Spicy Plus’ snug space, wine-bar vibe, and offbeat offerings make it feel more like a Yongkang Road dive than a Shanghai Sichuan spot. The fare follows suit, featuring lighter flavors, less grease, and spiciness so sweltering we feel they should’ve added a couple more “pluses” to the name (not as much ‘ma la’ here).
You’d almost think the owner wasn’t from Sichuan, except everything is executed so well. Boss Liao Yi is as chili-blooded a Chengduer as they come, who quit his job as a car salesman to fulfill his dream of opening a slightly ‘alternative’ Sichuan restaurant in Shanghai.
A small two-floor walkup with a bar, wooden tables, and a stylishly-decrepit brick wall inked with a golden dragon emblem that looks like something you’d find tattooed on the back of a Triad leader. This is offset by an extremely helpful staff; the exact opposite from the typical Shanghai Sichuan restaurant setup with a glowing interior and brooding fuwuyuans.
Spicy Plus’ mission was to do away with excessive grease and murky sauces and bring the public healthier, less-processed Sichuan fare.
In accordance, Spicy Plus has scrapped the traditional gauntlet of overbearing pork dishes in favor of lighter, more ‘off the eaten path’ offerings from a cold dish of slow-fried rabbit with Sichuan chilies (45RMB) to the roe of a special freshwater a fish (鲫鱼子, jiyuzi, 68RMB), which, as far as we know, is only offered at Spicy Plus (the season runs from February until about a week from now so hurry down and get them while you can).
They’ve also dialed down the oil, and scaled back the Sichuan peppercorns so you don’t have to navigate a minefield of them to reach scant morsels of meat like at many Sichuan spots. Unfortunately this also means there aren’t as many to anesthetize you from the chilies’ burn, which is freaking nuclear. And it’s not a slow smolder, but ‘hair-trigger’ heat, detonating upon hitting your lips and lancing down your esophagus like you fellated a fire ant nest. Fortunately, it doesn’t camouflage the other ingredients.
You can still taste something as minute as the freshwater fish roe, which combine the coarseness of couscous with the briny succulence of caviar, or the slow-fried mini pork ribs (58RMB); Spicy Plus’ take on the Di Shui Dong and Guyi signatures. Our only complaint was that the ribs were diced into bits, robbing us of the primal joy of gripping bone and ripping meat from it. The same was true for the rabbit braised in fresh ginger and chilies. In fact, a lot of the dishes’ had fairly scrawny protein portions (a result of the ‘health’ angle), which made eating them a bit of a scavenger hunt. Fortunately, you can find a more tactile experience in their shell-on Crawfish Stir-fried in Sichuan Sauce (78RMB) or crispy fried sections of belt fish, labelled ‘hairtail fish’ on the menu (38RMB).
If you’re not a chiliphile, they offer a wide selection of mild, but equally tasty dishes. We recommend the chicken stewed with taro in Sichuan bean paste (58RMB).
Douse the blaze with a bevy of beverages including sodas, juices, wines starting from 128RMB a bottle, beers starting from 25RMB, and even cocktails like margaritas and ‘Sexy Beauty.’
While we miss the characteristically sadomasochistic interplay of spicy and numbing (this is pure sadism), Spicy Plus might be the only Sichuan restaurant in Shanghai that manages to sacrifice oil without sacrificing flavor. Just be sure to heed the little red ‘plus signs’ indicating heat level. This isn’t your neighborhood ‘Samurai Sam’s,’ they actually mean something here.
Spicy Plus – 1913 West Nanjing Road, by Wulumuqi Road (南京西路1913号，靠近乌鲁木齐路). Tel: (0)21-6257-8011. Hours: 11am-11pm. Closest metro stop: Jing’an Temple, lines 2/7.
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].