Now that all the glitter has settled after the awards, we take a more in-depth look at the restaurants you picked as the best of the year.
Newcomer of the YearCuivre
Cuivre may have eked out its win in the Best Restaurant category, but it dominated the newcomers, garnering two-and-a-half times more votes than the runner-up. Two impressive Italian newcomers, the Michelin-starred Hong Kong import 8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA and Sabatini, the new entry from Rome, rounded out the rookie award winners.
Best FrenchMr. & Mrs. Bund
This French staple was one of the big winners in 2011, and with three awards in hand this year, they've done a great job of defending their titles. Celebrity chef Paul Pairet's popular restaurant continues to impress diners with surprisingly fun avant garde fare and service to match. Tables here are consistently packed, so we recommend booking at least a week in advance. But Mr & Mrs Bund will need to stay sharp next year to three-peat as Cuivre, another big winner this year, lost this category by only four votes.
A sign that readers are looking for sophistication beyond burgers and ribs, Goga’s West Coast cuisine and Asian influences took a third of the votes. We love sitting in their small restaurant, watching Brad Turley at work, masterfully preparing fresh, clean simple dishes that never fail to please. Last year’s winner, Boxing Cat Brewery, slips back into the runner’s up position.
Hooters was a surprising winner in this category, but perhaps it shouldn't have been. With well-trained staff who go out of their way to engage diners in conversation and a variety of fun skits and dances that help it live up to the chain's “Delightfully tacky” tagline, Hooters is always a fun spot to spend a night.
Best Contemporary ChineseLost Heaven Yunnan Folk Cuisine
Lost Heaven has the most romantic atmosphere of any Yunnan restaurant in town and is probably in the top five overall. The decoration uses bright colors, dim lighting and regional art to create a welcoming, exotic environment that transports you away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. It’s the kind of place to take someone special or impress guests. And then there’s the food. As user hellbentkent gushes, “I haven’t tried a dish there that I haven’t liked.”
Best Southeast AsianSimply Thai
In its fourth year as category winner, Simply Thai continues to dominate Shanghai’s culinary landscape. They have five locations to satisfy Thai cravings—all with warm atmospheres to match. As commenter mdw remarks, “I was delighted to find that consistency in the food quality and service still prevails, as with the authenticity in the flavors.”
Best JapaneseHaiku by Hatsune
Shanghai's many excellent Japanese restaurants make this a hard category to win. Nevertheless, the people have spoken, and they still love Haiku. The chic chain hasn't yet lost this award since expanding to Shanghai from Beijing in 2008—it’s been champion for five years running now. User fattoro Haiku tells us that it has no rivals when it comes to California-style sushi: “They're often imitated but never duplicated.” As for the highest form of flattery, their rolls have come to be copied all around town in the past few years. So be sure to make a reservation if you're headed in. All of the locations, including their new spot in Jinqiao, are well-designed, but the ifc Mall location might be our favorite: it has origami inspired décor and less competition for tables.
Best Hotel DiningDining Room at the Park Hyatt
This was a very close category, but Dining Room took it, bolstered by the Park Hyatt’s reputation for five-star service and produce. They offer one of the best views in town, but as reader fiftyfive points out, “All I could see was stars when they brought out the house-smoked salmon—utterly incredible.”
Best SteakhouseMorton's Steakhouse
For the second year running, Morton’s takes the prime beef title with almost as many votes as the runners-up put together. Combining luxuriously expensive steaks with one of the city’s best happy hours (you get free steak sandwiches) has proved a winning formula.
Best Latin AmericanLatina
You always know what you’re in for if you choose Latina—all-you-can-eat barbecue meats, salad buffet and lots of fun. We always go nuts when the bready cheese balls make an appearance. They are doled out less liberally than the juicy selection of skewered meats. Like Latina, MAYA repeats its win last year with another Editor's Pick.
Best ItalianDa Marco
Da Marco has featured heavily on all our award lists for the past few years, and this year they take Best Italian again. Consistently good pizzas and pasta at reasonable prices are enough to keep the likes of 8½ and Isola at bay, which is no easy feat. User zachary_franklin explains, “A pizza from them always puts me in a better mood.”
Best EuropeanTable No. 1
Jason Atherton’s foray into China takes top spot after earning last year’s Honorable Mention for Best Newcomer. The kitchen is run by chef Scott Melvin (who created something special for us on this issue’s cover), and Atherton himself drops into the kitchen regularly. The duo’s work pushed them past last year’s winner, M on the Bund. As user deez puts it, “The entire dining experience is one surprise after another.”
Best IndianMasala Art
Masala Art has done it again, winning Best Indian for the second year in a row. In our view, it's the combination of the Dagu Lu location, authentic dishes and reasonable price point that keeps Masala Art on the radar year after year; that and the ever-popular tender and spicy chicken tikka masala. Kebabs on the Grille also repeated as the runner-up.
Brunch is an institution in any city, and in Shanghai the importance of this category cannot be overstated. Austin Hu and his restaurant Madison have featured in many categories of the City Weekend Awards over the years, but it is here that readers think he really excels. We can’t argue, as he and his team took more votes than the second and third place had together. Madison has a long string of glowing comments online; we’ll leave it to ericq2011 to summarize: “I wish I could afford to go to Madison every day.” Another Shanghai institution, Element Fresh, took home second place after taking the award outright last year.
Best Spicy ChinesePin Chuan
This upscale Sichuan restaurant has resumed its position as the city's best spot for spicy Chinese fare. Last year’s winner, Gu Yi, finished second this year, losing out with just five percent fewer votes. City Weekend user eleganceislearned didn't think it was even that close though: “Every dish had absolutely beautiful presentation, and you felt like you were eating something special,” she posted. They do all the standards well including a very good mapo doufu and have some dishes that blow the competition out of the water. The stir-fried tiger prawns, for example, is one of our favorites with a great balance of spice, salt and crunch on plump and fresh prawns. Their selection of vegetable dishes, like their fantastic Sichuan-style pumpkin and beancurd rolls, makes Pin Chuan an attractive pick for vegetarians as well, and the handy spice ratings on the menu make it an easy choice for those who can't quite stand the heat. Di Shui Dong, a perennial winner, takes home the Editor's Pick, largely on the strength of their irresistible cumin-covered ribs.
Best AtmosphereMr. & Mrs. Bund
When it comes to wining and dining that special someone, it's hard to beat Mr & Mrs Bund. With views of Pudong's towering skyline, trendy décor and staff uniforms that match, it's become a top choice for first dates, engagement dinners and everything in between.
Best Mediterraneanel Willy
Last year’s Chef of the Year, Willy Moreno, proved he can deliver the goods by winning Best Mediterranean restaurant for the second year in a row, and nothing from the service, ambiance or phenomenal cuisine was lost in their recent move to their new Bund 22 location. We’re still in awe of their foie gras and guacamole and scallop ceviche, but CW user american has another favorite: “The salmon puff pastry bomb with truffle oil is quite literally the best tasting thing I've ever put in my mouth. All the GOOD things said about this place are correct.”
Best Café and BakeryBaker & Spice
Baker & Spice proved this year to be everyone’s go-to venue of choice for all things pastry. With a third location over at the Kerry Parkside, plenty more locations planned and that something special in the olive loaf, they wiped away the competition, winning almost half the votes. Newcomer Spread the Bagel shot up the rankings to take the Editor's Pick.
This year, chef Brian Tan’s stylish dessert lounge accomplished the elusive three-peat. Believe user epicurean when he says, “hoF definitely lives up to the hype as one of the best places in Shanghai for chocolate desserts.” Tan consistently takes the highest quality chocolate he can get his hands on and turns it into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone has their favorite treat at hoF, but after countless visits, we still lean towards the orange mud cake and the chocolate caramel mousse cake.
Best Hotel BrunchDownstairs with David Laris
With hotel brunches, it’s hard to ignore the all-you-can-eat gluttony of the five-star chains, but this category was deservedly topped by Downstairs. Its calming courtyard and seasonal brunch offerings clearly attracted readers: it doubled second place’s vote totals.
Best PizzaPizza Marzano
Shanghai’s discerning pizza-eater has a wealth of options these days, but Pizza Marzano has been around a while now, and this year, with a new venue in the former French Concession, the chain has established itself as the pick of the bunch. We’re not surprised. Their Peking duck pizza is an unforgettable masterpiece.
Best Afternoon TeaThe Peninsula
Guidebooks the world over proclaim The Peninsula afternoon tea as a must-do in Hong Kong, and The Peninsula Shanghai is following in its brother’s steps. As local blogger and City Weekend user sugarednspiced, raves, “The Peninsula has earned its reputation for high tea, and one simply cannot claim to have experienced the afternoon tea scene in Shanghai until this one has been checked off.” With that glowing recommendation and the promise of gorgeous macaroons, petit fours, finger sandwiches and cakes, it’s about time you treat yourself. Look out for their special themed offerings like the Heritage Tea whereby they recreate the offerings from ages past.
Best Business LunchMr. & Mrs. Bund
The Bund is jam-packed with business lunch options, but Mr & Mrs Bund took this prize with nearly three times as many votes as the runners up. It's easy to see why: for RMB200, you'll get to sample some of Shanghai's best fare at a steep discount.
Best Chinese Fine DiningCrystal Jade
The mix of classic Cantonese dim sum, Westernized Chinese dishes and famous Shanghainese cuisine has made Crystal Jade a winner. Even when busy, the restaurant retains an elegant atmosphere perfect for fancy business dinners and family celebrations.
Restaurant of the YearCuivre
Diners went crazy for Cuivre this year, and though it won this award by only two votes, it did win in its first year, a rather amazing accomplishment. Featuring simple French fare executed superbly by chef Michael Wendling, perhaps it was frequent commenter casperxx that put it best: “Finally a pleasant surprise in this ever-changing restaurant opening / closing overkill of Shanghai.”
SEE ALSO: Shanghai's Best Bars and Clubs of 2012
Words by Drew Bates, Cristina Ng and Geoff Ng