Unit C – 1872 Merivale Rd., 613-686-1380, shanghaione.ca
Open: Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Prices: most main dishes $12.95 to $18.95, more for seasonal and deluxe seafood
Access: no steps to front door or washrooms
We entered Shanghai One, a huge restaurant in a mall at Hunt Club and Merivale roads, thinking that it looked very familiar. The menu, however, was dotted with mysteries.
Previously in this 6,000-square-foot space there had been another Chinese restaurant called Bashu. It had been open for less than two years, serving seafood, Sichuan and Cantonese fare, dim sum and more in a space that was as glitzy and big-box as some Somerset Street West Asian restaurants are down-at-heels and hole-in-the-wall.
Shanghai One, which opened this fall, has retained the opulent look of Bashu as if it took over in turnkey fashion. Strikingly modern, ostentatious chandeliers hang above the bright dining room packed with black tables and narrow, cloth-covered chairs. At the back of the room, a large mural showing Shanghai’s skyline is new. The best proof that Shanghai One is not simply a rebranded Bashu is in the menu, which specializes in dishes from Shanghai, China’s largest city, buttressed by less esoteric Cantonese and Northern Chinese dishes, as well as dim sum staples.
There is, of course, a longstanding restaurant in Chinatown called the Shanghai, but its fare includes crowd-pleasing Chinese-Canadian and Asian fusion dishes. At Shanghai One, adventurous diners and Chinese expats can delve into more representative and even daunting dishes in which eels, sea cucumber and Dungeness crab (in Shanghai. the local hairy crabs are prized) are the stars.
When I’ve visited Shanghai One and looked around to see which dishes the more knowledgeable eaters had ordered, I’ve most often seen bamboo steamer baskets filled with piping hot dumplings on the tables. These were what the menu refers to as “Shanghai juicy meat dumplings,” otherwise known as “soup dumplings” or xiao long bao. Inside each dumpling’s thin yet sturdy skin was a ground-pork filling mixed with gelatinized pork stock. The usual trick for eating these treats is to place a dumpling in one’s soup spoon, bite off its top, slurp out some of the soup and then anoint the rest with a bit of black vinegar before downing it. At Shanghai One, the xiao long bao were a highlight, and the best I’ve had in Ottawa, meaning not only the tastiest, but also the least likely to leak their liquids.