Shanghai Restaurant Review: Karaiya Spice House

By Cristina Ng, May 27, 2019

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The Place

After years of running successful Japanese restaurants Haiku, Hatsune and Kagen, the owners have turned their attention to an elegant take on the fiery flavors of Hunan at Karaiya Spice House.

Already open in Beijing, the Shanghai outpost also offers spicy dishes with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients, and what they call ‘Western-style’ presentation (although the dishes still look Chinese).

The Food

Among laowai, Hunan food can be overshadowed by the mouth-numbing cuisine of Sichuan, but there is still plenty of heat – with the additions of bold savory and sour flavors – to be found in Hunan.  

Karaiya’s signature dish is steamed freshwater fish with two types of Hunan peppers, more commonly seen as a two-color fish head in xiang cai restaurants. While we’re not ones to shy away from fish head, this switch is more foreigner-friendly.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

We went for the Flounder (RMB188), and every bite of flaky alabaster flesh found beneath a carpet of fresh red chilies and pickled green chilies feels like a prize hard-earned. The competition was stiff, as three diners left no trace of fish remaining on the platter.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

With the addition of a scoop of pungent and garlicky chili sauce, the distinctive flavor of Chicken Steamed in Rice Wine (RMB48) bounced pleasantly around our mouths.

Oat Leaves with Sesame Dressing (RMB32) were a welcome break from the spice, even if the dressing was too sweet for our taste. If you order this dish, wait until you’ve consumed the spicier dishes before dipping into it. 

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

DSC03523.jpgImage by Cristina Ng/That's

There’s something exciting about food that comes sizzling to your table, and the Eggplant with Ground Pork (RMB65) is no exception. Intensely savory, it pairs well with a bowl of perfectly cooked rice topped with dry pickled vegetables.

Food Verdict: 2.5/3

The Vibe

DSC03533.jpgImage by Cristina Ng/That's

With moody lighting and a mural featuring qipao-clad girls, Karaiya is going for an experience befitting its Xintiandi Plaza address. Service was excellent, and it was quiet enough to enjoy each other’s company, but we found ourselves missing the hustle and bustle of places like Di Shui Dong and Hunan Country Cuisine

Interestingly enough, we pined for a more ‘authentic’ setting, while our Chinese friends enjoyed this atmosphere more.  Next time though, we are asking for maximum spice levels. We think we can handle it

Vibe Verdict: 1/2

Total Verdict: 3.5/5

Price: RMB100-150 per person
Who's going: middle-class locals, Hunan food fans
Good for: clean and tidy meals, spice-lovers

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

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See a listing for Karaiya Spice House. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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