Cafe Berber isn’t the type of restaurant you go to unless you’re in the know or happen to stumble upon it. That is, unless you regularly choose restaurants based on them ranking #577 out of 12,539 on TripAdvisor.
This is a pity, however, as the tucked away Tunisian is a real gem.
Located at 38-1 PingWu Road (inbetween Jiangsu Road and Jiatong University metro stations), I was introduced to the restaurant by a fellow intern who happened to find it during a wander round the local area. I was glad she did because atmosphere, food and customer service were some of the best I’ve experienced in Shanghai.
An oasis from the manic, packed streets of Shanghai, Cafe Berber is small, cute and authentically furnished (or so I think: I’ve never been to Tunisia). It probably can’t seat more than 12 so feels very intimate, particularly in my experience, since my friend and I were the first guests that evening.
We sat down and began squinting from afar at the menu scrawled on the blackboard. Thankfully the owner came to us pretty quickly, saving me the usual realisation that I should probably keep my glasses on me, instead of tucked away safe at home.
I started my usual ‘no pork’ palava, but was quickly dismissed. He informed us that chicken couscous was tonight’s dish, and that he would take charge and make the food decisions for us.
Relinquishing control was an indecisive person’s dream, whilst the unlimited bread was a carb lovers one. I was one happy bunny.
In a bid to make a classy break from our Tsingto-filled evenings, we ordered red wine, which was lovely. And the starters brought out – one with cucumber and tuna, one with lots of capers, were both extremely fresh and tasty.
The chicken couscous itself was a little stingy in terms of actual chicken, but was warming, seasoned and cooked to perfection.
After sharing this we were both decidedly full but still (piggishly) wanting something more than bread in abundance. The owner must have picked up on these vibes, because the extremely polite Chinese waitress brought out one last dish.
The owner declared that it was free and we declared that we loved him forever.
As expected, it was also fabulous. Our bill came to the equivalent of £11 each, which was highly satisfactory, as the meal was such a relaxed, refreshing break from Shanghai’s chaos.
It was also a great break from China’s general attitude to service, whereby the rules seem to dictate that customer is not king and that service should not come with a smile.
We got talking to the Tunisian owner, who told us, with a sad smile, that the only part of Shanghai he liked was inside this restaurant. He also mentioned that he had lived in Japan, and would love to travel back home one day.
For the sake of his couscous converts and tagine enthusiasts here in Shanghai, I sure hope he doesn’t.