Shanghai has its fair share of vegetarian restaurants, but eating vegetarian in China without speaking the language is no cakewalk. Chicken- and pork-based stocks are common culprits. Avoid being relegated to a shortlist of salads with our roundup of carnivore-friendly restaurants that offer vegetarians more than just leaves. Here’s where to tuck into Shanghai’s best meat-free dishes.
CHAR Bar & Grill
It’s a steakhouse, but hear us out. CHAR ticks all the boxes for a swanky night on the town. The restaurant and bar occupy the top levels of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund, putting you at eye-level with Pudong’s glittering skyscrapers. Shanghai residents — expats and locals alike — flock to CHAR for cocktails on its rooftop deck and premium Australian beef in the restaurant. What’s a vegetarian to eat while the surrounding carnivores drool over Blackmore wagyu? Pescatarians’ eyes will pop at the seafood selection, which includes Scottish salmon that’s smoked and grilled, then served alongside horseradish quinoa with caviar. Our pick for a fully vegetarian dish is the roasted pumpkin and ricotta pansotti (think triangular ravioli) in a hazelnut-parsley brown butter sauce that’ll have you resisting the strong urge to lick your plate.
Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King
The epitome of a cheap and cheerful local restaurant, Dumpling King’s menu is a tome packed with colorful photos. The eatery serves hearty Dongbei (literally northeast) fare, with two pages of dumplings. The tender, thick-skin boiled dumplings come six to an order. Ordering here without being able to speak and understand a bit of Chinese is doable with pointing, but you may end up being tricked. The alleged “vegetarian three delicacies dumplings” are stuffed with egg and leek, but also with shrimp. The mushroom and bok choy dumplings, however, are all vegetarian and light enough that you can scoff down 12 and still have room for di san xian — a saucy plate of sautéed eggplant, potatoes and peppers.
This is a true omnivore restaurant, with something for everyone — so long as everyone likes healthy eating. The three Angeleno expats who run Sproutworks put together a rotating menu of side dishes (as well as soups, salads and sandwiches); the sides change daily, based on the best available produce. Dishes are clearly labeled as vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, contains meat, contains nuts, or spicy, so you know exactly what you’re getting. Choosing our favorite is a toss-up between two of the recent all-vegetarian dishes: the raw kale, carrot and cabbage salad with maple sesame vinaigrette is sweet and tangy, but we can’t say no to crunchy sprouted lentils, avocado, bell peppers and peas. Proprietor Malcolm Shu is himself a carnivore, but his favorite dish is the “simple-but-delicious roasted baby carrots tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.” If all the greens are too much even for the most devout of vegetarians, grab a hunk of flourless chocolate cake on your way to the register.
Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The PuLi Hotel and Spa is the place to see and be seen for creative types in Shanghai, particularly during lunch. Chef Michael Wilson’s beautifully plated dishes draw influence from his native Australia, but you won’t see any gussied up vegemite on the seasonal menu at Jing’An. At dinner, there’s a dedicated vegetarian menu as well as à la carte and tasting menus. Evening meals here are a luxurious affair, but the set lunch is very reasonably priced, which is why the dining room is always full at midday. We’re partial to starting with the heirloom carrots with ricotta, quinoa and sorrel. From the mains, there’s one vegetarian dish — pillowy gnocchi with gorgonzola, fennel and candied walnuts — and, for pescatarians, pan-fried sea bass with green tomato chutney, fried chickpeas and soubise (onion sauce). Save stomach space for the heavenly desserts, such as the salty and sweet salt-baked pineapple with pine nuts, olive oil and brioche ice cream.
Table No. 1 by Jason Atherton
The Waterhouse at South Bund is one of Shanghai’s chicest boutique hotels, and its signature restaurant Table No. 1 by Jason Atherton doesn’t disappoint. Going heavy on the reclaimed wood and concrete, Table No. 1 puts the focus on the rainbow of dishes coming out of the kitchen. As with The PuLi’s Jing’An, dinner will set you back more than a few hundred yuan, but the three-course, prix-fixe lunch and early dinner (available from 6 to 7 p.m.) both offer excellent value for money. All the menus here are heavy on meat and fish, but if your traveling partner or colleagues are food enthusiasts, it’s highly likely you’ll be eating here. The kitchen is able to make vegetarian adjustments to the set menus. If you’re ordering à la carte, ask what the chef can prepare. Those who eat seafood would do well to try the roasted turbot with saffron mash, salsa verde and crab salad, or the crispy fried salt-and-pepper prawns. The sides are all vegetarian, and four would make a meal; our top picks are the piquant broccolini with chili and almonds, and the meaty (in the non-carnivorous way, of course) sautéed wild mushrooms.
Photo Courtesy of The PuLi Hotel and Spa