The newest arrival to Shanghai’s spicy scene, the aptly-named Spicy Plus is an “alternative Sichuan spot’ offering healthier, less oily options with an emphasis on veggies, seafood, and seasonal eats like ‘fish roe,” in a more Bohemian setting. We caught up to owner and Chengdu native, Liao Yi, to ask him about this bold venture, customer reactions, and future projects.
Describe how you ended up in Shanghai, and started Spicy Plus?
Shanghai films from 70s and 80s always open with pigeons flying over old lane houses around sunset and I always found that amazing and magical. It set a deep impression in my childhood memory. As I grew up in mountain areas in Sichuan, I wanted to live in this city that perfectly melds Eastern and Western cultures.
Having lived in Shanghai for many years, I couldn’t find many genuinely spicy foods here, so I opened one, for people just like me looking for decent Sichuan flavors.
What was the inspiration behind Spicy Plus? Describe the concept. You wanted to break from traditional Shanghai Sichuan spots, correct?
“Plus” doesn’t just apply to the spiciness but also our approach to create a nicer space, better service and a more attention to the quality and health of the food, a point of concern for more traditional Sichuan Restaurants.
I wanted it to be small, authentic, busy, spicy and cozy. You can have good Sichuan food, while enjoying a Western cocktail.
How did you decide what items to include on the menu?
We wanted to mix traditional Sichuan with new creations that are just as flavorful, yet contain much less oil and fresher ingredients.
That’s why we have dishes like our special freshwater fish roe (鲫鱼子, jiyuzi), grilled seafood (a rarity in Sichuan). As summer is upon us, we’re also thinking about adding spicy, cold noodle dishes but with lots of fresh veggies. We want to please vegetarian customers as well.
How have Chinese customers reacted to your more unorthodox style style and selections? Western customers?
Extreme love and hate reactions. Just check out dianping.com and you’ll see 🙂
To my huge surprise, a lot of Westerners here can eat stomach very spicy foods, and some of them actually ask for extra spicy.
Did you have to adjust your selections to suit to the Shanghai palate?
I plan not to adjust dishes to suit the Shanghai palate, as we want to make sure true lovers of Sichuan can always get what they want at Spicy Plus.
Having been to Spicy Plus, have to say, the spiciness is pretty atomic. Why is it so spicy? Have you had any incidents where certain people couldn’t handle the heat?
There were some incidents that some customers couldn’t handle the heat, and they just got mad sitting there, but they still continued eating till the food was all gone.
Do you consider it a ‘health food concept?’?
That’s my goal. Being spicy itself is actually a good thing, chilli peppers have a huge amount of Vitamin C in it, and they make you sweat.
I’m specifically trying to create more salad and steamed dishes, as those are nutritious, and not oily at all.
You won’t see the traditional huge fires and rivers of oil at Spicy Plus.
Your favorite dishes on the menu?
I love the dry noodles with stir fried pork in bean sauce, cause I created it. I also like the braised beef with bamboo.
I have a few more dishes in the works, but they won’t be on our menu for a few years time.
Any plans for expansion / future projects?
We’re planning to open a 2nd one in November, called might call it Spicy+ Premium. We want it to be a bit bigger, so people don’t have to wait as long. We’re also considering Spicy+ BBQ brand, cause the bbq in Sichuan is amazing and very few people have tried it before. We hope it’ll be a hit among BBQ aficionados.
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.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].