Silan: An Homage to Old Shanghai

By Sophie Steiner, January 24, 2022

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The Place 

Situated in a more than hundred-year-old historic building near Sinan Mansions, at Silan you’ll find a gateway into the Paris of the East, an homage to the bygone era of pre-WWII Old Shanghai. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The restaurant is split across four levels, with only private rooms – fitting parties from four to 40 people. Each individual room is named after a famous Shanghai street from the early 1900s, and outfitted with relics from a Shanghai past – with influences from both East and West – in an upscale parlor setting.

Image courtesy of Silan

Image courtesy of Silan

A muted color scheme of red, blue and green is a common thread running across this tiered venue, with antique lounge chairs encircling large tables, vintage brass lamps effusing warm light, spin dial phones from a time period long before the word wireless was invented, gilded phonographs, gold tasseled, heavy velvet curtains and tessellated stained-glass windows, interspersed with a lot of timeworn wood.

Evoking a feeling of old school opulence, the restaurant represents a period of grandeur in our great city’s past that we can only now grasp at through books. 

The Food

The menu focuses on Shanghainese dishes popular across the last century, all served banquet sharing style on a Lazy Susan. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Cold dishes begin with a rotating selection of crisp Mixed Celery with Sakura Shrimp (RMB68), refreshing and delicate.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

That is contrasted by the shatteringly crisp crunch of Deep Fried Eel (RMB168), sautéed in a vinegary sugar sauce and dusted with shreds of fried ginger. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Traditional Shanghai Smoked Fish (RMB188) can be found at every canteen across the city as xunyu, yet the rendition at Silan is elevated so that each bite crackles with flavor, oozing a tart balance of aromatic vinegar, saccharine rock sugar and a lingering kick from Shaoxing wine and ginger. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Commonly eaten in neighboring Nanjing, Boiled Young Pigeon in Salt Water (RMB128) adorns the table, along with its veg-friendly alternative of Vegetarian Goose with Black Truffle (RMB88) – crinkly tofu skin spring roll-like rounds filled with crunchy vegetables. 

DSC07029.jpgShanghai Style Stir-Fried River Shrimps (RMB268), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

A primer for the appetite, Boiled Shitake Mushroom with Baby Cabbage Soup (RMB98) is the epitome of what Chinese cuisine aficionados describe as qingdan – delicate and light, soft in flavor, fresh, elegant. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Mains dive into the lux side of things, showcasing how hosts would display wealth, treat their guests to the best and develop deeper relationships with diners. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

First arrives glistening chunks of Braised Pork Belly (RMB288), or hongsharou, dripping in a sticky onyx-hued sauce that is best safeguarded for the rice to come later on in the meal.

Each cube is a mosaic of succulent meat and melty fat, a morsel that confirms its right to be included in a number of different cuisines across the country. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

For a balance of meat to fat that skews towards the former but still packs just as much (or arguably more) flavor than the pork, the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Nuts (RMB468) sees cubes of tender meat coated in a sugary glaze, sprinkled with pistachio crumbles. 

DSC07046.jpgBraised Large Yellow Croaker with Pepper in Casserole (RMB688), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Unlike the Mapo Tofu (RMB368) dishes of Sichuan, this version comes with varying pieces of seafood, plus a topper of scattered crispy guoba rice – the scorched layer of rice grains that puff and crisp for a crunchy textural contrast to the plush pillows of tofu.

DSC07037.jpgStewed River Eel and Sea Cucumber with Scallion (RMB988), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The lid of an earthenware pot is removed tableside to reveal a casserole of sorts of Simmered Rice with Fish Maw and Assorted Delicacies (RMB468).

Cubes of abalone and soft shell turtle, fleshy strips of beef tendon and fish maw – plus mushrooms – are steamed atop wuchang dami (五常大米) rice. Endemic to Dongbei, it is a coveted variety that many consider to be the highest quality in the country for its long-grain structure and harder texture, allowing each kernel to maintain its distinct shape.

As the rice steams, the flavors from the other ingredients drip down, creating a consistently flavorful and filling finish to the meal, while the outer edges of the rice crackle for a juxtaposing texture throughout. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

In standard China fashion, dessert options are less sweet, with soups and fruit-based selections at the forefront.

We highly recommend the Stewed Milk with Longjing Tea (RMB58), a play on shuangpinai, or double milk custard, commonly eaten in Guangdong, but made with China’s alternative to matcha: earthy Longjing tea from Hangzhou. 

The Vibe

Want to feel like an Old Shanghai socialite being served by white-gloved waiters in rooms that make even a non-smoker crave a cigar between the lips? This is your spot. 

Image courtesy of Silan

Eating here, you feel like you should be doing deals at the business factory. You feel like lunch should be accompanied by a glass of scotch. Neat. You feel like bonuses should be easy to come by... and just as easy to lose at a showgirl-filled casino.

It’s like a page right out of a Paul French book come to life. And for that, it’s worth the price tag. 

Price: RMB300-700
Who’s Going: Shanghai’s socialites, well to-do Shanghainese, history buffs
Good For: Shanghainese cravings, Lazy Susan banquets, Chinese delicacy consumption (expect a lot of sea cucumbers, abalone, fish maw, tendon and the like)

See a listing for Silan.

Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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