Options galore at Taiwan staple

Updated: 2008-04-30 11:11

You probably already know about Charmant. Located in the French Concession, it's a hub, a cornerstone, an institution, a second office, a spontaneous meeting spot, and with an eclectic menu, a cure for indecision. It's one of the things we think about when we're away from Shanghai, and one of the reasons we don't want to leave this city.

Years ago, we'd grown fond of Bellagio. The well-managed staff and smart, modern take on cosmopolitan Chinese comfort food was always good and sometimes divine. Then, a place opened around the corner from our home that looked and acted just like Bellagio (including the short-haired waitresses) that had seemed to photo-copy the menu from Bellagio. The owner shrugged and said "no relation" and left it at that. Whatever. It was called Charmant, and it was good.

Our first obsession was the peanut butter smoothie (26rmb). And we mean obsession. Like ordering it every day of the week during summer -- sometimes twice a day, for lunch and after dinner. In winter, we discovered Charmant's hot chocolate (28rmb). It's the best in town. Seriously. No contest. It's like a rich dark chocolate bar melted in a mug. When it disappeared from the menu last year, we filed a formal complaint with the management, and started a campaign, getting our friends to ask for it every time. Finally, one day, after pestering them for months, we walked in and the staff all had big smiles. The manager said, "Sir, we got the hot chocolate back on the menu!" I'm forever grateful. Don't order it before bed, though, it will keep you up.

Speaking of dessert, there's also the "ice mountain," a Taiwanese treat (29rmb). Personally we've never understood the appeal of these, but after trying Charmant's a few times, we began to appreciate it. Theirs is also probably the best in town, with quality toppings, and a sane level of sweetness.

But Charmant is not all about desserts. The menu is mostly "eclectic urban Chinese" with a Taiwanese bent. And there are a few well-executed Asian and Western dishes, like our favorite hangover cure, the ham and grilled cheese sandwich (35rmb). Order it with a large "foamy green ice tea" (20rmb, 25rmb with bubbles) and you're set.

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