, which came complementary with the congee. I thought that the seafood rice was forgettable and overpriced; the lotus leaves themselves didn't add much flavour to the dish. But it was an apt stomach filler.
The bill for the tea (for four) alone came up to £15. One might balk at the cost but it did come with free refills of hot water, which is not an option at Yauatcha. If you have a party of more than 10, ask for the private room Shanghai Blues offers, which sits up to 24. There's also live music at Shanghai Blues for dinners on Fridays and Saturdays. Someone was telling me that a singer sang 'Ye Shanghai' when she was there on a Friday evening.
Prices at Shanghai Blues aren't the cheapest in town. If you are on a budget, consider going there for Saturday lunch when there is a 50% discount off all food items (tea excluded). The offer is also available for the entire Sunday.
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