If Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” captures the nostalgic ambience of Shanghai in the 1930s, a visit to the charming Fu 1039 will return you to a slice of the city’s history. This part of the French Concession is still very much occupied by local residents, symbolic of non-descript grocers, low-rise cottages and mulberry trees. Turning into a humble row of lane houses, Fu 1039 is nestled warmly in this enclave, as though it was a closely guarded secret.
Passing through a neatly manicured garden and winding corridor, the visitor for the slightest moment could be mistaken for entering into a European home, dark wooden floorboards, oak-paneled rooms and mosaic floors. Expecting the tranquility of a museum, the visitor would once again be contrasted by the vibrant sounds of people dining in discreet corners of each room. It is also assuring to see that the faces of most patrons are locals, Shanghainese who appreciate the compilation of their own local cuisine in a historical setting.
Established for over two years, Fu 1039 has accumulated a loyal following of local patrons and the predecessor to the recent Fu 1088. This Shanghainese restaurant is also gaining a reputation amongst well-heeled tourists and expatriates. An English menu is available but it is not even necessary because the maitre-d’ will warmly recommend a reasonable set menu to induct you into Shanghainese cuisine. In general, Shanghainese cuisine always begins with a selection of cold appetizers, a variety of fish, meat and vegetable based dishes. The emphasis towards the sweet palate and lashings of sweet gravy are predominant in pork and fresh-water fish dishes. Lightly stir-fried seasonal beans and greens and fresh chicken consommé will help lighten the palate.
It will be fair to imply that the restaurant offerings are above average. (The setting and presentation further moulds the scrumptious cuisine) Most of the furniture is carefully sourced rosewood antiques, whether leather bound or intricate wood carvings. There are several floors whereby each room has its own unique set of antique furniture and crystal chandeliers. Sipping “Dragon’s Well” tea (Long Jin) and dipping into a traditional sweetened stewed pork belly (Hong Shao Rou) from an ornate ceramic glazed pot appeals to the aesthetic experience of Lao Shanghai.
The level of hospitality is sufficiently discreet but like most Chinese restaurants in China, it is best to make requests directly to the maitre-d. Overall, FU 1039 is an ideal venue for hosting out-of town friends and private functions. There are larger dining halls that can accommodate larger groups (20 to 30) which could be an ideal alternative to standard hotel venues. At the end of your meal, if the restaurant is not too busy, do request a quick tour of the house. Fu 1039 has its own personality and is presented with traditional Chinese hospitality.
Price: RMB 200—500 per head
Written by Brian Sun