In the dizzying world of Shanghai's all-you-can-eat choices, devoted gluttons swear allegiance to certain buffets as adamantly as they would political candidates. In truth, there is no "best" buffet, for they all have their strong points. Yet some are just better than others. One such buffet, Pudong Shangri-La's Yi Cafe, is recommended.
From its home on the second level of this Lujiazui hotel, Yi Cafe is wide and spacious with simple furnishings and soothing lighting. Although it can seat hundreds of people, it still manages to feel intimate and comforting. Their cuisine is separated into individual stations and islands over the vast floor. Depending on each diner's personal buffet-sampling-order preference, the layout creates a sensible flow when devising a plan of attack.
The salad station offers the standard choices that are tossed fresh by friendly staff. Usually, there are Thai options, such as fresh coconut milk and prawn soup, or fragrant chili salad mixed in a glass jar.
To the left of the salad station is one of the highlights of Yi Cafe's arsenal: the sushi and sashimi. Freshly cut and accompanied by real wasabi (not the runny paste kind found at other buffets), the sashimi is of acceptable quality. The sushi rolls extend beyond the standard California or vegetarian cucumber rolls. We sampled their special seared salmon sushi, which was delicious. Assorted shellfish is also available for those diners who prefer to indulge in King crab legs, huge prawns and oysters.
Taking the opportunity to burn off a few of the evening's calories, diners can sample the large selection of international fare after a brisk walk to the other end of the restaurant. This area is home to a veritable United Nations of food selection. With so many choices, it may be hard to choose what to try first. The American food (steamed fish, tough steak) is not worth the precious stomach space; the Italian made-to-order pasta may be too simple for the price of the buffet; and better versions of the Chinese dishes like dim sum and noodle soup could be found anywhere in town for less. Although these basic default offerings aren't necessarily bad, due to the sheer amount of choices available, diners are better off filling themselves with the more exotic, specialty options, which do not disappoint.
The Southeast Asian section, packed with Malaysian and Thai offerings like satay and shrimp chips, is a spicy and tangy breath of fresh air that many Shanghai buffets don't offer. The Indian area proudly displays a big tandoor oven used to bake naan bread and fresh marinated meats, like the tasty chicken tikka and tandoori chicken – the "king of chicken", according to the friendly specialty sous chef of the Indian section. Finally, the Mediterranean section, which offers Turkish, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern fare, such as thick hummus, marinated chickpeas, hot and tender kebab meats. These three are a most welcome option to the typical buffet choices.
After unfastening a few belt notches, it is advised that you also make a trip to their dessert station. Fresh cakes, cookies and breads. Assorted ice cream and toppings. Dried fruits, fresh fruits, preserved fruits. Plates of chocolate, colorful lollipops and a menagerie of gummy animals. Best of all: the self-serve candy can be packed in a little takeaway box, a sweet epilogue to your meal and an apt reminder to return to Yi Cafe.
Location: 2/F, Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, 33 Fucheng Lu, Lujiazui
(bestfoodinchina.net November 13, 2008)