Every now and then, you hear of a place that people are raving about and you simply can’t wait to try it out, only to be greatly disappointed when you do. The Public was such a case. Maybe it was due to the ‘movie-trailer-effect’. Where after watching N-number of trailers for N-number of times, on the actual movie, you realised you’ve already watched all the best parts from the trailer, and the remaining stuff was boring.
I have been reading some nice things about this bar-restaurant, The Public. Formerly at Sinan Mansions, I had a fond impression of their sweet potato fries when I was once had a meet up there. Years later, I found out they had moved to a small 2nd floor unit along Xiang Yang Rd, just a stones throw away from iAPM Mall.
I had already discovered this when I ate at House of Lasagne on two separate occasions, which is on the 1st floor of the same building.
So, people say great things about The Public’s fried chicken, things along the lines of “ Best fried chicken in Shanghai, ever! “. A renown food blogger raved about their pastrami sandwich, calling it the closest to the ones they have back in New York. With such bold claims, I really had to check the place out, especially when it is ‘in my area’.
For the sake of this review, I visited The Public twice. Once for weekend brunch, and once for a not so quick and dirty weekday lunch.
I first visited The Public with the missus last Saturday at 11am. When we opened the door, we noticed a couple of empty tables. Unfortunately, we were informed that only the bar was available, as the empty tables were reserved, and that all other tables were reserved indefinitely.
Ok, fine, bar it is.
The Public has a very homely decor. Rustic even. The place is reasonably clean and well lit, with about 9 tables altogether. Being a bar-restaurant, bottles of single malt whiskeys were placed all over the restaurant. There were quite a few tables with people talking in American accents.
We sat on a two seater at the bar, the barista right in front of us didn’t bother greet us nor even make eye contact for the entire duration of our meal. Cold.
I ordered the Pastrami Sandwich, whilst the missus had the home-made andouille sausage omlette, and a pumpkin crawfish soup.
After what seemed like 15 minutes or so, the soup arrived.
It was quite a large saucer of soup. The Public’s famed huge portions were not mythical afterall.
The pumpkin soup was quite good, which set the bar for my expectations for the meal. 4 bouncy whole crawfish tails, in a slightly smokey, spicy yet sweet (from the pumpkin) soup.
There were some strong flavours going on in there, and they came together very well. 8.5/10
Moments later, our mains arrived. This was my pastrami sandwich, which was served with a small side of sweet potato fries.
First things first — Their sweet potato fries are very good. Thick cut, crispy on the outside, sweet and soft on the inside. Sweet potato fries are more difficult to fry right, because of the high sugar content, they tend to get charred easily.
The sandwich was cut in half, and supposedly contained a house smoked beef brisket that was marinated, smoked and steamed for N-number of hours/days/years (don’t be naive).
The sandwich was tightly bound together with cheese, and some pickled vegetables and their house-made mustard.
The bread used was a house-made ‘italian style bread’. It was actually quite good, soft, fluffy, slightly moist on the inside, with a light crispy crust on the outside.
The actual sandwich was quite a disappointment. To put it very bluntly, it tasted like a meaty mustard sandwich. The house-made mustard was very good, bright and piquant with a subtle sweetness. Pair together with some of the pickled stuff, the entire sandwich was dominated by those tart flavours. So was it because of too much mustard and pickles? No it wasn’t. It was because the brisket was dry and tasteless. Smokey flavour? Nope. Good ol’ fashioned beefy flavour? Nope. Dry, fall-apart meat? Yes.
Sadly, this really didn’t live up to the hype for me. 6.5/10
This andouille sausage omelette was de rigeur; Though the sausage didn’t really taste or looked like sausage though. More like thick cut bacon. Shouldn’t a sausage when not in its casing be more like a very spiced (in the case of the andouille) mince?
That said, this meat had a more smokey flavour than the brisket in the pastrami sandwich. The other elements on the plate, namely the potatoes, piece of french toast and roasted tomato don’t really deserve a shout out. 6/10
Unsatisfied with that visit, I thought I’d revisit The Public again for lunch, to taste their legendary fried chicken.
Note: the photos from the second visit were taken with my iphone.
Walking in at 1:35pm, I could choose whichever table I wanted. Most of the remaining tables were finishing their lunch and about to leave. I ordered the spicy fried chicken (half portion), and it took a whole 20mins to arrive. Quite annoying given that I was the only order at that time.
Portions again, are quite large. When the chicken was placed infront of me, I could immediately feel the southern spices entering my nostrils; I adjusted my breathing so I wasn’t breathing in too heavily from the nose, lest I ended up in an embarrassing sneezing fit.
Half portion of fried chicken came with a small dollop of coleslaw in the corner, and the signature sweet potato fries. I was also given a tray with 4 house made sauces — Ketchup, Hot Sauce, Mustard and Sweet & Spicy.
Half a portion of chicken meant 1 piece of breast, and 1 entire thigh.
The crust was distinctively browned, I was hoping it was because of the colouring from the spices, but it was actually also due to being overly fried; If I’m not mistaken, this was probably double fried.
The batter was too dense for my liking, and was scraping off a little gum tissue on every bite.
The southern cajun-style spices were there, but I felt it wasn’t well balanced — a little heavy on spicing.
The actual meat was well cooked — cooked through and still moist. However, there was little flavour in the meat; A sign of poor quality chicken, and a weak marinade.
The sweet potato fries were good as usual, the sauces were decent, other than the house-made ketchup which tasted like a bland salsa. The coleslaw on the side tasted stale and almost like sauerkraut.
The verdict? 7/10. Points for the portion generosity, the fact that the chicken wasn’t dry and the sweet potato fries. All that said, it was merely a passable fried chicken.
In conclusion, I think The Public remains popular amongst Americans and expats primarily because the ambience, menu and portions remind many of their patrons of home. For me, the food really is very run-of-the-mill. I paid $90 for the pastrami sandwich and $100 for 2 pieces of fried chicken which took 20mins to cook. For the prices they are charging in a small pub-like restaurant at a hole-in-the-wall location, I find it really hard to justify a return visit.