Whether you’re visiting Shanghai to meet with international colleagues or to woo a potential client, extending a dinner invitation that goes beyond the hotel-owned bars and restaurants shows your guest that you’ve done your research and know the city well, and best of all, that you understand a little about the local culture.
If you’re only in town for a brief stay, it’s also the perfect excuse to venture away from the office and experience some of that local culture first-hand.
Whether you’re after a quick business lunch, a lavish dinner, a cocktail or just somewhere quiet to chow down with colleagues, there are a few Shanghai establishments that stand out above the rest.
We sat down with Shanghai local Jason Zhan – the Chief Representative: China of Les Clefs d’Or and the Chief Concierge at the Jing An Shangri-La Hotel in Shanghai – to find out more.
Mixing business with pleasure in Shanghai
Zhan tells Australian Business Traveller that The Bund and Xintiandi are the most popular restaurant districts in Shanghai with locals and international visitors alike.
While guests will usually stay in town for at least several days, “many business travellers that come to Shanghai only have one night to themselves”, Zhan shares.
That can influence where you’ll dine throughout the stay, as you may prefer something low key when going out by yourself yet a little more extravagant when you’re with company.
Wherever you’re headed, “a good concierge not only needs to recommend a nice restaurant, they also need to let guests explore a little of the city through their dining”.
With his work cut out for him, here are Zhan’s top picks in Shanghai for business travellers.
Top Shanghainese cuisine in Shanghai
No visit to Shanghai would be complete without sampling the local cuisine, which can be done at any price range.
For that first-time visit to Shanghai, Zhan recommends Whampoa Club at Three on The Bund as “a typical Shanghainese restaurant, yet a more developed version.
“The flavour is still authentic Shanghainese, but the design of the restaurant and also the presentation of the food takes on a Western influence.”
Like many restaurants in China and all of the restaurants recommended by Zhan, English language menus are available at Whampoa Club for diners who don’t know their way around Mandarin Chinese.
If you’ve been entrusted with a corporate credit card to cover your costs on the journey, you’ll also find that it’s accepted at most restaurants across the city – particularly so with Visa and MasterCard, with American Express not far behind.
Shanghainese: ‘family style’
For those keener to find something truly localised and a little more ‘everyday’, Zhan suggests Jesse Restaurant (also known as ‘Old Jesse’) in the Xujiahui locality.
“You cannot say that this is a fancy restaurant, but it reflects the true ‘family style’ of Shanghai, especially as a lot of the locals who go out for a meal will look for these kind of restaurants.”
It’s also a popular haunt: we stopped by for lunch on a weekday and had to make the reservation three weeks in advance – so if you’re planning a visit, ask your hotel’s concierge team to make a booking before you arrive in China.
Although nothing fancy, “people aren’t just having food, they’re looking for an experience,” Zhan tells Australian Business Traveller.
“People also like to experience what the locals like, so these restaurants are naturally more popular than the rest.”
The best spot in Shanghai for an affordable business lunch
Surrounded by office buildings in the popular Xintiandi district, Ye Shanghai is known for its extensive daily set lunch menus – ideal for workers who are looking to squeeze in a meeting within the confines of their normal lunch break.
Housed in a traditional Shikumen-style building and with a focus on fine dining, your lunch will be affordable without appearing ‘cheap’ to a prospective client.
“The food here is great, the service is nice and the restaurant still serves typical Shanghainese food,” Zhan affirms.
The best Shanghai restaurant to impress a client
If your aim is convey a strong image of wealth and success when meeting with a client, look no further than Yongfoo Elite in the former French Concession.
The restaurant’s owner is also an antique connoisseur who puts his own collections on display in the dining room, found inside a historic villa and surrounded by well-kept gardens and Chinese decorations.
You’ll pay roughly ¥1,600 (A$300) for a two-person dinner with wine, but Zhan suggests it’s worth it “because the house, the antique collections and the decorations really tell you a lot about Shanghai, and they look very impressive”.
The best steak in Shanghai
Zhan isn’t shy about suggesting the Jing An Shangri-La’s own The 1515 West, Chophouse & Bar as the best steak in Shanghai, particularly as the restaurant sources cattle reared in Australia.
We’re told that on any given evening, only 20-30% of diners at the venue are hotel guests – the rest are Chinese locals or are international travellers who come to the hotel just for a steak.
But away from the hotel, Zhan also suggests Morten’s Steakhouse in Shanghai’s IFC Mall and Ruth’s Chris at No. 6 The Bund, situated in one of the city’s historical buildings and with a view of the Huangpu River.
Whichever you choose, “the quality of the steak – and also of the cooking style – is very high”, says Zhan.
The best spot for a quiet dinner with colleagues
Prefer to avoid the crowds (and the tourists) while staying within your per diem? Check out Dianshi Zhaixiaoyan in the Xuhui District.
It’s a personal favourite of Zhan’s, who brings his Chinese friends there to enjoy old-fashioned Shanghainese food yet it’s simple enough that you’ll “feel as though you’re inviting your friends to your own home to have dinner.”
“The beauty of this restaurant is that it’s similar to Jesse in style. You go inside, the ambience is nice and peaceful, and you think ‘this is Shanghai’”.
Unlike the high-priced Yongfoo Elite, you’ll pay just ¥200-300 ($37-55) per person for a meal excluding wine, but can choose from a variety of rice-based ‘yellow wines’ (Huangjiu) to enjoy alongside your dishes at a nominal charge.
Shanghai’s best nightlife
Doubling as a restaurant and a nightclub, M1NT is a very funky and relaxed venue with views of The Bund and the Shanghai skyline.
While the volume of the music in the dining area is louder than most restaurants, it’s still possible to have a conversation over American-style ribs and steaks before meandering along a shark tank-adorned walkway to reach the nightclub from 10pm.
“There’s always a big crowd, and in between the restaurant and the club is a small bar and lounge area where you can order very nice cocktails before or after dinner,” says Zhan with a smile.
Or, if your tastes are a little more refined yet you still like to unwind in the evenings, LINX is a popular spot with affluent locals at No. 22 The Bund.
With hourly Cirque du Soleil-inspired dance performances after midnight and Dom Pérignon the ‘standard’ drop on the wine list, you’ll need a reservation just to get through the front door.
Fortunately, securing that perfect table at short notice or getting your name on an exclusive nightclub guest list is something of great pride for Zhan, who revealed exclusively to Australian Business Traveller how he goes about making those ‘impossible’ reservations time and time again.
Heading to Shanghai on business?
- New AusBT review: Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai hotel
- Global roaming options for China
- 8 secrets to doing business in China
- Visa-free stopovers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu
- Qantas & China Eastern partner on flights to Shanghai, Beijing
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Shanghai as a guest of Shangri-La.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT