Few restaurants in Shanghai are more emblematic of the city and its cuisine than Jessie in the former French Concession. Serving classical Shanghai cuisine, this unassuming dining room is one of the city’s hardest places to book.
Shanghai is without doubt China’s most developed city. The towering skyline of Pudong has become a symbol for the megalopolis in less than two decades. On the other side of the Huangpu river lies the historic part of the city. One of the most idyllic areas is the former French Concession. Its architecture and tree-lined streets make it a radically different place from the bustle of Pudong or the Bund.
One of the city’s hidden gems lies right in the heart of this area, which was formerly controlled by the French: Lao Jishi, or Jessie as it is known in English. The unassuming restaurant is spread over two floors, and devoid of any luxury. Constantly booked out, it is one of the most popular restaurants with the locals, who come here for one thing, and one thing only: scrumptious Shanghainese cuisine
In line with the décor, the food here is simple: dishes are served, as they would be at home. Beginning a meal with kaofu, a kind of fluffy wheat gluten served in a sweet/savoury sauce reveals what is to come. Similarly good, rice noodles with crabmeat and roe ragout are rich, packed with flavour, and explode when a drop of vinegar and ginger are added. In a city so attached to crab, this remains one of the best preparations of the crustacean we have eaten.
One dish, however, has come to symbolise Jishi more than any other: it’s hong shao rou. Cubes of pork belly are braised with cuttle fish, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and star anise. The result is meltingly tender meat, glazed in a glistening, intense sweet/savoury sauce that will have you floored the first time you try this. Showing the characteristic sweet/savoury side of Shanghainese cuisine, this dish is done to perfection at Jishi. Perhaps not presented as beautifully and carefully as at Fu1039, this is the benchmark for classicalhong shao rou that any visitor to Shanghai ought to try.
Jesse restaurant is an enigmatic place. The English name, which bears little resemblance with the Chinese one, does not sound attractive. The room, especially if you get seated in the lower ground floor one, is basic. The service is mostly efficient, if not always smiling. Yet, the place is packed, no matter if you come for lunch or dinner, on a Monday or a Saturday night. You will have to book well in advance, as the restaurant is an institution in Shanghai.