Restaurant: Top Shanghai Cuisine 上海一只鼎
Cuisine: Chinese/Shanghainese/Dim Sum
Last visited: March 28, 2012
Location: Richmond, BC (Richmond Central)
Address: 5880 #3 Rd
Transit: Lansdowne Station Southbound
Price range: $10-20 (lunch) $20-30 (dinner)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Shanghainese cuisine
- Known as one of the “best”
- Local favourite
- Extensive menu
- English/Chinese menus
- Photos on menu
- Family friendly
- Reservations recommended
- Credit cards accepted
- Free parking
- Dim sum/lunch/dinner
- Mon-Sun 10:30am-10:30pm
**Recommendations: Tossed Herb with Dried Bean Curd, Steamed Bun Filled with Pork Nanjiang Style (Xiao Long Bao/XLB), Noodles in Chili Sauce, Sichuan Style
I haven’t been here in a couple years and when I go for Shanghainese food it’s usually at Shanghai Wonderful, Suhang, Shanghai House or Shanghai River all in Richmond, BC. What can I say? It’s the hub for excellent Asian food in Metro Vancouver.
I decided to visit Top Shanghai Cuisine which is more or less known as one of “The Best Shanghai Restaurants” in town next to Shanghai River (according to local media). I find each of my “go-to’s” have their strengths and weaknesses and it really comes down to which is most consistent or delivers the best experience for the things that I would order. As for service? That never really comes into consideration for Chinese restaurants… I know that sounds really bad, but it’s a stereotype that comes from some truth.
Unfortunately my experience on this occasion just reassured that “truth”. Thank goodness there are photos of the food on the wall and all over the menu, because the English descriptions are always so vague and ordering is challenging if you’re new to the cuisine. Even as someone who isn’t new to the cuisine, it’s still a challenge because I haven’t tried every single item on every single Shanghainese menu. I can only reference from what I’ve tried and know.
Chinese and Shanghainese menus are always like bibles, so it’s hard to explore unless you’re with a large group with varied tastes. Anyways, thankfully the photos helped (because the staff didn’t), although there isn’t a photo of everything on the menu.
This page was of particular interest to me. I love eggs! Although most of the egg dishes are available at other Shanghainese restaurants too, they are rarely given their own category. These are more for dinner items, so I have to come back to check them out.
I didn’t get to order the Crispy Rice either, but I’ve had it before and it’s a good choice for something a bit different and approachable. It’s quite unique and again offered at other Shanghainese restaurants. I would recommend trying it… and they offer it with “sweet and sour sauce” so how “scary” can it get?
In regards to authenticity, there were things that were authentic and others that weren’t. In the end it comes down to what tastes good and if there is better in the market. On that note, I’m actually not a fan of authentic Shanghainese cuisine anyways. Quite often it’s very oily and salty and if you go to Shanghai you’ll notice that theme too.
This is going to sound prejudice, but the Shanghainese culture is very proud, so they used to use a lot of oil in their food to show how wealthy they were. Being in Vancouver, this style doesn’t really work. Therefore most of what we get in Metro Vancouver is an altered version of Shanghainese cuisine that caters to Cantonese tastes. Chinese-Cantonese is the majority of the clientele visiting these restaurants, so it does make sense for a profitable formula.
I actually enjoyed my lunch at Top Shanghai Cuisine enough to make me want to go back to try their dinner items, which are also available at lunch. However I did find the items hit and miss, and ordering was a bit of a gamble. The things they nailed were the staples, but when they “failed” it was pretty poor and frustrating. Everything I tried seemed to be well flavoured, but the execution was questionable and disappointing at times. The food was good and it is considered one of the “best in the city”, but I really wished they narrowed down their menu, although that’s usually asking for the impossible for Chinese/Shanghainese restaurants.
On the table:
There are photos of lots of the food, but just be aware that it might not come out looking like the picture. They warn you about this with signs on the walls too.
**Tossed Herb with Dried Bean Curd – 5/6 (Excellent)
- I love this dish! It’s a very authentic Shanghainese appetizer and if it’s on the menu I’ll usually order it. It’s a Shanghainese must try.
- For what it is, it’s fantastic here. I think I enjoyed it slightly more at Suhang (see Marinated Bean Curd with Special Vegetables), but they’re both authentic and excellent, just different styles.
- The real name for this dish is Malantou (Ma-Lan-Tou).
- It’s a chilled salad made of finely minced vegetables like Chinese Celery (strong flavoured celery with watercress qualities), firm tofu, dried bean curd skins and wild greens like false ester (hard to get here) so the dish won’t always have it.
- Sometimes it will also have preserved salty Chinese radish or hard boiled eggs too, but this one didn’t have either.
- It’s a very aromatic and herby salad and the texture is crumbly, but not dry.
- It’s soft and crunchy from the fresh vegetables and it’s almost like scrambled eggs and veggies, and the tofu isn’t obvious as tofu if you don’t do the tofu thing.
- The flavour tastes like watercress with a bit of celery taste and usually it’s marinated in vinegar, but this one either didn’t have any or was very subtle with it.
- The veggies or tofu should be marinated in tea leaves for a smoky flavour like the Chinese tea leaf eggs, but this one wasn’t too intense with that.
- It’s nice and light and I could eat the whole dish alone.
- It is sometimes served with a side of vinegar for dressing, but this one was served plain.
**Steamed Bun Filled with Pork Nanjiang Style – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- 6 pieces $4.99
- They were certainly off to a solid start!
- The things they had to nail like the Malantou (above) and the Xiao Long Bao (XLB or Shanghainese soup dumplings) they did.
- The folds were a bit rough, but nothing to be picky about.
- They were served steaming hot and the skins were thin, yet strong enough that they didn’t rip.
- The pork meatball was juicy and incredibly tender and it melted in my mouth with minimal chew.
- The pork was creamy with a good amount of fat content and it was still slightly pink, but fully cooked.
- The broth was clear with a good porky flavour and there were no green onions or other ingredients in the stuffing.
- Although they didn’t hold the most soup I’ve had in an XLB, it was a good amount and it was well flavoured.
- It wasn’t heavy with soy sauce, but of natural pork juices and I liked them better than the Shanghai Wonderful ones.
- Suhang’s and the XLB’s here are my favourites so far, but the skins here were even thinner and better.
I didn’t like that it was served with white vinegar instead of malted vinegar. The vinegar was much too sharp for the XLB, but the XLB was good enough that it didn’t even need any of it.
Shredded Chicken Breast and Green Bean Sheets Stripe in Sesame Sauce – 3/6 (Good)
- I think they meant “strips” not “stripe”.
- This is a typical appetizer that’s served either chilled or room temperature and it’s quite rich and substantial.
- Everything was great until I had the noodle, which really put a dinger in the dish.
- I was surprised they used white meat instead of dark meat chicken and it was covered with peanuts on top.
- The chicken wasn’t gelatinous or dry, so I liked it. I’m not keen on the gelatinous chicken skins other Shanghainese places give with this dish sometimes.
- The garnish were green onions and peanuts, and it’s better with julienne raw cucumber like they serve it at Lin’s Chinese Cuisine – see here.
- There was a smooth, creamy and rich sesame sauce and it tasted like it was mixed with satay sauce so there was a lot of flavour.
- It was nutty, salty and slightly sweet at the end with a nice spice.
- It was mildly spicy with perhaps a hint of chili oil or just a bit of heat from the satay sauce.
- The noodle is a really important part to the dish so it was quite unfortunate since the rest was great.
- The noodles are mungbean noodles, or mung bean flat sheets, and I found them a bit too thick and quite brittle here.
- They shouldn’t be brittle and they shouldn’t be too chewy either. It’s a finicky thing.
- I really enjoyed the sauce and I’m quite sure there was some MSG in it, but it wasn’t too salty or sweet either.
Shanghai Style Wonton – 1.5/6 (Poor-Okay)
- 8 pieces $5.99
- They were edible and the flavour of the sauce was good, but the wontons were extremely disappointing.
- I was almost offended with the wontons and the 8 pieces were of all shapes and sizes.
- Some were teeny tiny, and then a couple were “okay” sized, but I would barely consider them wontons in any context.
- The sauce on the other hand was great and it tasted like a combination of peanut and sesame sauce.
- It was a bit thicker so it wasn’t just sesame sauce and I could also taste what I think is chili bean paste in it.
- It was probably mild-medium spicy for most people and it’s well balanced and flavourful and not just hot.
- The wontons were pretty much all layers of wonton skins so I was not impressed.
- There was maybe a dime sized amount of meat in half of them, but I could barely taste it at all.
- I loved the crunch of peanuts and the sauce, but the wontons were 70% of the battle and they were nowhere to be found.
Pan-Fried Turnip Pancake – 2/6 (Okay)
- This is another popular dim sum favourite in Shanghainese cuisine and not many places offer it, let alone make it well.
- So far the best and most authentic ones I’ve had so far are from Shanghai Wonderful and Shanghai House.
- It’s a very substantial and starchy dish and the dough takes a lot of labour and it shouldn’t come out right away because the kneading takes time.
- I loved the sesame seeds and the pastry was a bit crispy, flaky and tender and quite decent, but not as well executed as the two I mentioned.
- The filling was only shredded turnip and and it should have shredded ham, cabbage and chives in it too. This only had the radish which isn’t ideal.
- Sometimes there are also some dried shrimps in it, which is a delicacy, but this one didn’t have that either.
- This isn’t how a Shanghainese pan-fried turnip pancake usually is, so I would recommend trying the ones at Shanghai Wonderful and Shanghai House because they are delicious and the item is hard to find done well.
Sesame Cake with Minced Pork and Pickled Vegetable – 1.5/6 (Poor-Okay)
- I don’t know if they gave us the wrong order or if the English translation was totally off, but the dish didn’t match the description.
- I expected the thin sesame pancake version and not this loaf-like bread, which is still a Shanghainese dish, but not a good version of it or the item I meant to order.
- It said “minced pork” and this was actually dried pork fluff/floss.
- I love dried pork fluff (almost like dried and shredded pork jerky), but this one didn’t have much of it so it wasn’t well executed.
- The bread part was crispy, but also too thick, doughy and dense and just way too much bread to pork filling.
- The quality of the pork floss was just the standard stuff and the bread was a sweeter type of bread.
- The pork fluff is already dry and because there was so much bread it was extra dry and traditionally it shouldn’t be like this.
- There were some chives, but no pickled vegetables so I think the menu description was just not right and it set me up for something I didn’t expect.
**Noodles in Chili Sauce, Sichuan Style – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- This was another score for me.
- Commonly referred to as “Tan Tan Noodles” or “Dan Dan Noodles”, it’s a Szechuan/Sichuan specialty that’s been adapted by the Shanghainese.
- This wasn’t authentic “Sichuan Style” despite what it was called, but I still loved it.
- It’s a very rich and hearty soup bowl and the noodles were nice and soft, but I doubt hand pulled, which is rare to find in Metro Vancouver anyways.
- It was a super creamy and very thick soup that was more like a sauce than a soup, but I liked it.
- The noodles were consistent and buttery soft, but not overcooked although they could easily be classified as “overcooked” if you’re not used to them.
- The soup looks spicy, but it was actually mild and it was just super nutty with sesame sauce and peanuts on top for texture.
- The sesame sauce addition is an Americanized characteristic, but I actually like it better this way than the authentic way.
- It wasn’t too salty or oily and had a bit of heat, but not much since it likely catered to Chinese-Cantonese people who appreciate less spicy foods.
- Sometimes this soup noodle bowl comes with minced pork, but this didn’t have any.
Fried Rice Cake with Greens and Shredded Pork, Shanghai Style – 4/6 (Very good)
- This is another favourite of mine and it’s another filling dish.
- The rice cakes are flat rice noodle cakes and they’re chewy and stick to your teeth, but not sticky.
- This dish tends to be very oily and made with fatty shredded pork, but this was less oily than normal and the pork was not gelatinous or chewy, but higher quality pork meat.
- I liked it more even though non-gelatinous fatty pork means it’s “less authentic”.
- It was fried with Chinese cabbage and spinach and it wasn’t spicy and just a typical soy based sauce.
Braised Pork Ball in Casserole – 4/6 (Very good)
- 2 pieces $11.99
- It’s a traditional Shanghainese dish that’s popular to have during Chinese New Year too. Kids tend to like it and it’s considered comfort food.
- It’s offered in 2 sauces: red/soy based (also known as sweet and sour in this context – Shanghai style) or white/plain (from Yangzhou part of China).
- Red/soy based version is usually served with bok choy, bamboo shoots and tofu.
- White/plain version is usually served with Napa cabbage.
- I ordered the soy based which tends to be more common.
- The literal translation for this dish is not “Braised Pork Ball in Casserole”, but it’s “Lion’s Head”. There’s no lion meat in it though – a rare meat that Asian people don’t eat… but I’m not even sure if there’s a culture that does eat it?
- The meatballs represent the lion’s head and the greens the mane.
- It’s typically a dinner item and it usually comes with 3-4 meatballs, but I’m actually glad it was only 2 because it’s a lot.
- This is something you want to eat with rice, traditionally sticky rice because it’s very saucy.
- I’ve have this before and my uncle is “famous” for his version of it.
They’re softball sized gigantic meatballs.
- The braised meatballs are very tender and moist and they remind me of Swedish meatballs… not IKEA meatballs though.
- They’re very soft and sponge like since they’re made with egg and the meat is slightly pink, but fully cooked and all from pork.
- The pork is ground, but it’s not lean pork, so there’s a nice fattiness to it and it’s similar to the pork filling in the soup dumplings.
- It’s not always, but in this case I think the meatball was tenderized in soy milk so it’s almost creamy and melts in your mouth like a meatloaf.
- Sometimes the meatballs may have some minced water chestnuts for texture, but these ones didn’t.
- The vegetables it was served with were baby bok choy and fresh pieces of crunchy bamboo shoots.
- The sauce was a brown soy based gravy and it wasn’t thickened with too much cornstarch so it wasn’t that gummy which I liked.
- It wasn’t sweet and sour in flavour even though that’s how the red sauce is acknowledged in English. It’s also not spicy, but in Shanghai it might be.
- It was actually a solid dish and I would order it again with a group of 6, but not less because it can be a lot of one thing.
I’m not keen on Chinese or Shanghainese desserts, so I passed. I know, shocker.
The Banana in Hot Toffee is one of my favourite Shanghainese desserts though, but it’s a lot to have. It’s also pricey because of the labour that goes into it and I guess you could consider it the Shanghainese version of “Flambé” (made at table side).
The dessert is usually prepared in the back and then made and finished at the table. It’s actually the opposite of Flambé though because instead of a flame, it’s an iced water bath. The bananas have to soak in ice water so that the toffee around it hardens and crystallizes. I’ve had it at Kirin before (see here), but not here yet. Next time!
Mijune do you know of anywhere that sells rice cakes (in their original form)?
@Meghan – YES! T&T! you meat the rectangular ones like these right? http://userealbutter.com/2009/01/17/chinese-stir-fried-rice-cakes-recipe/
@Meghan – adding to Mijune’s comment, rice cakes (“neen goh”/”nian gao”) is fairly easy to find in Chinese food stores, but T&T is probably the easiest and most accessible source. H-Mart (Korean) and other Korean supermarkets sells a very similar version called “tteokbokki” or sometimes spelled “ddeokbokki”.
@Mijune: [whispers] have you tried “The Place” in Marpole yet ? Highly recommend them. A very homey Shanghainese/Northern resto with a few Szechuan dishes thrown in:
Tossed Herb w. Dried Beancurd is also a fav of mine but my Cantonese friends don’t like it; alas, so it rarely gets ordered. The Spicy Szechuan Noodles look terrific, however I am a big fan of Fried Rice cakes(another dish my friends won’t eat…Mijune, should I get some new friends ?). Not a fan of Braised Pork Balls but my friends LOVE them, go figure…
Thanks Mijune and LotusRapper!! I can’t eat wheat but good lord do I miss chewy noodles! Thanks for the info, I’m SO going shopping this weekend!!
Top Shanghai is notorious for their terrible service, but the food keeps the crowds lined out the door. Personally I find their shredded chicken fenpi dish that you had to be way too sweet. Lin’s though is very good. I think Top Shanghai’s strengths are their cold appetizers and dumplings (great xlbs, good shengjianbaos and my favourites are their huotie/potstickers). I also always get their salted soy milk, huo ba/crispy rice dish and sticky rice roll in addition to all the dumplings. I really regret all the carbs after, but oh well! Have you tried their dungeness crab with rice cakes and edamame? So good!
i was totally thinking of dok bok ki too LotusRapper! haha i just had some the other day – they are a bit more chewy for sure than the chinese version of the rice cakes and the sauces usually don’t penetrate as well lol
wow that dried tofu looks interesting lol i definitely thought the dish was an egg white scramble before i read the title 🙂 holy cow, those meatballs are HUGE!
Agree about the service. Was there today and all they were interested was how much of a tip I was leaving. With the crappy service and being so pushy about the tip, I didn’t leave one. No apology or explanation for the service. All I got was the finger for not leaving a tip. Looks like they do a good enough business with their classless attitude. There are lots of other restaurants around that have as good food and WAY better service