Add: 408 Shan Xi Bei Road, Shanghai 陕西北路408号
Tel: +86 (21) 6288 8773
Hours: Mon-Sun 11:00-23:30
Price: [dinner] 150-250
Visited: December 2017
Will return: Yes
Please note that this was an arranged tasting.
One of the only Austrian restaurants in Shanghai, Daliah sits on the busy intersection of Bei Jing Road and Shan Xi Road. The two-story venue is minimalistic, but far from boring. Wide floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around half the perimeter, throwing plenty of daylight on concrete floors and naked walls. Swings hang off the tall ceiling to take the role of chairs. A huge spiraling slide fashioned out of metal sheets connects the first and second floors, though it fortunately sits alongside, rather than in place of, a staircase.
My first visit just after they opened in the summer of 2015 was a strangely eclectic mix of Wiener schnitzel and Austrian open-faced sandwiches called offene brote, thrown together with tagliatelle and gazpacho. The food was nice, but felt a little too generic and uncertain to live up to a space that shows plenty of attitude. The following two years saw, sadly, a slow leach, rather than discovery, of character, with the menu moving towards the common burger and pasta instead of regional specialities.
However, a recently revamped menu has brought Daliah back on my radar. The new menu still isn’t strictly Austrian, but it certainly has character, as well as a charming, devil-may-care absence of self-consciousness that puts homey comforts alongside daring flavors, time-honored classics next to quirky reinventions – all offered at incredibly affordable prices.
The “candle light dinner” is a fun and delicious place to start the meal. The waiter carries over a tall stick of candle balanced on a silver platter and lights it at the table. The candle is made of not wax, but fat – 70% beef fat and 30% foie gras fat, to be exact – which drips onto the platter as it melts so that you can dip chunks of soft, dark bread in it. Last time I saw such a presentation, at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Story in London, the candle didn’t taste much of anything. Daliah’s has the upper hand thanks to the thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, and citrus infused into the fat. The foie gras cherries served alongside are just – quite literally – the cherries on top.
Candle light dinner: edible candle, cherry foie gras, salsa, homemade dark bread (58)
Equally playful is the “tafelspitz meets hotpot.” Tafelspitz is an old Viennese recipe of beef boiled in broth, which Daliah serves in the form of a Chinese hotpot. You ladle the broth, swimming with lengths of tender vegetables and gorgeously rounded in flavor, over slivers of Austrian crepes called fridatten. The hunk of rump steak submerged underneath is gradually revealed, which you eat with the traditional accompaniments, sour cream twinkling with chives and a minced mix of horseradish and apple.
Tafelspitz meets hotpot (138)
Not everything on the menu is this complicated and hands-on, but the straightforward dishes manage to be just as engaging. There is an ultra-crisp German flat bread laden with soft cheese and tender mushrooms, tinged with a hint of truffle. This is probably the best pizza you’ve had for RMB48. The veal schnitzel could use a touch more salt, but the meat is deliciously tender and juicy, and the oatmeal and pumpkin seeds scattered on top are an inspired addition.
Flat but round: flammkuchen (German flat bread), cheese, mushroom, truffle (48)
Veal schnitzel (148)
The lamb roll takes on a Mediterranean lilt with a stuffing of olives, capers, and anchovies, served on a bed of spätzle in a headily fragrant tomato sauce. Austrian meat balls are loose in texture but packed with flavor, sitting in a fantastic demi-glace livened up with ginger, chives, and soy sauce.
Lamb roll, spätzle , Greek olives, capers, anchovies, cherry tomato (128)
Austrian minced meat balls (118)
The Asian cadence is more pronounced in a tofu salad of unusual interest. Diced Chiba tofu is flecked through with quinoa, wrapped in mint leaves, and dressed with peanuts, sesame, and soy. The flavors are bold and their contours defined, although I would be happy with a little less soy sauce. The Austrian beef salad is a little too light-handed with acidity and heat, but the tender sheets of beef are wonderfully flavorsome on their own.
Spicy kiss: Chiba tofu, quinoa, mint, peanuts, sesame soy dressing (38)
Austrian beef salad, pumpkin seeds, onion, herbs (48)
I rarely find reason to order vegetarian dishes, but Daliah makes vegetables so stunningly eloquent that they warrant not just a place on the table, but a visit in their own right. The aptly-named “forest adventure” wraps juicy mushrooms and crunchy quinoa in cabbage, and serves it over asparagus, French beans, pak choi, and an airy green espuma that dances with flavor. The entire plate is unapologetically green, clearly proud to be vegetarian – as it should be.
Forest adventure: cabbage quinoa roll, green espuma, pak choi, asparagus, French beans, pistachio (88)
The spätzle, on the other hand, is so indulgent and satisfying that you forget it is vegetarian, immersed in a velvety purée of sweet pumpkin and bright tomatoes that tastes as comforting as it sounds and as vibrant as it looks.
Life on Mars: cheese, spätzle, pumpkin tomato purée (88)
All of this may not follow a clearly discernible theme, but the flavors are gutsy and delicious, and shows plenty of attitude to match the decor and the vibe – which, in my view, is part of the charm.
For dessert, there is a rustic apple pie that strikes a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity, and a festive red wine poached pear served with a little jug of mulled wine sauce. Both are well worth ordering – even more so when you consider that they are just RMB38 each.
Like grandma did it (38)
Drunken baby pear: almond crumble, mulled wine sauce, pear (38)