Larry and Karen are two great friends of mine, and let me tell you, these people know their wine. I invited them to join me, Dana, and Heather for dinner at Top Shanghai Restaurant; upon sitting down at our table, Larry opened the Atlas-sized menu and first looked for the wine list. There wasn’t one. Only then did I realize I’ve never even considered wine in a Shanghainese restaurant before.
Our server, maneuvering her way through the crowded dining room, approached our table and asked what we’d like. Larry inquired about the wine selection, and she asked “white or red?” White, please. She brought back a bottle of Yellowtail. Nope. Oh dear. That’s not going to work.
When we asked if there was anything else, our server said “Chinese wine, or there is a liquor store next door. I can go get you what you like. What would you like?”
Before we went to Top Shanghai, we’d read online that the service isn’t great, but I’m happy to report that at least on this night, it was beyond accommodating. She offered to go next door and get us a bottle of wine! Larry insisted that he’d be happy to go pick something out, and that’s exactly what he did. He came back with three bottles (Stoneleigh Chardonnay, New Zealand; Sumac Ridge Gewurztaminer, BC; Whitehaven Sauvigon Blanc, New Zealand), they found some ice buckets for us, and we enjoyed wine that evening with just a $5 per pop corkage fee. Blessed be these new laws!
The restaurant is relatively small, and quite literally packed; it took us awhile to figure out how to navigate the maze of tables and chairs to get to our seats, and I can only imagine how difficult it must be with hot dishes in hand. There were several tables behind us with fifteen or more people crowded around them, and the atmosphere was jovial. Plus, the walls are covered in back-lit photographs of the food, so if you’re really having a tough time deciding, all you have to do is point to a tasty looking picture and say “that one!”
Our server helped us pick from the colossal menu, and was happy to make recommendations. We decided on the xiao long bao with crab and pork, the pan fried soup buns, eel with red and green peppers, shrimp sauteed with chili sauce, green beans with minced pork, Shanghai sauteed noodles, crispy duck, and Shanghai-style rice cakes with pork. After we placed our order (which came to $126.48 after tax), we worried we’d ordered too much, then finished almost all of it. Go us.
The xiao long bao came in a metal container, which was new to me; they almost always arrive in a bamboo steamer. But it doesn’t matter, because they were excellent. The wrappers were extraordinarily thin, and the crab + pork filling was tender and juicy. These are a must-order.
The pan-fried version of the xiao long bao were also good, but a little trickier to eat. They’re much larger so they become two-biters, with a greater risk of spilling the ‘soup’ everywhere. The dough was wonderfully fresh-tasting, so if you’re a big fan of carbs, order these.
The eel, mild and fork tender, was the the most beloved dish of the night. If you’ve never tried eel before (or like me, used to assume it would be chewy and tough), then this is certainly a dish to try.
The sauteed shrimp came in a spicy and sweet sauce, and while it wasn’t bad, it was forgettable.
The green beans with minced pork were another favourite, though I thought the pork mixture could have been a little less salty.
The crispy duck came with little steamed buns (bao) and a strong oyster sauce to drizzle over.
Take a piece of the duck, open up your bun like a taco, put the duck inside, drizzle with sauce, and eat. These are the steps to enjoying one very tasty duck dish.
The Shanghai noodles were just ok, and while the rice cakes with pork and preserved vegetables were beautifully flavoured, they were a little overcooked and chewy. Still, it was the first time trying them for everyone else and now they’re hooked! Rice cakes are taking over the world, one table of wine-drinking white people at a time.
I wouldn’t say Top Shanghai is the best Shanghainese food I’ve had in Richmond, but it was still really good, and it’s very conveniently located. As for the service, our experience was great, so perhaps the key is just holding up the menu and looking like a lost puppy?
And remember – THERE’S A LIQUOR STORE NEXT DOOR, so you can have your wine and eel too.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available