SHANGHAI LILY (409 Spadina, south of College, 416-596-7309) Complete meals for $40 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $6 Tsingtao. Average tapas $5. Open Wednesday to Monday 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed Tuesday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The ever soignée Jennifer convertible and I are seated on a pillow-tossed banquette in the front window of Shanghai Lily, the latest bastion of downtown Chinatown chic. We've just finished an unusual Asian tapas-style nosh in the stylin' storefront and asked if the house does any interesting desserts. Soft-spoken server and Lily co-owner Jimmy Chung says he'll be right back with the tray. He returns with a large plate holding several spectacular and very familiar French pastries. We ask if they're baked in-house, and he replies that a patisserie south of Queen makes them for him, and their maker comes direct from the Ritz Carlton. In France, we presume.
Selecting one chocolate raspberry mousse (all desserts $6.95) and two spoons, we can't help but notice that this beautifully plated last course comes banded with chocolate clearly stamped Rahier, the Bayview bakery famed for its ultra-luxe confections. It would appear Chung's source is out-sourcing .
"Really?" says a somewhat baffled Chung. "You're the second person to mention that."
But let us be the first to applaud his supper club's extensive card of contemporary Asian tapas. Chung's dubbed them "chai-pas," as in Chinese tapas. Just don't call them fusion.
"I hate that word," he says, barely audible above the bass bin blasting retro techno pointed directly at us. "It sounds like bok choy and spaghetti."
But let the f-word be flung, as there's no other way to describe sautéed chili-spiked Chinese long beans with black Greek olives ($8) or wok-fried calamari with passion fruit infusion ($6). After scanning the list, we choose a cross-section of six, not realizing that every one would arrive deep-fried.
We had an inkling it would be the case with Deep-Fried Yam Wontons ($5) and Deep-Fried Aubergine ($4). The former is a golden quartet of Chinese raviolis stuffed with smooth sweet potato mash and fresh mint, served with a remarkable mango aïoli, the latter large chunks of battered Japanese eggplant with a so-so minty ginger dip that appears, with variations, as accompaniment to most of the rest.
Lightly breaded Crispy Soft Shell Crab ($6) have definitely spent an advantageous spell in the fryer, a delicious collision of crustacean, rosé wine and garlic garnished with barely sautéed onion and red pepper.
Can't say the same for Crispy Fried Oysters ($8), four tasty molluscs over-blanketed in mushy batter, or a pair of diagonally sliced Crispy Chicken Spring Rolls whose soggy filling Convertible says reminds her of turkey à la king. However, an oversized block of Crispy Fried Tofu (both $4) comes pooled with a lovely honeyed teriyaki-like sauce. Overall, the portions are much larger than we expect for the price, although charging $5.75 for a pre-tax-and-tip Tsingtao seems a tad exorbitant considering the neighbourhood.