Shanghai City is a small, cheap, noisy Northern Chinese restaurant in the Preston end of High Street that specialises in dumplings and hotpot. Half the walls in the restaurant are given over to bain-marie filled with all sorts of meats, fishes, vegetables, noodles and other stuff and the idea is to help yourself and cook what you will in a simmering pot of soup on the table. I'm not usually a fan of restaurant DIY, particularly when I have no idea of the etiquette, but the staff cheerfully explained the procedure and so we happily gave it a go.
We were given the choice between chicken soup, chili soup or a half-and-half pot that meant we could try both, and this we did.
The chicken soup was flavoured with some floating dried herbs, flowers and seed pods I couldn't identify, but it was comforting and perfect, given the wet, cold wind outside. The chili soup on the other hand was a rich red colour, with more chopped chili in every scoop than I would normally eat in a week. It wasn't as hot as it looked, but it was still very, very hot.
We cooked fishballs, beancurd, pork, cooked lamb, cabbage, dried mushrooms, bean shoots and glass noodles in the soups and tried a few of the dipping sauces. There's a wide selection, although the waitress wasn't sure what some of them were called in English so I can't tell you what they were. The chili sauce (more chili!) was roughly cut and hot, and I think it might have been the same stuff that went into the soup. There was a peanut sauce, possibly a garlic sauce and other mystery sauces, including a dark green one that Emily described as "salty and fishy and a bit ummmm".
The hotpot also came with some excellent spring onion pancakes which were flaky and crisp and a very generous plate of dumplings. These were glutinous with crisp, brown bottoms and filled with a juicy and rich pork mixture. The filling was unctuous - definitely cold weather food. They also have a range of other cooked dishes that don't require hotpotting and these looked pretty good for stuff in a bain-marie.
Shanghai City is a fun place to have a comfortable, if slightly messy, DIY hotpot. The staff are cheerful and helpful and the food is great (hey, it's not like I can fault the cooking...) and generous. It was about half-full of people when we arrived and although it only got busier, it was never too loud, even with the Chinese soap opera playing on the telly. And best of all, it's quite a lot of fun.
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