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Shanghai Blues

1$93-197 High Holborn, London WC1

Shanghai Blues is housed in an imaginative conversion of a former library. The high ceilings have enabled the designers to hang large lanterns, adding to the rather grand, spacious atmosphere of the dining room which is appointed with really comfortable chairs. The bar with its blue backdrop is equally impressive, and when we visited for a midweek lunch in the last week of April, the tables were all occupied and there was an excited buzz in the air.

There's an all day dim sum menu which has become the must have for city types, although the location of the restaurant is strategically placed midway between the City and the West End. I didn't spot any obvious tourists, but there were a good few Oriental business people, always a good sign in a Chinese restaurant. The amount of choice on the dim sum menu alone is mind boggling, and I didn't even get a sight of the a la carte menu until after we had ordered our choice of some eight or so dim sum dishes. How they manage to juggle such a diverse array beats me, but then the head chef, Hon Qui Feng, is one of China's most distinguished chefs and he has cooked banquets for many Chinese government officials. Some of his original Chinese must have suffered a little in translation providing scope for raised English eyebrows. For instance, glutinous rice parcel and pan fried turnip paste, don't quite do justice to what are most probably delicious confections, while marinated chicken feet might seem to us Europeans to be taking left-overs a limb too far.

The dim sum we had the other day was probably the best I've ever had, combining a sophisticated delicacy of flavour with elegant but essentially understated presentation. The steamed scallop dumplings, for instance, appear in pyramidal perfection fashioned from the finest pastry tinted with spinach juice, almost transparently green. By the way, there are three of everything, so you have either to fight or to negotiate over the third piece. We divided ours scrupulously. 

Another visual delight (whose flavours did not disappoint) were the mini golden pumpkins, a clever conceit, in that the pumpkin flavoured outer pastry is refashioned into a perfect miniature pumpkin, complete with segments, which is then stuffed with, yes, pumpkin and some finely diced Chinese mushroom. Other highlights of our feast were the crispy shredded duck and yam rolls, and the traditional Shanghai pork dumplings. 

The service was particularly attentive, even down to one of London's stalwarts, the ubiquitous and charming Polish waitress, who looked fetchingly indigenous in her mandarin jacket. To finish the meal, she brought us a brilliant exotic fruits platter, one of which is more than enough for two. It proved a wonderfully refreshing close to an exciting and delicious meal.

Dim Sum dishes are priced around £3 to £4 with a few exceptions. The a la carte menu ranges from around £9.50 for main course chicken dishes to over £40 for lobster. My advice is to follow the link below to their excellent website where you can read the complete menu and work yourselves into a frenzy of anticipation!

Clifford Mould, May 2006

Shanghai Blues, 193 High Holborn, London WC1V 7BD
T: 020 7404 1668/9

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