Next time you’re in the Xintiandi area and are looking for lunch/dinner ideas, try Lan Ting Restaurant (兰亭餐厅). A block away from the tourist hot spot, on the corner of Taicang Lu and Songshan Lu, Lan Ting is perhaps one of the most well known eateries in Shanghai you’ve never heard of. The restaurant serving mostly the local crowd, doesn’t exactly grace the listings sections of City Weekend or Shanghai Talk on a regular basis. And with a décor that’s more Chun than Crystal Jade, Lan Ting isn’t a likely venue for client functions with your local vendor/supplier partners either. But that’s where we come in, with the scoop.
For those of you who have been to Chun, Lan Ting isn’t much different. To say that the décor isn’t what the owner perceives to be part of the dining experience would be a gross understatement. The brass lamp barely clinging to the ceiling must not have been polished in decades, with four of the 10 bulbs completely out of commission and one hanging by a tungsten thread. Two wooden framed classic Chinese paintings on the wall, noticeably hung off center, remind us more of that fake antique market down the street than any bygone eras of artistic splendor. From tables and chairs to utensils and plates, Lan Ting’s fixtures have more in common with those of a roadside stall as opposed to what one would expect in a decent restaurant. “Functional” seems to be the running theme.
Moving right along, Lan Ting’s service is, well, serviceable. The waitstaff doesn’t go out of its way to make you feel welcomed, but you won’t get ignored either. Then again, in a 200 square feet (about 20 sq. meters) room with only six tables, it’s pretty hard to get ignored.
Last but certainly not the least is the food, and here is where the place shines. At around 15 to 25 kuai per dish, Lan Ting serves up the tastiest Shanghainese home style cooking anywhere in the city. If you ever were to go, do try the Braised Chicken (鸡骨酱), the chef special. It will not disappoint. True to Shanghainese style, the dish features bite sized chicken cutlets simmered in rich soy sauce: tender, juicy, cooked to perfection … by far the best chicken this Shanghaiist has had in years. Move over Colonel Sanders, Lan Ting does chicken right! Then there’s the Fried Cod Fillet (面拖小黄鱼), crispy outside, succulent inside — finger licking good! The menu is pretty expansive, but that’s all we could muster plus some veggie dishes. Oh, the Hot and Sour Soup deserves a mention also.
Now some logistics issues. Lan Ting doesn’t take reservations, just show up and get in the queue (which is usually pretty long). The menu is all in Chinese, and it’s doubtful that the servers speak any English. So, do bring a Chinese colleague/friend. Or you could do what Shanghaiist’s editor has suggested to tourists in the past: Carry a sign that says “please feed me” in Chinese, and try your luck that way. If all else fails, all chef specials are marked with a star on the menu — this of course is the last resort.
We hope you guys give Lan Ting a shot next time you’re in the area, not only because of the great food, but the place is one of those Shanghai local experience many expats talk about wanting to have but never quite get around to. Now you can.
Lan Ting Restaurant, 107 Songshan Lu (between Taicang Lu and Xingan Lu), Tel: 53069650.