The latest addition to the Dongping Lu expatopia, Spice Bazaar serves classic Xinjiang dishes in an upscale, foreigner-friendly setting. Think Xibo with toned down decor.
Passersby wouldn’t suspect Spice Bazaar was a Xinjiang restaurant. They’ve done away with the characteristic covered kebab grill out front, replaced the festive red, green, and yellow interior tiles with candle-lit brick and weathered wood, and installed a wine cabinet and chalkboard with specials. Waitresses don whites and aprons rather than traditional colorful caps and gowns, and the typical sprawling, photo-filled menu is replaced by a more standard card divided into salad, veg, staple, roast, meat, and dessert sections. Hanging tapestries and a multicolored column are the only give-aways that Spice Bazaar is a Xinjiang eatery.
Staff are some of the speediest I’ve encountered in the city; delivering each course with the consistency and timing of a production line. I waited exactly eight minutes between each dish. It’s slightly ironic how a restaurant serving a traditionally-family-style cuisine beats most appetizer/entree/dessert restaurants in Shanghai at their own game.
Best to start with a salad, of which the mint with vinegar dressing and almonds (28RMB), and the Uyghur salad with vinegar dressing, peppers, onions, and tomatoes (22RMB) are the freshest, crispest, and most savory. They also provide a soft landing for the onslaught of meat inherent to Xinjiang dining.
Speaking of, skip the staples section with the lamb and carrot rice pilaf (39RMB) and move onto the roast meats. Their chicken skewers (10RMB) feature blocks of savory, albeit slightly tame white meat dusted with the traditional cumin-chili combo, and the lamb skewers (15RMB) are fairly tender and embraced by fat. Though to be honest, they’re not much of an upgrade from the street kebabs you sponge up the suds with at 3am outside M2 or the Apartment. Mushroom (8RMB) and eggplant skewers (8RMB) are available for vegetarians.
Of course the main meat course is the real proving ground for Xinjiang Restaurants. Spice Bazaar’s two celebrities are the dapan chicken for two (88RMB) with bone-in chicken parts, flat noodles, potatoes and green peppers with soy, beer, cumin, and chili broth, and the braised lamb with naan (69RMB). The dapan chicken scales back the spice a bit but proves an overall decent rendition, the braised lamb with naan not so much. It’s lamb somehow manages to be fatty without being tender while the naan is completely sogged through with chili broth. We know traditionally the naan is supposed to be submerged so it sops the sauce like a trencher, but this naan was so waterlogged it evoked pizza crust that had sat in a puddle for days.
We’re all for reinventing the look of a Xinjiang eatery, but Spice Bazaar seems less like an avante-garde makeover and more like classic uyghur dishes in a generic Euro-American cafe setting. Couples and newbies to Xinjiang cuisine may gravitate towards the intimacy, but die-hard Xinjiang fans will no doubt miss the smoke, bustle, and food porn-laden menu typical of Uygur eateries. Fortunately, the blandness of the decor doesn’t rub off too much on the fare, which keep its authenticity, even if some dishes have been sanitized slightly.
Spice Bazaar – 29 Dongping Lu, near Wulumuqi Nan Lu, Xuhui district (徐汇区东平路29号, 近乌鲁木齐南路). Tel: (0)21-6475-7735. Hours: 10am-11pm daily.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].