This numerically named diner is well worth the alley wandering you'll need to do to find it. The double plus is that you'll arrive with an adequate appetite. At about RMB 100-200 for a couple (excluding wine) this relatively reasonable restaurant won't break the bank - while top culinary quality can still be expected. Most dishes are also light and delicious - its specialty shrimp balls and duck are often first pick among local frequenters.
1221 has been one of my favorite Shanghainese restaurants. I first visited 1221 about 9 years ago on my first trip to Shanghai, and have remembered it ever since. Open for about 13 years, 1221 is also a popular restaurant for expats, foreigners, and tourists. Even with my American palette, I can understand why 1221 has been around for so long and is always crowded. Though people may argue that 1221 isn’t traditional Shanghainese or doesn’t feature many interesting dishes, I will say that 1221 just tastes good and I like it for its simplicity done well.
In China, the process of ordering food starts with a few cold dishes or appetizers. Then you order the hot dishes. Sometimes you wash everything down with soup. And just before end, you might order a rice or noodle dish to top it off. Dessert, either hot or cold will finish you off, literally.
When I am at a restaurant and I am not sure what to order or can’t read the Chinese-only menu, I usually just ask the waitress to suggest some dishes. I know this is risky, since they might be pushing meats or fishes that are almost ready to be thrown out or expire, especially fish. But sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I also like to ask what are the server’s favorite dishes are. There are times when I would just walk around the restaurant and look at what the other patrons are eating just to get an idea. And most of the time, I just try to prepare before hand, and research the restaurant, online and asking friends, to figure out what their speciality is.
On this particular trip, the highlight of the meal was the crispy fried duck, the spicy sichuan beef with fried bread, and braised pork belly. The crispy fried duck, a boneless dish with the thin skin, was tremendously good. The thick sweet hosin sauce complimented the duck. The spicy sichuan beef was also quite good. There was a thick broth that you dipped with the bread, which soaked up the goodness. And lastly, the famously braised pork belly – hong sau rou, was tenderly yummy. Some people ask where is the best Hong Sau Rou in Shanghai – and I would have argue that 1221 does a pretty good job to warrant recognition. But I think FU 1088, might have the best.
Another cool feature they have at 1221 is the pouring of the tea. When the “tea guy” comes around, he will bring his long spout to fill your tea cup and hot water kettle. The water comes out in a long stream and spins the tea leaves. Though it is just for show, it is pretty cool. Just one more reason to bring out of towners and guests to 1221.
Check out more pictures at http://wp.me/p12aCk-Y0