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Shanghai Lo is the restaurant at The Tonno, a multi-floored complex that includes a bar, a club and 31 karaoke rooms, at the site of the former infamous New Tonnochy Night Club in Wan Chai. Located on the first floor of this glossy new entertainment complex, Shanghai Lo is darkly lit. A single spotlight hangs over most tables, which provides just enough lighting to read the table, but in general, the ambience is dark and moody. There is a range of seatings from big round tables for larger parties to private booths, as well as private rooms for even more secluded gatherings. We quite liked the décor, apart from one small flaw: the acoustics of the room with its wooden floors and low ceilings means that the restaurant can get very noisy. A baby screaming at the front of the restaurant can be heard clearly all the way in the back, while large groups are seated in the middle of the restaurant, which can make it hard to escape their excitable chatter.
As the name suggests, Shanghai Lo serves Shanghainese favourites. We start with the classic hua diao-marinated chicken, which is marked as a signature dish on the menu. While we liked the fattiness of the chicken, we found the rice wine marinade to be harshly alcoholic, rather than mellow and smooth, not the easiest thing to stomach at the beginning of a meal. We preferred our other starter of crispy beancurd: deep-fried cubes of tofu are amply seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, and we like the contrast of the silky smooth interior to the crispy deep-fried goodness of the exterior. Another signature dish we tried was the braised pork with preserved vegetables. Served with steamed rectangular buns, this is a DIY type of dish where you spread the preserved vegetables onto the bun, and then heap the paper-thin slices of pork on top. The pork is well-cooked and succulent, with plenty of flavour. The pork here is much better than the ham that came with our braised Tianjin cabbage. This dish is usually more expensive when you order it with ham, but not at Shanghai Lo, where it is the same price as the cabbage in plain broth. As we bit into the ham, it became obvious why as it was exceptionally coarse, tough and salty. Our next carb dish was little better: a rice with vegetables and pork, it was greasy without being flavourful. A better choice is the stewed soup noodles with shredded chicken instead. Even though the thin sliced chicken was a bit dry and tasteless, the noodles themselves were soft and comforting in a thick broth. Finally, for dessert, we try another signature, egg white balls filled with custard. These deep-fried balls are a favourite in Shanghainese cuisine but Shanghai Lo replaces the more traditional red bean paste with molten egg custard. While this sounds delicious in theory and the deep-fried egg white balls were themselves nicely chewy, unfortunately the custard filling was much too sweet, making it impossible to have more than a bite.
If drinking by the glass, the options for wine are rather limited. Of the three whites offered by the glass, one was sold out. By the bottle, wines are sorted by grape varietal, apart from the French bordeaux (both red and white), which are classified as just “French wine”. The prices are reasonable and will fit most budgets, with Chilean wines starting at around HK$300 all the way up to HK$2,580 grand cru from Pauillac.
While the staff at Shanghai Lo try hard, the service level could be improved. There were quite a few spills on our table (from pouring wine or water) which were hurriedly wiped up; our much-anticipated order of xiao long bao was forgotten; and it can also be quite hard to get someone’s attention as the restaurant did not seem to be highly staffed.
A very filling meal for two can be had for about HK$700 if one stays away from the more expensive seafood items such as abalone, fish maw and sea cucumber.