The Tonno is an intriguing structure in a slightly awkward location. This all-in-one mega entertainment complex (club-cum-restaurant-cum-karaoke block) aims to inject a bit of sophistication into the Wan Chai nightlife as a more upscale alternative to the likes of Carnegie’s. However, its stark, black and shiny red Perspex glory is rather at odds with the rest of its surroundings and I felt a little out of place to be stepping inside in the middle of the day for a spot of lunch!
While the restaurant inside, Shanghai Lo (sister restaurant of the popular ‘upmarket’ cha chaan teng, Loyal Dining on Wellington Street) does provide very reasonably priced set lunch menus, its decor and atmosphere is definitely more suitable as a dinner venue. Dim lighting swathes the traditional-looking Oriental dark-wooden screens and black cloths drape the dining tables, all of which are secured in place by a red Chinese dragon paperweight.
Rach and I were ushered into a cosy side-booth where we were presented with an extensive traditional Shanghainese menu. As lounge music played in the background, both of us felt shut away from the outside world of blazing sun and traffic, lulled by the moody confines of the establishment. We had a feast in store for us, which only served to make us even more lethargic and relaxed!
We dove into the Shanghai Lo Platter for four, (of course, we ate the whole thing between the two of us!), which comprised of sliced pork terrine, sweet and crispy river shrimps, crispy bean curd rolls, beef shin and the Shanghai Lo lantern. Most outstanding were the bean curd rolls, the addictive crispy shrimps and beef shin in an excellent five spice marinade.
The Huadiao wine marinated ‘Drunken’ Chicken was succulent and not too strongly alcoholic, whilst my favourite of the starters were the tea leaf smoked eggs; the yolk was deliciously soft and a lovely bright orange – perfectly cooked and seasoned.
After demolishing the above, we unfortunately didn’t realise we should’ve saved our stomachs… we had a further seven dishes to devour, excluding dessert!
The hot and sour seafood bisque and the deep-fried dumplings were both standard, the soup thick and hearty but too filling to be finished. We loved the soupy xiao long bao in their nicely firm and thin skins and the crispy rice cones with diced beef and black truffle earned my nod of approval. The beef was succulent and flavoursome, a hint of black truffle just diffusing through without overwhelming. The rice cones themselves were a wonderful contrasting crunch.
Next were the sautéed minced chicken with pine nuts served with sesame pastry pockets which, had I not tried the crispy rice cones, would have been far more enjoyable. However, the sesame pastry pockets were too flaky, stodgy and dry in comparison and so we ate the well-seasoned minced chicken on its own.
We also enjoyed the wonderfully tender braised pork with preserved vegetables with Shanghainese buns, a favourite dish of mine and a definite thumbs-up to order, although if you do pay Shanghai Lo a visit, I recommend that you only have one of these three bun, crispy cone or sesame pastry pocket dishes, otherwise you will be completely stuffed to the rafters!
Sadly, due to our earlier greed and hunger, neither Rach nor myself could manage all the pork as we still had the main dish to come – the signature deep-fried Mandarin fish in sweet and sour sauce. This monstrosity of a fish (it really was too huge for two girls to consume) was impressively served, a whole fish frozen gulping in mid-air and encased in a sweet and sour batter, sprinkled with pineapple chunks and pine nuts. Whilst the flakes of fish inside were beautifully cooked, the batter was too thick and the sauce slightly too sweet and sticky for my taste. Nevertheless, it did make for a great entrance and would be fantastic way to wow any visiting friends to Hong Kong!
I always say there’s a separate stomach for pudding, but on this occasion, my skirt was not giving my ‘second stomach’ any room to expand and so I struggled with the desserts. Not to be outdone, I rebelliously rammed a fluffy egg white custard filled ball into my mouth and ended with a mournful nibble on an osmanthus jelly.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Shanghai Lo. I wasn’t expecting it be anything above average, but some of its offerings were really very good and certainly the more traditional dishes were solidly prepared. I’m still unsure if The Tonno is the best place to go for lunch, but if you’re after a pleasant quiet meal or a place to discuss matters over a long lunch without having to strain your vocal cords to be heard, this is a great venue.
Shanghai Lo 1/F, 5 Tonnochy Road, Wan Chai
3125 3232 www.shanghailo.com.hk
Check out more food-related writings from Michelle on her blog, Chopstixfix!