When a restaurant is frequently touted as "the best in the city" and wins awards for being the top restaurant for Shanghainese cuisuine, there's a reputation to live up to. Despite the fanfare, Jesse also retains a reputation as one of Shanghai's hidden gems. While many branches have sprouted up across the city, the original establishment on Tianping Road is still regarded as the quintessential Jesse experience.
The restaurant is on the small side, with only about 25 tables squeezed into the two story building. Ambience is not the selling point here, nor is service. Home-style Shanghainese food is the single (and multitalented) star of this show.
The menu can't be said to 100 percent consist of winners, but there's no shortage of excellent dishes. The Hongshao rou (pork belly that's been braised in vinegar, soy sauce and sugar) is one of the signature dishes, a wonderfully fatty piece of tender meat drenched in savory sauce. Another is the Shaoxing-wine-marinated crab, with sweet crab meat that melts in the mouth.
The menu offers an impressive selection of soups, cold dishes, meats and vegetable dishes. Some dishes, such as the marinated crab lean towards the pricey side (398 yuan), but many reasonably priced dishes are just as mouth-watering; the braised king prawns in chili sauce comes in at just 88 yuan.
Even when the food impresses, not everyone loves Jesse. Diners should expect basic (and crowded) tables, one miniscule bathroom, and less than pristine levels of cleanliness. If the food comes out late or out of order, it certainly won't be anything the servers feel they should do something about.
Also, Jesse is not a place to slowly linger over your meals, as diners may be asked to finish their meals and clear out as soon as 90 minutes has raced by.
Sure, some will complain, but others recognize that Jesse's imperfections are where its character lies. And it's that character as well as the food that make the place so popular that reservations are recommended, if not a necessity. People are advised to book tables a full week in advance.
Address: 41 Tianping Lu,
Phone: 6282 9260
Getting there: From Metro Line 1's Jiaotong University Station, walk east five minutes.