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The Beer Hunters of Yongkang Lu

Meet Grégoire Prouvost and Cédric Bourlet, two of the coolest French guys you’ll ever meet. Together with friends Alexandre Godvin and Samuel Pierquin they run a boutique beer store on Yongkang Lu called Cheers In, at the opposite end of the street to the Shaxian Snacks restaurant

Three of the four friends hail originally from Lille, in a part of France close to the Belgian border where beer is a way of life. Passionate about beer, they were frustrated that some of the best beers making their way to Shanghai were available only in restaurants. Now they can boast the best selection in the city, with beers from twenty three countries including France, Belgium, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India.

Cédric, on the right, has the official title of ‘Beer Hunter’ (it’s on his business cards and everything), a job I’d really like to explore. He has managed to hunt down every possible interesting beer that makes its way to Shanghai, and bring them all together in one place. “So, what do you do for a living?”  “Oh, I’m a Beer Hunter.” There must be queues around the block for his job. Gregoire, on the left, is the ‘Ideas Brewer.’ 

One of the joys of Cheers In is that every beer is available as a single bottle purchase, so for the price of an extremely average bottle of wine you can sample six different boutique beers from around the globe. It’s a difficult choice, given the enormous range of high quality beers, so I started by asking Grégoire and Cédric to point out thier favourites.

La Chouffe, a Belgian beer from the Ardennes, is Grégoire’s favourite beer, and available only from their shop. It’s a very refreshing drop. According to La Chouffe’s website, this is an “unfiltered blonde beer, which is re-fermented in the bottle as well as in the keg.  It is pleasantly fruity, spiced with coriander, and with a light hop taste.”  To my palate, it does have a very lightly hopped fruity taste, which belies the 8% alcohol which is gonna hit you about two thirds of the way through.

Cédric’s nominated another Belgian beer, Orval, as his favourite. It’s a beer I first tried at Southern Barbarian alongside a plate of deep-fried honeybees, which the beer matched to perfection. Orval is a Belgain Trappist beer, made by Cistercian monks and their helpers, and is so popular here in Shanghai they can’t keep up with the demand. Orval has wonderful complex yeast flavours, with touches of caramel and malt and just a small amount of acidity. “For Belgians, it’s the best beer in the world!” Cédric says. 

Orval had also been my favourite beer, until I tried Tripel Karmeliet – still brewed to an original 1679 from Carmelite nuns. Brewed with barley, oats and wheat (hence ‘tripel’), this is the best beer I’ve ever tasted – fruity, creamy (thanks to the oats) and with a slight citrus acidity. Those nuns obviously knew quite a few things about beer, and despite trying to make improvement the brewery has never bettered the nuns’ recipe.

Vedett White is the shop’s most popular beer, Belgian or otherwise. It’s very drinkable, but really has none of the interest or complexity of Tripel Karmeliet, Orval, or La Chouffe.

The store has such an interesting variety of beers, like these graphically labelled ones from England’s Brew Dog craft brewery. These guys are interesting – they started in 2007 with a tiny bank loan and have grown to a £6.7 million turnover in just four years, by selling equity shares to everyday beer lovers. Clever marketing aside (who wouldn’t want to be able to say they own shares in a brewery??) their beer is good. Definitely worth trying.

Coedo, from a Japanese microbrewery, is extremely difficult to source, but Cheers In have managed to exclusively stock all four varieties incuding the frequently sold-out Shiro. If you love the light clean flavours of Japanese beers, you should enjoy these. Stoke Gold is a New Zealand pale ale made with organic hops. 

There a couple of other organic beers available too which I’m yet to try – Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager from England, and  Jade, France’s first organic beer. 

Other firm favourites they stock include Rogue Dead Guy from the USA, Cooper’s Ale from Australia, Kingfisher from India and China’s own SinKiang Black Beer. 

The store has such an enormous variety the choice can be a little overwhelming. If you prefer, you can use their website to help you choose (which country? strong or light flavoured? high or low alcohol? how expensive?) and have it all home-delivered just in time for Australia vs Russia in the Rugby World Cup. 


Cheers In
25 Yongkang Lu near Jiashan Lu, Puxi

永康路25号 (靠近嘉善路)

Ph +86 21 64188400

Blue and White, Big and Heavy

Why is blue and white porcelain so irresistable? Walking down Standon Street in Central during a heavy summer rainstorm, umbrella pulled down close to my head, I spotted a glimpse of blue and white plates out of the corner of my eye, and immediately backtracked. Lifting the umbrella, I could see a cubby-hole sized shop stacked from ceiling to floor with shelf after shelf of blue and white – teapots, cups, big pots, small pots, vases and ginger jars. 
I had to go in, of course, partly to shelter from the downpour, and partly to see if there was anything I couldn’t resist buying. I am well known for purchasing large, heavy impractical items on holiday, often very breakable, and carting them halfway across a country or even halfway round the globe to get them home. A mint green teaset bought for a fiver in a charity shop in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, carried as hand luggage all the way back to Australia. A set of three red and white enamel washbowls, carted by train from Yunnan to Shanghai. A leg of heavily-smoked ham, carried on my lap on the flight from Guiyang, with a fragile silver Miao head-dress perched on top. I like to think I have never let inconvenience get in the way of a truly great purchase, anywhere in the world.   
So as I walked around the tiny shop, seeing all the wonderful heavy and breakable things at absolutely bargain prices (and after living in China, hardly anything in Hong Kong is a bargain anymore), and I started to justify one or two purchases to myself. While I was flying from Hong Kong to Australia two days later, my husband was travelling back to work in Shanghai with a practically empty suitcase, wasn’t he? Surely he could be convinced to take just one or two small things carefully wrapped, and leave them in the kitchen until I got back?

Luckily I didn’t call him to ask first, because an hour later the final purchase included four blue and white condiment bottles (perfect for soy sauce, oil, and vinegar, plus a spare in case of breakage), a porcelain tea jar, a sugar pot, a salt pot with a tiny blue and white porcelain spoon, and two Chinese tea sets for gifts. Then, at the last minute, I added an oval wicker basket with a beautiful silver clasp, designed as a teapot warmer – lined with red cotton printed with peonies and dragons, and padded snugly. Pure folly, because I had been seduced by an identical one brought into our hotel room on arrival, filled with fragrant jasmine tea. I don’t even know if my own Chinese teapot will fit into it. 
Back at the hotel, my very patient and long suffering husband just asked – “suitcase or hand luggage?” as I presented him later two bulky bags filled with mysterious newspaper-wrapped packages. What a fellow. I guess after all these years he’s just come to expect it, but I’m ever so grateful to him all the same. What has been your most impractical holiday purchase?

Hing Chewng Fu Kee
17 Standon Street, Central
Hong Kong
Open 7 days from 10am

Les Garcons Bouchers, Shanghai

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I have only just discovered there is a genuine French butcher here in Shanghai. There are plenty of ‘genuine French’ things in Shanghai, but on closer inspection they are often not. A boulangerie selling pork floss buns? Loius Vitton (sic) bags and wallets? A French Cafe completely untouched by coffee beans? A bottle of Chateau Laffitte (with 2 fs and 2ts, to avoid copyright issues)? There is no end to Chinese ingenuity when it comes to reproducing something that might be profitable – so faking French beef or lamb shouldn’t be so hard. Should it?

So I admit I was a touch sceptical about Les Garcons Boucherie, with attached Boulangerie. It’s out in west Shanghai, in the expat belt of Gubei, in a non-descript strip of shops on Shuicheng Lu. In fact it’s just on the other side of the elevated highway to Carrefour.

But this is the real deal, with a genuinely real butcher with an eye for lovely meats, juxtaposed with a real French bakery run by a real French baker. David Emer (the butcher) and Laurent Meffre (the baker) set up shop 6 months ago, and will shortly be moving to separate larger premises, with Les Garcons Boucher moving to Jianhe Lu slated for November.

The selection of meat and charcuterie is small but perfectly formed, although surprisingly little is from France. Instead they have sourced the best cuts of meat from the best local and international suppliers. Think of all those saved food miles! So the entrecote de boeuf  and beef shin is from China, the lamb is both local (cutlets) and imported (legs). They make their own small range of plump sausages and their own terrines and pate. Fresh chevre too!

It all looks good, and when I’ve cooked the 3.5kg leg of Australian lamb I’ll let you know how it tastes.
Les Garcons Bouchers
356 Shuicheng Nan Lu, near Hongqiao Lu
Gubei District
Ph +8621 6209 1803

Pop-up Shop, Changle Lu

This little shop, if you could really call it a shop, cuts keys and that’s about it.  As you can see, it’s also configured for night-time trading. The shop owner wheels it out on a small trolley from his doorway onto the footpath each morning, and wheels it away again at the end of the night. 

Every single street in Shanghai has a pop-up key cutter like this, as well as a pop-up mending shop (a treadle sewing machine on a trolley) and a pop-up bicycle repair shop. Usually there are also two or three pop-up cigarette sellers and a few random pop-ups, like the lady outside the entrance to Fuxing Park who sells batteries on odd days and slippers on even days. It’s so convenient to be able to get my batteries and slippers on the way home from the park. 

They all represent a kind of street-level micro-commerce that used to be common in the west until it was regulated out of existence. Bring back the street vendors! They give the city so much life and character. Can you imagine never having to walk more than fifty metres to get your keys cut or your trousers re-hemmed?

Will Hand Made Shoes, Fuxing Lu

As you well know, I am a shoe obsessive, but I have been trying to keep shoes out of this because it’s all about Shanghai, not shoes. But if the two happen to intersect……
I was actually of a mind to keep this place completely secret, because it’s too incredible, but I can’t help telling you about it. On Fuxing Xi Lu is a small, wonderful hand-made shoes shop. If you’re thinking it will be cheap, it’s not, but it’s about one sixth the cost of having made-to-measure shoes done anywhere else in the world. And I know about these things. 
You go in, choose a style, choose the leather for the outside and the inside (Italian or local leathers, according to your taste and your budget).  Then you have an outline of your foot made, and a multitude of measurements taken. 
Now for the hard part. You wait four weeks. Four weeks to make anything in Shanghai is completely unheard of, in a city where new buildings pop up practically overnight and a custom tuxedo can be whipped up in three days. If you’re not too fussy, you can get a cashmere coat made overnight, but the sleeves will probably be held on with sticky tape. So it’s quite reassuring to know that your shoes will take time to make, and will be made properly.
The results you can see for yourself. A perfect pair of oxford brogues, with a bit of whimsy on the toe in the punched detail and the stitching. 

Cooktop anyone?

Every now and again some random impromptu shop sets up in my lane. So this morning, directly outside my front door there is now a shop selling gas cooktops and extractor fans. It is attracting quiet a lot of attention as you can see, but it must be semi-official because the lane is normally policed by a small woman wielding a broom, and she seems unperturbed. Perhaps chinese cooking puts such a toll on your gas burners you need to purchase new ones each year. Or perhaps some people are as excited by extractor fans as I am by shoes. I guess that is possible.

Guess what this shop sells?

Shops in Shanghai often have….interesting……English names. These names usually have very little to do with what’s sold inside the shop. Need a new sofa? Don’t go to “Sofa” then, because it sells sneakers. So I was quite surprised to find a shop on Fuxing Lu that sells what you think it does. I just never imagined that selling cooking pots and shoes side by side would be a goer, but you know me……always on the lookout for a place that can solve all my culinary and shoewear needs in one go. Why hasn’t this concept taken off everywhere??