Want to suck on some succulent xiaolongbao, but don’t know where to go besides the tourist trap of Yu Yuan or Din Tai Fung (which really isn’t actually Shanghainese)? All through this week, Shanghaiist has got your back. We’ve checked out as many xiaolongbao places as our stomachs can bear, from the highest rated locations on Dianping to places we’ve heard of through word-of-mouth, and now we’re giving you the down low on what to expect. Track all the places we try here, and feel free to give suggestions of other great XLB destinations in comments!
Location: 561 Anyuan Lu near JiaoZhou Lu, 安远路561号 近胶州路
Price: 19RMB for 8 pork xiaolongbao in mixed juice-infused skin (彩色小笼包); 12RMB for 5 Mushroom xiaolongbao in carrot juice infused skin (蘑菇小笼包配胡萝卜皮)
In Shanghai it is a decidedly formidable task to find a decent mid-range option somewhere between greasy hole-in-the-wall joints and the extravagantly overpriced expat dens we love to hate (but still go crawling back to.) Well, here’s one option we heard about pretty much everywhere before checking it out. Apparently run by a few ex-Din Tai Feng chefs, they are toted for offering almost equal culinary quality for a fraction of the price. While the outside says simply “Simon’s Kitchen,” they are in fact Simon’s Test Kitchen, as they intend to open a larger and more central location once they finish experimenting on the masses. They are located in northern Jing’an, a bit of a hike from any major transportation hubs. Was it worth the trek? Here’s what we thought.
The Pork Xiaolongbao in Mixed Juice-Infused Skins: **** out of 5
SKIN: This is where they make their mark. The pork xiaolong came out wrapped in four different colorful juice-infused skins: green (spinach), red (beet), orange (carrot), and plain. Thin with a little translucence, each option provided a slightly different flavor to the contents within. This unique take on the role of the dumpling wrapper is an interesting one, and it can probably be left to personal opinion whether you want your pork soup dumpling infused with notes of leafy greens.
FILLING: The filling came off as well seasoned and substantial, but felt rather dry, possibly due to the smaller amount of soup, possibly not. Overall very pleasant.
SOUP: Good flavor, but not really enough of it. While still present, the soup was in no way the center of this culinary experience. Honestly there was so little of it I have a hard time recalling how it tasted. Less soup rendered the dumpling easier to handle, but also made the experience much drier. Some may argue that the best part of xiaolongbao is the moment when that salty, plentiful scouring broth pours over your tongue. We had none of that here.
Mushroom Xiaolongbao in Carrot-Infused Skin: ** out of 5
SKIN: Similar experience as described above, their skins seem more elastic and thus more chewy than the typical wrapping (probably crafted for clumsy foreign fingers.) We liked the carrot-infused skin.
FILLING: We wanted mushrooms and we got mushrooms. With no compact filling to speak of, instead they offered a well seasoned assortment of chopped up mushrooms, probably dominated by the small golden variety.
SOUP: None to speak of. This was arguably NOT a xiaolongbao, and thus the low rating. But we enjoyed it, and it’s a great option for all you vegetarians out there.
Lots of positives, including actual table service, an English menu, proper flatware, tea, and fresh ginger. They offer fresh juices for 10 RMB. The interior is all grays, clean but with dreary undertones that seemed to match the Vampire’s Delight juice we enjoyed. We were excited to find delivery menus with pictures and prices, but skeptical over the soup dumpling’s actual ability to travel.
Overall: Positive. The restaurant experience was a welcome change, and the food was well and cleanly made. Overlooking their stretch of the label “xiaolongbao,” Simon’s Kitchen adds a rare but pleasant mid-range option into the dumpling circuit.
Photos from Dianping.