Shame on the French. Yes, it needs to be said. They left a legacy in Shanghai of some crumbling old buildings—now home to rusty bicycles, stray cats and hanging laundry—but for all their years masquerading and womanizing, they neglected to pass on the basic skills of making baguettes, crepes, pastries and cakes.
Let’s talk about bread. The baguette is a daily local staple in formerly French-colonized Vietnam and Algeria where delicious baguettes are sold in baskets on the street, so it is rather surprising that the baguette never made it mainstream in Shanghai… until now.
Gubei has had Paris Baguette (Korean) since 2004, but in the French Concession, we have had to make do with the likes of Bread Talk (Singaporean), Fresh Express, Christine, Marco Polo (Taiwanese) and a host of unmentionable local bakeries whose offerings may fool the naked eye but disappoint the taste buds. The cakes taste like plastercine, the bread like sawdust, the cookies like dried mud. And while bakeries may be a traditionally Western innovation, the presence of bakeries in every metro stop bears testimony to their popularity amongst the Chinese also.
In 2007, good bakeries have started to pop up around this city like crocuses in spring. Shanghai residents embraced the popular, but over-priced Paul (French) with five outlets in the city. Lillian Cakes still makes the best egg tarts for 3.8 RMB. Manne et Sante (in the Ladoll Hotel 831 Xinzha Lu) is consistently excellent.
On Dec 3, 85℃ opened on the corner of Maoming Lu and Weihai Lu. Since opening day, the bakery/café is never without a lineup at its two tills. This Taiwanese chain is said to be more popular in Taiwan then Starbucks with over 137 shops opening in 1.5 years. But thankfully the lineups are dealt with the kind of efficiency that could teach Starbucks a lesson or two. The key to the instant success of 85℃ is excellent product, friendly service and reasonable price. The bread is sold while still warm, the buns ooze with garlic, bacon, cheese and mashed potatoes 7 RMB, the bread and butter pudding for 3.5 RMB a slab. There is also seating (if you are lucky enough to get a seat) and lattes for 12 RMB. And best of all, the bakery has a delivery service/menu. This is not the kind of cafe like Citizen or Boona to bring your computer and book, but rather, here you pile a tray high with all the excellent goodies, get in line and get out quickly. But, it’s worth the wait and you’ll be back for more.
So perhaps it will be the Taiwanese, rather than the French who will eventually succeed with a franchise of both quality and affordability for the Shanghai masses.