Xindalu is on the ground floor of the hotel Hyatt on The Bund, located just on the river in the most fashionable part of the city. The restaurant is large and smartly decorated, with lots of chef stations open to view, so you can watch cooks making dumplings or manoeuvring ducks into the huge duck oven that they have here. I was assigned what was, without doubt, the worst table in the house despite a practically empty room, of which more anon.
The menu was large, with the two specialities of the house the “Beggar’s Chicken” and the Peking duck. It transpired that the Beggar’s Chicken has to be ordered in advance, despite it featuring heavily on their website and menu, which failed to mention this rather pertinent fact. I ordered some har gau and half a Peking duck, which is the other specialty here. The wine list didn’t bother listing pesky vintages for many of its bottles and included references such as Tahuna Sauvignon Blanc for CNY 330 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for CNY 106, Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling at CNY 580 compared to its retail price of CNY 158, and Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (this one merited a vintage on the list) at CNY 1,190 for a wine that will set you back CNY 527 in a shop.
The har gau turned out to be surprisingly good, the dumplings thin and neatly folded, the prawn (and pork) filling properly cooked and tasty. In fact these were some of the better har gau that I had on this trip (14/20), which made me hopeful about the duck, despite my disappointment about not being able to try the chicken.
Sadly this hope was misplaced. A chef arrived near my table with a duck on a trolley, ready to carve. He was clearly supposed to roll the trolley up to the table edge so the customers can enjoy the spectacle of the carving, but the two pillars behind which my table was lurking in this most obscure part of the dining room made this impossible. Some discussion ensued between him and a waitress, and then a distinctly grumpy manageress was called over. She summarily dismissed his concerns and presumably told him to get on with it and carve from a distance, rather than trouble any of her staff to move the outside chair on the empty table next to me that would have allowed him to wheel the trolley next to my table. Ah well, if I had brought some binoculars I could have watched the carving unfolding from my perch behind the pillar. Sadly the Peking duck was, after all that, rather ordinary. The skin was not particularly crisp, the pancakes were OK if a little thicker than the ideal, but the breast meat was a pallid grey colour, and there were not enough scallion strips to service more than one or two pancakes. Still, the plum sauce was good. The leg meat was a little better than the breast but this was not going to make any kind of Peking duck Hall of Fame (12/20).
Service was rather brusque even by the remarkably low standards of Shanghai, especially given that this is a smart western hotel. This meal was impromptu and so I turned up without a reservation for an early lunch. Once the receptionist finished chatting on the phone she looked up at me and said “name?” in a manner that should guarantee her success if she ever auditions for a TV role as a prison guard taking roll call. When it transpired that I didn’t have a reservation I was immediately dispatched to the attentions of a lower ranked employee and dismissed from her presence with a gesture, having demonstrated by having no reservation that I was not worthy of her further attention. In the virtually empty restaurant I was assigned a small table behind a couple of pillars, despite acres of empty and considerably better tables. The waitress service was somewhat better, and my cup of jasmine tea was sporadically refilled and the water in the pot refreshed from time to time. However when I finished my main course and asked for the bill, no attempt was made to clear the dirty plates despite there being a small army of staff serving a quiet dining room, and the bill was duly delivered amongst the duck debris. When I left I had the impression that I was not missed, though perhaps the staff were secretly sad at my leaving but just good at hiding it. The two dishes and tea came to a chunky CNY 476 (£54) before tip, which I confess was not a large one. If you order three courses and some basic wine then a typical cost per head is likely to stretch to £80 or more. It is perhaps hard to judge a restaurant on such limited data as two dishes, even if one of them is their notional signature, but I won’t be hurrying back here despite the very good prawn dumplings.