Fu 1039 and its sister restaurants (Fu 1088 and 1015) offer some of Shanghai’s finer versions of regional cuisine, taking an elegant approach to many of the city’s well-known dishes. What’s more, the restaurant occupies a renovated villa that lends an air of time-travel chic (we even had a piano man at the keys for most of the dinner).
Beyond the decor, we went to 1039 because we’d heard that the food is still as good as the other two places, but also partly because the per person minimum (usually 200RMB) is not as quite as high (400RMB and beyond).
Since we’re not big on most Chinese delicacies like abalone and sea cucumber, hitting the minimum is quite a task sometimes. I’m getting a little better about overordering, but this time, I relapsed a bit. To start, we had the tea-smoked egg with caviar (鱼子熏蛋), smoked fish (老上海熏魚), wheat gluten with wood ear mushrooms and peanuts (烤麸), as well as a bowl of salted pork soup with bamboo and tofu knots (腌笃鲜). In addition to the general cleanliness of the dishes relative to their counterparts in other citywide establishments, there were embellishments and quality improvements across almost all these days. The eggs in their presentation I actually hadn’t seen elsewhere, but as a proxy to regular tea eggs (noodle toppings or otherwise), these were almost like Japanese soft-cooked ramen eggs, with the briny kick of caviar to balance out the creaminess of the yolk. The smoked fish (which is really fried) was still savory and crispy, but each sizable piece also had some succulent fish under the initial layer of crisp (most places have smaller pieces that are fried through to oblivion). The wheat gluten tasted fresher and more robust, and had a nice addition of peanuts for texture. Finally, the soup was a flavorful clear soup, instead of the thick gelatinized white broth typical elsewhere.
To be clear, in some cases, particularly the soup, it’s not that Fu’s versions are necessarily better, just more refined, more careful, more thoughtful.
After the small plates, we had a half-order of steamed shad with jinhua ham and rice wine sauce (清蒸鰣魚), red-braised pork with egg & bamboo shoots (红烧肉), shredded dried tofu & shrimp in chicken soup (扬州干丝 or 大煮干丝), and Shanghai-style noodles. The fish, although a bit thin and bony, was chock full of flavor, the rice wine and ham essence soaked into the flesh. Fu’s braised pork is the pinnacle of the home-style dish, at least in Shanghai, with perfectly melt-in-your-mouth cubes, glazed with sauce and stacked neatly in a beautiful ceramic piece. In some ways, the tofu dish was my favorite of the night – soft strands of tofu (like even more ephemeral angel-hair pasta) and small juicy shrimps in a rich chicken stock that helped wash down each bite. Our beautiful teapot:Onto dessert, we got a black sesame 汤圆 (rice balls) and 八宝饭 (eight-treasures rice, a sticky rice dish with an assortment of embedded sweets, usually red bean paste, sometimes dates, raisins, nuts, etc.) with malted something I don’t remember. Both dishes were fair, but by this point, we were so incredibly stuffed that dessert was somewhat of a blur. The complementary end-of-meal plate of fruit on ice, a nice gesture that would otherwise have been greatly appreciated, we greeted with disbelief and impossible shakes of our heads. Service was timely, polite, the kind you don’t really notice all dinner – only the piano player getting up to leave around nine-thirty served as an interruption. I quite liked the details the kitchen team put into many of the dishes – it’s not always meaningful or easy to elevate standard Shanghainese dishes, since a lot of them are so home-style or grandma’s-cooking sort of things, but the nuances here largely made sense, and the presentation was clean, somewhat sophisticated, without losing too much to abstraction or over-refinement.
1039 Yuyuan Lu, near Jiangsu Lu / 愚园路1039号, 近江苏路