If you’re greeted by, “No seats for you! Get out of here” don’t just chalk it up to Shanghai’s (lack of) service, turn tail and run. Like the Soup Nazi in “Seinfeld,” the food at Shanghai’s Ling Long Restaurant is worth the abrupt service. You just need to make sure you’re one of the handpicked guests who get one of the 19 seats.
“My restaurant is rather small. If you want to eat inside, you have to wait outside,” owner Pan Wenxue tells us proudly, after kicking out two crashers who entered without a reservation.
Complying with Pan’s rule, we put our names down for a table and are told to come back in 30 minutes. “Be here on time,” he warned, “otherwise no seats for you!”
Exactly 29 minutes later, we were back at Ling Long and seated. Once in our coveted position we asked about a dish that we saw was on all the tables, twice-fried fish topped with tofu in sweet-salty sauce (RMB 39). After tasting this dish, the house specialty, we finally understood why there’s a constant line of people outside Ling Long, rain or shine.
“The tofu is juicy. The fried fish has crispy outside and tender flesh, as well as fun to eat — almost no small bones to bother with!” says Yotam Ariel, an expatriate addicted to Shanghai’s home-style cooking and the food at Ling Long.
In addition to the twice-cooked fish, fried mussels with green peppers (RMB 28) is another must-try, especially at this time of the year. We also enjoyed sour-spicy cabbage (RMB 20), which perfectly matches their rich tomato soup with ribs and potatoes (RMB 38).
Although we had to wait for seats at a restaurant that will never get a Michelin star and were squeezed into the 16-square-meter restaurant with another 18 diners, we didn’t care one bit. Like just about any of the other diners who managed to secure one of Pan’s coveted seats, we would go back again in a heartbeat. But can we?
“I have the right to choose [my guests]. I only serve civilized people,” says Pan. And by that he means: First, no drunks. Second, no complaints. Third, when you’re done with your meal, it’s time to get out.
Pan says that’s the way it has been for the past 20 years and is not willing to make any changes. We wouldn’t change a thing either.
Photo by Coco Liu