Fresh from a recent trip to Shanghai and Nanjing, author Walter Mason writes a guest post for Noodlies, Sydney food blog.
Let me just say at the outset that no-one is more committed to the glories of the 5 Star hotel breakfast buffet than I. The heaven of coming down to groaning tables of things you’d normally never eat, even at midday, is just about the best part of any holiday. But at the same time I am, by nature, an abstemious type. I come from a Methodist family, for heaven’s sake. So unless I am travelling with the famously indulgent Mr. Noodlies, I tend to stay at a more humble class of hotel where, even if breakfast was included in the tariff, you wouldn’t want to eat it. I remember once staying at a “boutique” hotel on Suriwongse Rd. in Bangkok, and when I came down for my all-inclusive “Continental” breakfast the young man staffing the front desk made me some toast (at the check-in counter), poured me a glass of tetra-pack juice and waved me off to my busy day.
So, when I am economising I like to fend for myself on the breakfast front. Imagine my joy when, while staying recently on Donghu Rd. in Shanghai, I discovered there was a Wagas cafe right next door. Being a notorious early riser, I was even more delighted to find that they opened at 7am – a rare enough event in Shanghai. So every morning I stood outside their front door waiting for them to open, and sampled almost everything on the breakfast menu. The only thing I passed over was the glasses of red wine the two French lesbians who regularly joined me always had. I rarely take alcohol before 8.30 am. But hey, they were French.
Wagas is the Shanghai cafe supreme. Sleek and ubiquitous, they supply western-style food (and some Asian-fusion dishes) at all hours for those seeking consistence, air-con, moderately decent coffee and English-speaking staff. And really, it is the staff that make the Wagas experience such a pleasure. I have griped before on these pages about the customer service in Shanghai, but whoever is doing the staff training at Wagas is doing something right, and I always encounter smiling, helpful and efficient staff whenever I visit. And while I speak a species of Chinese, it is always comforting to be able to order scrambled eggs and a flat white in English first thing in the morning. I like to allow my tepid mind to develop linguistically as the day matures and the caffeine level increases.
I should also mention that Wagas is a great favourite among young Shanghainese, who find it as bewilderingly foreign and exotic as a Sydney teenager would find a Sichuan restaurant. Most of the young Chinese people who sat by me spoke English to each other in thick American accents as they flicked through interior design magazines or tapped away at their laptops.
What to have? Well, the coffee is ok, though can be hit and miss. I had the awkward situation of my favourite (i.e. the hunkiest) barista being the worst at making coffee – I was torn. Well, not really, because the only other option for coffee in that area is Mister Donut, and if you’ve ever had a coffee at Mister Donut you’ll know that’s no competition at all. Breakfast pastries and muffins are good, as is the egg and spinach wrap. The sandwiches are fantastic and fresh, though subject to frequent and perplexing cancellations – one day no ham, another no chicken. Oh well, I suppose that underlines the freshness of the ingredients. For dinner it’s pastas and cakes and an odd variant of underwhelming Thai food that tastes exactly like what you’d get at a suburban Thai restaurant in Australia. That said, these dishes are wildly popular with Asian customers, and were almost always what my Shanghainese friends would select.
The Donghu Rd. Branch becomes quite packed of an evening and at lunch, but in the mornings it is pleasantly quiet, and a nice place to surf the net or read a book. I have returned a Wagas fan – won’t someone open one in Sydney?
Donghu Rd, Shanghai,