The original Jesse, or "Old Jesse" as it is now known, on Tianping Lu in the French Concession, is widely regarded as one of, if not the very best restaurant in Shanghai serving authentic local cuisine. However it is notorious for being impossible to get into unless one queues for a substantial period of time, and with a group of seven, we essentially had next to no chance. So instead, we opted for its second branch at Xintiandi, Xin Jin Shi or "New Jesse", which is considerably more accessible.
Now Jesse, whether Old or New, is not a fine dining restaurant; nor does it profess to be. Its decor is simple, but quaint, and the food - traditional Shanghainese fare, is very much the focus here. Despite its modest ambitions, there were some nice touches, most notably the provision of serving chopsticks without us having to request them - the only restaurant on the entire trip to do so.
We kicked things off with Jishi's Salted Chicken and "Grandmother" Braised Pork with in Brown Sauce - the chicken was decent enough, but the pork was surprisingly, and disappointingly, tough. Meanwhile, Fried Nanjiang's Vegetable with Bean Curd Skin, was reasonable, but nothing all that special. So far, a rather lukewarm opening from New Jesse.
Next, Fried Prawn & Chicken in Red Pepper, one of the "New Jishi Specials", and finally a dish to savour. The prawns and chicken were beautifully deep fried, without the slightest hint of residual oil, and the heat imparted by the red pepper made for a lovely, and extremely tasty dish. A second "New Jishi Special", Fried Mandarin Fish w/ Rice Wine & Butter fared almost as well, and was thoroughly appetising. Crab Meat with Vegetable was a very basic preparation, yet one that stood out for the combination of crunchy vegetable with firm, sweet, crabmeat that really showcased the quality of the raw ingredients used.
Bean Curd Skin with Crab Cream, was again, a relatively simple combination with just two primary components, but the end result was something a little bit special. The crab cream was a preparation we had yet to come across, despite having consumed a fair amount of crab in the week that preceded this final meal on our China trip, and the pairing with the slurpy, translucent, almost vermicelli-like bean curd skin was one I had never previously encountered - it worked a treat.
The prize for dish of the night, despite stiff competition from what had come before it, went to the penultimate dish of the night, Seamed Cured Ham with Sliced Bean Curd. We had many a ham dish on this drip, some (Jardin de Jade) better than others (Deyuelou), but Jesse's was hands down the best. It was perfect - sweet, salty and fatty ham, combined with the crunchy bean curd skin, wrapped up in a lovely soft muntou, or bun, making for one of the best "sandwiches" you will ever have. It was so good, we even ordered a second serving. Proceedings were then concluded with a simple Shanghai's Fried Noodles.
In a nutshell...
After an indifferent start, Xin Ji Shi hit its stride and by the end, we had, once again, enjoyed a very good meal. Rumour has it that Old Jesse is even better than New Jesse; in which case I must really try to find a way to pay it a visit it my next time in Shanghai. In the meantime, the memory of a top notch meal at New Jesse will be plenty to sustain me. A fitting end to a great culinary tour of South East China.
Xin Ji Shi (New Jesse)
9 Xin Tian Di Complex, Tai Cang Road, Shanghai, China
Average Price: RMB200