Shanghai Restaurant Review: Bun Cha Cha

By Sophie Steiner, June 25, 2019

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The Place

You will find Bun Cha Cha in the basement of Lippo Plaza, just south of People’s Park, among the swath of neon-signed shopping malls on Huaihai Lu. Dreamt up by chef Danyi Gao (of Shake fame) after a visit to Vietnam back in 2017, she was compelled to reinterpret the healthy Vietnamese staple, bun cha, for Shanghai. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The restaurant’s focus on perfecting a single dish with a harmonious balance of nuanced flavors, unique textures and herbaceous aromas, and served with a cold dipping sauce, as opposed to the ubiquitous hot bowls of pho Shanghai-dwellers associate with Vietnamese cuisine, is unique enough to give this new concept restaurant life.

The Food

You’d be cheating yourself if you skipped the flagship dish, Bun Cha (RMB58-68). Presented on a woven wicker plate is an array of ingredients, including chilled vermicelli rice noodles, lettuce, quick-pickled shreds of carrot and daikon and fresh herbs like Thai basil, mint, cilantro and perilla. The star of this dish is the pork in the form of charred, smoky patties matched with streaky slices of thick-cut belly. While there are beef, chicken and shrimp options, we highly suggest going with the original pork, as the Vietnamese food gods intended. All versions come with a small bowl of the famous Hung Thinh fish sauce from Phu Quoc Island, mixed with sugar and pickled veggies to create a sweet and savory cold 'broth' of sorts.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

If it’s your first time, rest assured: there’s no wrong way to eat bun cha – combine it all together in the sauce bowl like banmian cold noodles or make bun cha-‘tacos’ by wrapping the ingredients up in a piece of lettuce. The power falls exactly where it should; in the hands of the consumer. The only thing missing from the dish is nem cua be, or crispy crab spring rolls – a perfect companion to bun cha at restaurants all over Hanoi.

Moving on from the namesake food item, come here for the unctuous Steamed Clams with Lemongrass (RMB48). Served in a liquid imbued with the herbal aromas of ginger, garlic and lemongrass, it’s hard not to drink it directly from the coconut serving bowl. This flavorful broth has the potential to steal the show if not for the creamy texture of the juicy, oyster-like clams; you will definitely want a whole serving all to yourself.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The fried fish sauce Chicken Wings (RMB38) are a surprise hit. Bite into the insanely crispy batter to discover tender, umami-rich morsels of addictive meat. This is not the time for manners, get in there with your hands as the meat easily slides away from the bone. Note that there is no spice on these wings, so if you are a chili worshipper (like us), add Sriracha sauce.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Although the tender chicken, soft rice noodles and sweet, gingery broth of the Chicken Pho (RMB58) is comforting, the light, clean flavors ultimately pale in comparison to the restaurant’s better items. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

While beautifully charred and elegantly presented, the Stuffed Squid (RMB48) unfortunately falls flat on flavor. The bland ground pork stuffing is crying out for salt, spice, garlic or... anything to tie it together with the grilled squid.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Finally, skip the Banh Mi (RMB58-68), unless you have a craving for an expensive side of bread, which makes up about 85% of the sandwich at Bun Cha Cha. Close your eyes while savoring the last sips of a hot Vietnamese drip coffee and you’ll find yourself in one of the many bustling Hanoi food stalls that spill from the sidewalks into the streets rather than a busy shopping complex in the middle of Shanghai.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Food Verdict: 2.5/3

The Vibe

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

When you look into Bun Cha Cha, wicker-backed chairs, white-tiled floors, abundant plants and turquoise leather couches create a fresh and fun atmosphere. This makes sense given the design is by hcreates, known for other good-looking mall eateries such as Ban Ban and Pinxtos. Yet, claim a seat facing the entrance and you have the less lovely view of Victoria's Secret and an escalator. The upside to the location is extremely reasonable prices for spot-on Vietnamese flavors. While they are open for dinner and have a drink menu featuring house wine, beer and a cheeky G&T, we see ourselves returning more often for lunch than a boozy night out.

Vibe Verdict: 1/2

Total Verdict: 3.5/5

Price: RMB70-120 per person
Who’s going: the People's Square office contingent, mallrats
Good for: healthy lunches, casual friend dates

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]


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See a listing for Bun Cha Cha. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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