Within a one-block radius around the IAPM mall (999 Huaihai Middle Rd, Xuhui Qu, Shanghai Shi, China), you can find some wonderful food and plan a very fun evening.
It's very easy to get to this bustling part of the French Concession, and Huaihai Road presents numerous distractions and diversions (from the big IAPM mall to lots of big chain stores alongside interesting cafes and restaurants). This street used to be known as the Avenue Joffre, and was built in 1901 as Rue Sikiang. The street name changed several times until its current name was chosen in 1950 in honour of a military campaign that contributed to the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
Middle Huaihai Road is 5.5 kilometres long and Metro Line 1 runs right under the road, with a stop at the IAPM mall called South Shaanxi Road (you can also access lines 10 and 12 from this stop). Take exit 7 from the metro to access Nanchang Road (right behind the IAPM mall; Nanchang Road runs parallel to Middle Huaihai Road). When you exit from the metro, you will walk a few steps and should find yourself facing Nanchang Road.
You will find some delicious soup dumplings, Shanghai's iconic xiaolongbao, waiting for you on Nanchang Road. These delicious morsels deserve the wonderful reputation they have, and if you go to a small restaurant called Loushi Dumpling Shop (南昌路601号) at 601 Nanchang Lu, you'll find towers of bamboo baskets full of these treasures. Definitely start your evening here, and keep in mind that xiaolongbao aren't typically eaten into the evening, so you'll want to get some before 7 pm. Technique is important with xiaolongbao: put the dumpling in a spoon and hold it with chopsticks, nibble a tiny bite into the dumpling skin and then suck the soup out through the small hole. Try to suck all of the soup out before popping the rest of the dumpling in for chewing and savouring.
Right alongside this restaurant, towards Xiangyang Nan Lu, you'll find a Spread the Bagel shop (I've heard some people claim this shop has the best bagels in the city), a tea shop called TPlus where you can sample bubble tea and cheese tea (I tried the Oolong Cheese Tea with 30 per cent sugar and bubbles and it was delicious: imagine liquified cheesecake on top of oolong bubble tea and you'll be able to conceptualize this treat). And right next to the tea shop is a little family restaurant with a green sign where you can get amazing Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles and Chinese hamburgers.
In Shanghai, Lanzhou-style noodles are typically offered in family-run Muslim shops operated by people who have moved from the northwestern part of China. You can watch the noodles being made at the front of the shop, where a man pulls, stretches, and slaps piles of dough for several minutes; as a result of the vigorous movement, the gluten starts to stretch and latch and noodles magically appear out of nowhere. It's a very impressive process, and the noodles are typically served in a beef and cilantro-infused broth, often with thin slices of beef. You can look for niú ròu miàn (牛肉面) (this just means beef noodles). Chinese hamburgers are called rou jia mo (肉夹馍) and date back almost 2000 years from the city of Xian. They are really delicious and we sampled some of the best we've had in China at this little shop on Nanchang Road.
Once you've wandered along Nanchang Road and had your fill of dumplings, noodles and sweet tea, and purchased your bagels for the next morning, you have a lot of options for enjoying drinks and conversation with friends. At the corner of Middle Huaihai Road and Donghu Road is Liquid Laundry, a favourite amongst expats. There is a very good selection of domestic and imported beer here, and the atmosphere is funky and modern. You have to take the elevator up to the second floor to get to the bar. A friend also claims Liquid Laundry has the best french fries in town but I haven't sampled them myself to validate the claim. Maybe next time!
A few steps along Donghu Road from Liquid Laundry is Shanghai Brewery and you can find some nice local beers on tap here. And right next to Shanghai Brewery is Sichuan Citizen. Their signature cocktail is a very tasty basil gimlet and this is worth a stop. Some people love the food here, too. It's not a personal favourite (I find the food to be quite oily) but lots of people love it and you might want to check it out.
Across from Shanghai Brewery is a night club called The Parrot (7 Donghu Lu,near Huaihai Zhong Lu东湖路7号, 近淮海中路) and if you like disco balls and '80s music, you might want to round out your night here. We popped in recently and it was a fun place on a Friday night.
All of this fun exists within a very short block along Middle Huaihai Road, so if you're looking for a fun evening in the city, this could be your next destination. Enjoy!