The term ‘alternative Chinese’ might conjure up images of certain Westerners trying to ‘reinvent’ the cuisine alla lackuster fusion, but recently an edible crop of homegrown ‘new wave’ concepts have sprouted up. First, it was herbivore haven Veggie Pot, then ‘indie’ Sichuan spot Spicy Plus, and now, Miss Ali; a Xinjiang spot with modern surroundings.
Miss Ali is the eponymous brainchild of Wulumuqi-native and former TV hostess, Miss Ali, who was dissatisfied with Shanghai’s existing Xinjiang options, and wanted to create an authentic Xinjiang spot that also incorporated her contemporary design sensibilities.
As a result, Miss Ali looks a bit like a uyghur restaurant that was swallowed by Cafe Des Stagiaires, which makes it meld well with its Dagu Road surroundings. They’ve axed the garish wall mosaics, vibrant costumes, and wailing uyghur music in favor of dark wood, dim glass lanterns, and angsty alt rock. You almost expect the clientele to consist of 20-somethings with pork pie hats and mutton chops brooding over chai macchiatos served in jam jars. Fortunately, you get a cross-section of expats, Chinese, ABCs, etc.
Food and drink
The drink menu follows suit, teaming up your standard Sinkiang Black Beer with brews like Rogue Dead Guy Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager, and cocktails such as Moscow Mules and Dark and Stormys. Beers set you back 28-48RMB, mixed drinks start at 40RMB.
Food remains rawly authentic. We recommend starting with the seasonal mixed mushrooms with special herbs (38RMB). Usually a tutorial in monotone earthiness, here a speckling of sesame seeds lends them an oily toastiness while the cumin prickles your mouth with its piney essence.
Lamb is the litmus test for any Xinjiang spot, and Miss Ali offers a smorgasbord of tasty dishes from lamb skewers (12RMB) to Ali’s special lamb waist (48RMB) to a whole lamb leg (688RMB), which requires you to reserve a day in advance. Unfortunately, unlike most uyghur spots, they don’t offer the whole animal. The small space doesn’t allow for the massive roaster required.
Their ‘meat de resistance,’ however, is the ‘Xinjiang-style barbecue lamb’ (88RMB small, 158RMB large), lamb chops hanging on what looks like a spiral clothing rack (left) – yes, a rack on a rack. We know everybody raves about this, but ours was so thoroughly massaged with spicy powder that it camouflaged that token ‘lamb funk’, making it just taste like a preternaturally fatty pork chop.
Not in the mood for red meat? Go for their fragrant ‘Dapanji’ or big plate chicken (58RMB small, 98RMB large), a staple of any Xinjiang spot.
You’re probably gonna want some filler. Forgo the naan, choose the ‘Ali grandmother’s traditional hand pilaf’ (18 small, 48RMB large), rice cooked in aromatic meat stock until waxed with fat, and studded with carrot slivers, mutton hunks, and sweet sultana raisins. It’s a bit like Hainan chicken rice with bling.
Miss Ali’s is open until midnight on weekdays and 3am on Friday and Saturday, making it the ideal place to nip the Dagu Road hangover in the bud with hearty Xinjiang fare.
Although the ‘modern’ aspect is largely restricted to the decor and drinks, Miss Ali, along with restaurants like Spicy Plus, proves that there is innovation being done with a cuisine as staunchly traditional as Xinjiang. It also proves that if a modern Xinjiang cuisine movement does come about, it should be spearheaded by the locals themselves, and not a big-headed Western chef looking to pad their resume with the obligatory foray into the local fare.
Miss Ali’s – 380-1 Dagu Lu, near Chengdu Bei Lu (大沽路380-1号，近成都北路). Tel: (0)21-6335-5016. Hours: 11:30am-midnight Sun-Thurs, 11:30am-3am Fri-Sat. Closest metro stop: Dashijie, line 8.
See a complete list of our restaurant reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].