After 12 years of living in Shanghai, we thought we had eaten our way through every nook and cranny in this city, but China has a delightful way of always surprising you. A friend tipped us about a great little Taiwanese joint less than a kilometer from our office, and since Taiwanese food is woefully underrepresented in Shanghai, we immediately planned a lunch outing to test its beef noodle soup and braised pork rice.
When we pulled up outside a three-story Spanish villa complete with Juliet balconies and a rosy pink paint job, we were surprised to find a familiar sight. The distinctive building sits directly across the street from a yoga studio we had gone to for four years. We’d never even considered that it could be a restaurant – there’s no sign or indication that delicious dishes lay just beyond the front door.
The menu extends far beyond excellent noodles to other Taiwanese classics.
Curiosity piqued, we went in and were welcomed into what could easily pass as a tchotchke store. An old rotary phone with the Friends logo and an antique clown head menagerie take up space in the reception on the ground floor, and there’s original colonial-era tile in the bathroom. Head on up the spiral staircase past commercial posters from the past 50 years, and enter the bizarre dining room, where you can either start a singalong at the piano or take a nap in the double bed – both are smack dab in the middle of the room.
But Chartres Sunday (known better as 夏朵星期天 since it opened next to Chartres Garden, a French restaurant owned by the same Taiwanese restaurateur) is more than just a curiosity shop. The food is legit, as evidenced by all the Taiwanese diners slurping down while watching What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? projected silently onto the north-facing wall.
You can get your beef bowl with rice noodles (粉) or wheat (面) and select from tomato soup (番茄牛肉面), beef broth (精品牛肉) or dry (牛肉拌面). Tendon (牛筋) and tripe (牛肚) are, of course, on offer as well, but if you’re looking for a vegetarian alternative, try the satisfying sesame noodles (麻酱面). And the menu extends far beyond excellent noodles to other Taiwanese classics.
The list of vegetable dishes might be short, but it’s worth starting your meal with tangy three-colored pickles (carrot, celery and daikon radish 三色泡菜) to whet your appetite and don’t miss the braised lotus root (卤藕片). The crispy chicken with deep-fried basil (盐酥鸡) is on every table for good reason. And there are egg rolls (蛋饼), but unlike any you’ve tried at your local takeout. Normally a breakfast dish, these crispy thick savory pancakes come stuffed with egg or beef, drizzled with a sweet soy sauce, and cut up into bite size portions.
To our surprise, we also spotted the rarely-seen-in-Shanghai dish sesame chicken (麻油鸡) on the menu, with the caveat that it’s only available in winter. The manager recommended we come back in December to try the dish that’s famous for its warming Traditional Chinese Medicinal properties, thanks to its qi-heating trio of sesame oil, ginger and Shaoxing wine. But we’ll be back well before then.