Of all London’s Chinese restaurants, Shanghai Dalston comes closest to creating a vibe of ironic retro chic. Roast ducks and pork hanging in the window obscure views of the beautiful former pie and mash shop interior, with green tiles featuring slithering eels in the front dining room.
Sadly, the nominally eastern Chinese menu has more in common with the grim second dining room in the windowless back of the restaurant; the food has little to distinguish it from Anglo-Chinese restaurants across the country. Starters of ‘Shanghai dumplings in chilli oil’, wun tun soup, and grilled dumplings were universally bland. A dish described as ‘clay pot-cooked slow-braised pork with tofu knots’ in fact contained deep-fried tofu, leaving the stew uniform in texture.
The enticingly named ‘Shanghai devil lamb’ promised a bold marinade of spices and chilli, wok-fried and served with dried seaweed, but arrived as a pile of lamb slices with onions, all bearing a vaguely aniseed flavour but lacking both complexity and seaweed. In such a lively neighbourhood, and in such a promising setting, the kitchen here should take more risks to elevate its food above the Chinese-takeaway norm.