Shanghai Restaurant Review: Dr. Curry

By Cristina Ng, January 20, 2020

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The Place

While ubiquitous in Japan, there aren’t many small restaurants devoted solely to Japanese curry in Shanghai. Tokyo native Hiro Tsukino saw that gap in the market years ago when he opened the quaint Small Spice near Xintiandi as an alternative to monster chain Coco Ichibanya – back when we thought Danshui Lu was the new Yongkang. 

Since then, the fire powering the bubbling development pot of F&B ventures on Danshui was turned down while YKL’s image underwent an ‘extreme makeover.’ Hiro-san moved on from Small Spice to open HTO and now Dr. Curry. His latest venture is an adorably-sized two-story storefront on Huaihai Zhong Lu with seating for about 15 people.

The Food

Karae-raisu (curry rice) is Japan’s ultimate comfort food. This truly international meal was likely introduced by Anglo-Indian officers of the UK Royal Navy in the late 19th century. The subsequent popularity coincided with the prevalence of beriberi in the Meiji era. Now known to be a thiamine deficiency, a diet heavy in polished, white rice was the culprit. Japanese naval medical officer Kanehiro Takaki suggested that the disease was caused by a lack of vitamins. As a result, curried vegetables and meats joined rice on the dinner plate, and the rest is history.

Although Dr. Curry’s namesake sauce is easy to make at home – thanks to the development of S&B curry roux blocks in the 1950s – visiting a curry house where the rich garam masala inflected sauce is made from 18 ingredients and cooked slowly for two days elevates the experience. Everyone’s curry is different, and Hiro-san has been perfecting his iteration for years. We catch the scent of cloves, bay leaf, cumin and black pepper in the mystery amalgam.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

The offerings are limited to Curry Rice (RMB50/small, RMB70/large) or Udon Noodles (RMB60) – with several customizations. Plates of warm short-grain Akitakomachi rice come from the kitchen window topped with tender chunks of Stewed Beef (RMB60/small, RMB88/large), Crispy Pork Katsu (RMB60/small, RMB85/large) or Vegetables (RMB60/small, RMB80/large). They are then handed off to the front bar where curry is ladled on from hot cauldrons.

You might think that vegetables sound boring, but we were impressed by the seasonal spread. On our most recent visit, there were Brussels sprouts, florets of cauliflower and broccoli, lotus root slices, a smattering of mushrooms, red and yellow capsicum semicircles, a pumpkin wedge, a couple of sweet pea pods and one perfect baby carrot.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

The fried pork cutlet is good enough to eat on its own, and the addition of curry makes it stick to your ribs. You could lighten that up a bit with a half order of vegetables. Beriberi is no longer commonplace, but it doesn’t hurt to stay vigilant.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

The beef option is also delicious, although we wouldn’t mind more of the fork tender meat. Add a fried or fresh Egg (RMB8) to buff this portion up a bit. The eggs are so fresh that they can be served raw, and you receive a marigold yellow single yolk with that option. Drop it into warm sauce and stir in immediately for extra velvety texture.

For drinks, a mango, banana or plain Lassi (RMB30-38) are a natural fit for curry. You can also try the fragrant Indian Spice Milk Tea (RMB38). Like most good tiny Japanese restaurants, Asahi (RMB35), Highballs (RMB38) and Wine (RMB38) also come cheap. 

Food Verdict: 2/3

The Vibe

Compact like a bento box, and with a crowd gathering outside, Dr. Curry reminds us of trips to Japan. The attention paid to getting a single dish just right, coupled with efficient service, keeps things moving at a steady roll. Relax long enough to enjoy your meal, but don’t forget that people are waiting in the bracing cold for a dose of curry-coated nutrients. 

Vibe Verdict: 2/2

Total Verdict: 4/5

Price: RMB80-100 per person
Who's going: Hiro-san fans, curry lovers, cool locals
Good for: Lunch, early dinner, budgets

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

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See a listing for Dr. Curry. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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