Wuxi is in Jiangsu province, very near Shanghai which is just to the east. The Grand Canal snakes through the city on its way to the sea and there are lots of smaller canals though these seem to be disused or being filled in now.
I came in mid-August when it was 35 degrees and extremely humid. You can expect rainstorms in the afternoons or evenings on most days so it’s probably a good idea to carry an umbrella with you when you go out to eat.
Sangfeng (High Intermediate A-), 240 Zhongshan Lu (next to Bank of China, on the corner with Chongning Lu)
Wuxi is apparently best known for ‘Hong Shao Paigu’ or braised spare ribs, cooked in a ‘red style’, that is, a sauce of rice wine and soya sauce flavoured with ginger, cloves, anise and black pepper. Sangfeng is a famous shop where these can be bought vacuum packed and they have a restaurant above the shop, the side and main entrances to which are just around the corner on Chongning Lu.
Unfortunately as a lone diner I found it really difficult to get in here, probably because they only have one room which was full on weekend nights. I managed eventually on the third attempt by going on a Monday night at around 8pm (when most Chinese diners have finished eating) and sneaking in the smaller side door and going straight to the dining room to avoid the nay saying greeters on the main door.
The ribs were worth the effort (A) and the bill was very reasonable, just 71 RMB for a triple portion of ribs, steamed pak choi, plain rice and a beer. The only downside was the staff who were far from helpful. Thankfully there was one young guy who was prepared to try and communicate and he helped me out. I left my brolly one night and although I went back for it five minutes later, it took me another two visits and a thirty minute wait to retrieve it from lost property, with the young waiter’s help! Sometimes getting the simplest things done can take forever in China.
Wuxi Roast Duck Restaurant (High Intermediate A), 222 Zhongshan Lu (on the corner with Chongning Lu, on the opposite corner to Sangfeng above), Tel. 827 57093
Just over the road from is the Wuxi Roast Duck Restaurant who were much more accommodating and had smaller tables for one or two. They have a menu in English and some of the staff have a smattering too.
Having had duck the previous night in Beijing I passed on most of their menu and went straight for the ‘Marinated Spare Ribs in Wuxi style’ that I’d tried to get over the road. They were tasty and tender (just as good as Sangfeng) with the meat flaking off the bone (A). I had them with my usual accompaniment of a bowl of plain rice and a plate of greens, in this case ‘Cantonese Flowering Cabbage’ (Choi Sum) with watery soya sauce (B+).
I wasn’t quite full so topped up with some local Xiao Long Bao (gravy filled steamed dumplings, another Wuxi speciality, sweeter than their Shanghai cousins) which were pretty good too (B). You should eat these slippery customers with your mouth as near to the plate as possible, to catch the dumpling when it slips and also the juices that spurt out when you puncture it, wearers of white shirts beware.
Xixin (Intermediate B-) (first alley on the left as you go down Chongning Lu, near the end on the right)
This is a longstanding local restaurant supposedly with three branches, although I could only find this one. It’s a bit run down and dingy but the (non-English speaking) service was friendly. The ribs here are less tender and refined than at the other places but are basically ok (B-). I also had another local speciality, ‘You Mian Jing’ (Fried Gluten Balls, in this case stuffed with pork), which were ok but didn’t get eaten (C).
The spinach with ribbon tofu (from the picture menu) was the most enjoyable dish (B+). I don’t particularly like the Suntory beer they have here but its drinkable I guess (C). Massive overkill again but with some boiled rice, the bill only came to 110 RMB. Probably wouldn’t return though as there are better places.
Blue Bar, Chongning Lu (a fair way down on the right, opposite a police station)
The local teacher hangout but also frequented by locals, this is a chilled American style bar with a pool table and a soundtrack of commercial dance and rock, quite a haven for the local expats I’d imagine. They have Tiger on tap and lots of other bottled beers on the menu, as well as bar snacks. You could come here to get a business card (for the taxi driver) for their sister bar, The Red Lion, at the other end of town.
For a change of scene…
Wuxi’s main bar area is located to the east of Nan Chang Jie, near the Hotel Nikko. It’s just a 10 RMB taxi ride away from the Belgravia Suites which are at the other end of town. Just over the road from the Hotel Nikko is a renovated area by a canal that has a few modern bars and restaurants. There are lots more places directly behind the hotel too, including a Japanese restaurant.
Red Lion, directly opposite the Hotel Nikko at 7-2 Jingtai Yongle Dong Lu, Tel. 8502 5827
Friendly Aussie-owned bar, heavily frequented by the local ex-pat community. The same people own the Blue Bar above. There’s an open mic night on Tuesdays if you want to show off your musical talent. It’s a good place to go after a curry at Ganesh below although Les the owner reckons their Bangladeshi cook makes a better one.
Ganesh Indian Restaurant (Intermediate B+), behind the Hotel Nikko at 37-39 Yangchun Xiang, an alley off 9 Yongle Dong Lu, Tel 0510 8501 8660, www.ganeshchina.com
Like Irish pubs, most cities seem to have an Indian restaurant, although this place seems to have a foot in both camps as it doubles as a pub selling international beers. Not sure if this plush modern place is the real deal or not but it succeeded in helping me beat the homesickness blues. The lamb curry, basmati rice and garlic naan were fine (all B) but the tandoori chicken was nothing special and the raita a bit watery for my taste (both C). Service is slow but friendly.
Blue Marlin (behind the Hotel Nikko, a few doors and some steps down from Ganesh)
A live venue selling cocktails. The music is pretty loud so not great for conversation but the band was pretty good when I was there.
I stayed at the Belgravia Suites at 531 Zhongshan Rd (the main street in the city centre) www.belgravia.com.cn There’s no gym and the breakfast is pretty poor but there is a washing machine which is a godsend in my line of work. The building is so high you have to programme the lift for the floor you want and are wooshed up in a matter of seconds. From the 38th floor you get a great view of other tall buildings disappearing into the distance in a haze of pollution.
The city centre was a construction site when I was in town but hopefully they’ll have finished by the time you get there. During a night time lightning storm the scene looked like the gates of hell but the city grew on me slowly the longer I stayed. The local teachers say it’s very comfortable and much less stressful than living in nearby Shanghai. For some free time suggestions, see the next post ‘Wuxi – What to do?’.