Nanjing has equally vibrant and bustling as the capital, but definitely in its own, unique way. When it’s time to grab some grub, you will find that there is a good mix of local and western cuisine lining the streets.
Plum Garden (梅苑)
No restaurant in town cooks better Huaiyang dishes (regional cuisine from Nanjing and neighboring cities) than the Plum Garden. The 150-seat space in Jinling Hotel is where the local government sets up banquets for impressing visiting officials.
The layout and décor is exactly what you might expect of a classy Chinese restaurant: square mahogany chairs carefully placed around big, round tables covered with finely-woven tablecloths; potted pines and orchids adorning the marble-floored dining hall, which is divided into smaller sections by rosewood screens with exquisite carvings.
Most dishes are light-flavored and beautifully presented. Salted duck chops, or yanshuiya (盐水鸭), is a star starter. Must-try hot dishes include: tofu cooked with crab meat (蟹粉豆腐) and de-shelled shrimps fried with gingko fruit (银杏虾仁).
Add: 2/F, Jinling Hotel, 2 Hanzhong Road, Gulou District, Nanjing
Contact: 0086 25 8471 1888
Qinhuai Renjia (秦淮人家)
Eating in this two-story venue is strange, but fun. After ordering from a menu full of set combos, waiters bring in more than a dozen small dishes, each holding a different snack, until the table is stacked with porcelain pots.
The star of the plate-driven feast is Qinhuai Eight Treasures (秦淮八绝), a dining concept featuring eight pairs of iconic eats that originated along the Qinhuai River. The 16 nibbles (half are dry dishes, half wet) are coupled by the restaurant to achieve the best gastronomic effect.
Examples of the delicious duos are shredded tofu in chicken broth served with a sesame pancake, and pan-fried beef dumplings paired with beef soup.
The restaurant is located in one of the best locations in Nanjing – looking directly at Confucius Temple over the water and the hustle and bustle of the Fuzimiao area.
No. 128 Dashiba Road, Qinhuai District, Nanjing
0086 25 5221 1888
Nanjing DaPaiDang (南京大排档)
Two male doormen wearing traditional Chinese uniform welcome diners with nostalgic sales pitches. The buzzing dining hall is a nod to the late Qing Dynasty, with paper lanterns hung across the ceiling, waiters and chefs donning period costumes and artists singing local opera.
Some 10 open kitchens occupy one side of the room. Cooks busy themselves from boiling sweet sticky-rice dumplings to frying stinky tofu to garnishing duck blood soup.
Customers can either walk around the kitchens and order directly from the chefs or sit down and call for a waiter.
Signature dishes include steamed dumplings stuffed with duck meat (天王烤鸭包), yanshuiya (RMB 28 or US$4.5 per plate) and mini-pork dumplings in duck soup (老鸭汤小馄饨).
Add: Shiziqiao branch, No. 2 Shiziqiao, Gulou District, Nanjing
Contact: 0086 25 8330 5777
The mid-range eatery spans two neighboring houses. One of them contains only individual dining rooms; the other has a massive 20-table dining hall as well as private sections.
The menu includes both iconic Sichuanese fare, such as sliced beef in chilli oil (水煮牛肉) and steamed chicken with chilli sauce (口水鸡), as well as fusion creations like sautéed shrimp kebabs (串烤大虾). All dishes are big enough to feed three to four people.
It’s advisable to book for a dinner table at least one day in advance. Lunchtime, by comparison, is less crowded and much quieter.
Add: 18 Luojia Road, Gulou District, Nanjing
Contact: 0086 25 8372 4040
The burgers are made with 100% organic grass-fed beef, the artisan buns are from Nanjing’s own Skyway’s bakery and they make their own sauces in store. They also boast a pretty mean range of imported New Zealand’s Tip Top ice cream and craft beers.
Whether you just want to kick back and have a solid flat white or stop in with some mates for dinner, Motu is the place to go.
Add: No.107 Gutong Alley, Laomendong | No.107 Zatong Alley, Nanjing
Contact: 86 17701598220
Seleccion Espanola is a homemade Spanish food restaurant with traditional Paellas, Sangria, Tortilla de Patata and a large variety of Pinchos. The second floor offers an intimate atmosphere with sofas, music and a big screen projector that plays documentaries and movies. At weekends this spot turns into a bar with the latest electronic music to enjoy the first drink and warm up.
Add: No.57,East Zhongshan Road, Nanjing
Contact: 86 152 9553 7959
Studio 21 is the number one Western restaurant in Nanjing. They offer delicious European based cuisine with a lot of influences from the Netherlands. They only use fresh and high quality ingredients. Their cosy restaurant is perfect for your business lunch or romantic dinner.
Add: No. 193 Shigu Road, Qinhuai District, Nanjing
Contact: 86 130 7252 5212