Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so we went out and searched the city to find the best breakfast dishes. Print this list out, stick it on your fridge and start crossing them off as you eat your way around Shanghai.
Egg Me On
If you’re looking for a luxurious start to the day, head to the PuLi Hotel’s Jing’an Restaurant―it’s one of the best hotel dining experiences in town. Their breakfast set (RMB200 plus surcharge) includes bottomless cups of coffee, tranquil views of the park next door, a top-notch fruit and pastry buffet plus a main of your choice. We recommend the fluffy smoked salmon omelette: it’s made-to-order (ask for it egg-white-only if you like), and pairs perfectly with the green onion-infused cubes of hash browns.
Mr Willis gets this breakfast dish right, and the secret lies in the English muffin. Baked in-house, the pan-toasted base is light, fluffy and comes to the table holding perfectly poached eggs, crisp and tender bacon and a generous dollop of homemade Hollandaise sauce. There are four variations of the dish on the menu (bacon, smoked salmon, spinach or all three together) but, as purists, we prefer the bacon option (RMB85).
Git ’Er Done
Get to Boxing Cat Brewery early on weekends for a bit of Southern hospitality. The Texas Wake Up Call was created by the brewery’s late brewmaster, Gary Heyne, and is part breakfast and part hangover cure, perfect for groggy Sundays. It’s loosely a Tex-Mex version of eggs Benedict, with scrambled eggs and cheese on quesadillas all drenched in chili and sided with big, meaty chunks of roasted potatoes. It gives new meaning to the word hearty.
On the weekend, MAYA opens early to serve up their huevos brunch and we're seriously hooked. The dish that keeps us coming back for more is the huevos divorciados (literally “divorced eggs,” RMB45). A crispy tortilla comes layered with refried beans, two sunny-side up eggs and columns of salsa roja and salsa verde. With cheese quesadillas and sour cream on the side, it pairs perfectly with their bottomless margaritas (RMB150) or sangria (RMB125).
Our morning caffeine fix has to pack as strong a punch as the drinks we had the night before and Mr. Pancake House has us covered all day with quality coffee that flows like a flood. You’ll get a bottomless cup of joe (or tea) with any of their breakfast combos (RMB35 and up, served until 4pm), most of which come with their signature homestyle pancakes and a side of greasy home fries. By the time you leave, both you and your wallet will be feeling a lot better. Look for a new Mr. Pancake House to open on Julu Lu in November.
Simply put, Park Hyatt has the best pancakes in town (RMB85 plus surcharge). The sumptuous mini-flapjacks come with slices of bananas sandwiched between each of the four levels and have thick, oopey-goopey caramel slathered all over. They’re sided with a round dollop of buttery sin disguised as whipped cream—no bite is complete without it—and when taken in alongside the SWFC’s towering views of Shanghai, they’re sure to get you high one way or another.
Sunflour, the airy new bakery on Anfu Lu, has quickly become one of Shanghai’s busiest early morning spots because of its excellent pastries, but their croissants are our favorite. Both their plain (RMB9) and almond-dusted (RMB12) varieties are flaky and sinfully buttery, great grab-and-go options. If those don’t manage to fill you up, they’ve also got full breakfasts from RMB35.
Hash It Out
If a bagel with lox and cream cheese and a McDonald’s hash brown had a lovechild, it would be this dish from Element Fresh (RMB58). A generous portion of smoked salmon sits atop a slightly crispy potato pancake, which is then garnished with a thin layer of sour cream, tomato-lemon relish, capers and onions. Fresh arugula lends the plate a pop of color and balances out the starchiness of the potato underneath.
Best described as the Hong Kong equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, this condensed milk and peanut butter toast is as sweet as it is simple. While you could easily make the exact same thing at home, for only RMB9 it’s the perfect snack to accompany your late but authentic Hong Kong breakfast at Cha’s―both locations open at 11am daily but the Sinan Lu spot doesn’t close until 2am.
When you would rather not ruin your diet first thing in the morning, head down one of Tianzifang’s back lanes and grab a stool at Kommune for a big bowl of fruit and granola (RMB65). The seasonal fruit is served fresh and cold, and the chunks of nutty granola with raisins and almonds come separately with a jar of yogurt and pot of honey on the side so you can pour on as much sweet or crunchy as you fancy.
The Alchemist's banger breakfast (RMB98) is our favorite interpretation of a full English breakfast in Shanghai. As usual, restaurateur Kelley Lee impresses us with creativity, filling our heads with elaborate menu descriptions and our bellies with tasty treats. The Japanese “music” eggs (so called because the hens are ear-fed classical music as they're popping out eggs) used here may look poached, but they’re actually done sous-vide―a special method of slow cooking that gives the eggs a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. The eggs’ brilliant orange color come from the special feed these birds are raised on. Surrounded by thick strips of bacon, chicken sausage, mushrooms and crisp potatoes, you’ll sit back and rub your tummy in glorious gluttony. It goes great with orange juice and a bloody Mary.
There are few breakfast spots open as early (or are as tasty) as Downstairs, and their bread basket is not to be missed. RMB25 gets you a choice of carbs, but we can’t get enough of Chef Siobhan Gough’s Irish soda bread. Moist, homey and made just how Mom taught her, it’s best enjoyed slathered with butter and the provided preserves.
It can be hard to find a good bagel in Shanghai, but Spread the Bagel is now putting out the best in town (RMB45 for six). Dense, chewy and available more than 10 varieties, get these delivered with homemade cream cheese or grab one on the way to work with a coffee for RMB25.
The Pierres noires galette (RMB92) at La Crêperie combines smoked ham, Camembert cheese and mushrooms in a thin buckwheat crêpe. And against a chorus of salty ham and pungent cheese, it’s actually the sautéed mushrooms whose voice is best heard. They seem to sing delightfully, “Our moisture is gone, we've piled the butter and herbs on.” It’s a great late breakfast best accompanied by an early glass of wine.
We hate to admit it, but Starbucks makes some of the best muffins in town (RMB14). Further, as a big chain with many locations around town, they’re always easy to find and consistently good. The to-go treats come in a few flavors, including surprisingly fresh apricot and blueberry options, but we like the moist and chewy double chocolate chip best. You even get ¥4 off your coffee when you buy one.
When we’re on the run, we love Umoo’s fruit and yogurt smoothies (RMB22). Our go-to option, mango and papaya, blends musky sweetness and tangy yogurt made with New Zealand milk, a combination that allows the papaya flavor to dominate. And although they use canned peaches in our second favorite, the kiwi-peach smoothie, we actually appreciate the balance of syrupy peach with the tart kiwi.
Love baked goods but allergic to gluten? Your savior has arrived. Funky Monkey’s banana nut bread is baked fresh daily using an old recipe founder Douglas Ascarrunz cribbed from his 100-year-old Grandma Esther, and uses butter from New Zealand, vanilla from America, farm-fresh eggs and (though you'd never guess it) absolutely no gluten, preservatives, salt or artificial flavoring. The deliciously moist loaves are filled with small chunks of walnut and soft banana, making it a sweet, healthy treat to start the day off with. For about two weeks in October they were sold streetside on Donghu Lu, but to get them now you’ll have to order them in advance. They go for a bit of a premium at RMB40 a loaf, so if you're a fan, collect 12 of the tags that come attached to the brightly colored boxes and you cash them in for a bonus thirteenth. Funky Monkey is currently looking for a space to set up shop; if you’re lucky enough, he’ll soon be moving into a street stall near you.
Did we leave out your favorite breakfast dish? Leave us a comment below.
Words by Geoff Ng, Claire Miles, Johanna Hoop es, Julie Levin, Tim Tsiang, Cristina Ng, Jimmy Chang and Jake DeLois