So, this September, China’s culinary scene finally got a nod from the Michelin Guide, which released the first mainland Chinese Michelin Guide, the Michelin Guide to Shanghai. 26 restaurants were awarded coveted Michelin stars.
Right below the lowest star rating (one out of three) is the honorable mention category Bib Gourmand . Bib Gourmand restaurants offer “exceptional good food at moderate prices,” moderate prices referring to bills staying under a maximum relative to local economic conditions. I stumbled upon one of these restaurants at Joy City – a mecca for foodies, among other things. It’s fitting that my favorite place in Shanghai would be home to such a good restaurant.
It’s called Alma, and it serves Spanish food. It’s right next to Saigon Aniseed, which I previously reviewed. I actually wanted to eat at Alma the first time I was at Joy City, but after looking at the menu decided that it would be better experienced with a friend. Here’s my friend Peace, looking radiant in front of the open-air tables where we ate.
The interior is so beautiful. I wanted to sit next to the windows but all the tables besides the ones outside were reserved. Peace and I were surprised when we got here at noon because there was only one occupied table in the restaurant, but soon after we were seated, Alma filled up fast with well-heeled families. I don’t know if this demand came after getting tapped by Michelin or if Alma was already like this before, but I’ve decided to call ahead when I come back because I really want to sit next to the windows.
We split a Croquette Combo (35 RMB) to start.
My initial impression wasn’t good because the plating was sloppy (so sloppy it was hard to photograph!), especially the copious amounts of dried peppers dumped on. It’s not fun to eat dried peppers and there’s way too many for just a garnish.
This mushroom croquette had blissful truffle-like sweetness.
I’m not sure what this was, but it was impossibly creamy for something deep fried. The outside was crusty and crisp, yet tender.
Packed into a mussel shell, this tomato-based croquette was an explosion of savory Mediterranean flavors.
Peace’s “main,” the Alma Burger topped with Iberico ham quail egg, and caramelized onion (58 RMB), was the weakest part of the meal. First, there were two. And they were not burgers, but tiny sliders – 2.5 inches in diameter, with barely anything to chew on. The thinly-shaved potato chips were gorgeous but lacked flavor.
On the other hand, I loved my Spanish omelette (38 RMB) with Manchego cheese (+12 RMB), dolloped with pungent mayonnaise. This was one of the top three things I’ve eaten in Shanghai so far.
Spanish omelettes are potato slices layered over each other, with mixed egg poured over. These roasted potato slices were gloriously toothsome, gently hugged by fluffy, creamy egg and laced with cheese. I’m excited to see what else Alma can do with eggs – their menu promises great things, calling their offerings “eggs-ceptional.” Well, it’s true.
For dessert, Peace ordered Adam’s Lemon Tart (42 RMB). This name is not unique to Alma. I’ve never had the original Adam’s Lemon Tart but Google Images tells me it’s a standard lemon tart, not this deconstructed conversation starter. This dessert involves a graham crust with a shortbread texture, smooth lemon custard, almonds, meringue, pistachio powder, candied lemon slices, pickled lemon peel, and citrus marmalade.
The crust had a great mouthfeel due to the shortbread resemblance and the lemon flavor came through bright and pure in the custard, but the standouts were the garnishes. The marmalade packed a concentrated punch of sweet acidity that would work well on toast or cake or even meat, and the pickled lemon rind was just out of this world. Think pickled Japanese sushi ginger, but lemon, in thinner strips, and a bit sweeter. The acidity balanced out the sweetness, as well as bitterness from the candied lemon slices and earthiness from the biscuit.
We also loved my Peras al Vino Tinto (42 RMB), which was edible flowers, mint, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and shortbread over stewed pears. The pears came in an intensely flavorful liquid that involved red wine at some point but retained no alcohol taste. The liquid was very sweet but refreshing . The best part of this wasn’t actually the pears, but the raspberries – they completely soaked up the liquid and added their own acidity.
Our bill came out to 227 RMB for five items. 227 RMB is about 34 American dollars. Pretty amazing for the experience. I’ll definitely be back.
Shop 910, 9F Joy City II North Tower, 198 North Xizang Road, Zhabei, Shanghai