Two family-style eateries are where animals roam
Updated: 2013-09-21 00:18
By Wu Ni (China Daily)
Esther's Bear, Water and Nature strive to balance the needs of adults and children for a harmonious night out.
Bringing children to a restaurant is always nerve-wracking for parents. Will the dishes suit the palate of both adults and children? Will it have healthy alternatives for children who are picky about what they eat? Will the establishment's decor be attractive enough to divert naughty boys from disturbing other tables? Restaurants that are truly family-oriented are hard to find in China, but there are two in Shanghai that may be ultimate destinations for a family night out.
Hundreds of bears can be found throughout the two-story, 800-square-meter restaurant Esther's Bear, a shop that initially taught customers how to make teddy bears in Shanghai but eventually incorporated a restaurant. Provided to China Daily
The Water and Nature restaurant is part eatery, part aquarium. Located near the Pudong New Area's Century Park, the city's largest, tropical fish swim in giant glass tanks built into the establishment's walls or positioned through the middle of tables.
Eric Zhang, the 31-year-old owner who also designed the fish tanks, said he never expected his restaurant would become a well-known family spot. A lifelong fan of tropical fish, Zhang has always wanted to own an aquarium that was filled with astonishing sea creatures from all over the world.
After he finished his studies in Australia in 2006, Zhang returned to China and worked at Citibank as a technician for seven years, never letting go of his dream of owning an aquarium. With the support of his wife, who had always wanted to open a restaurant, Zhang quit his high-paying job in 2012 and created Water and Nature.
"We combined our dreams,"he said.
Esther's Bear employs an artisan to tutor customers on how to stuff and stitch up a teddy bear. The price of the bears varies from 128 yuan ($20.93) to more than 500 yuan, depending on the materials.Provided to China Daily
The biggest draw among the hundreds of fish at the restaurant — there are 30 species — is a 30-centimeter-long goldfish named China Lion Head. And as you might have guessed, the restaurant mainly serves seafood. The napkins, chopstick racks and trays are all shaped like fish. Cute ceramic turtles and fish are placed on plates to entertain children.
"(The restaurant) has gradually become a happy place for children. Especially during the weekends, parents like to bring their children here to have dinner, observe the fish and enrich their knowledge of marine biology,"said Zhang, who added that every child is given a goldfish as a gift to take home.
The restaurants imports marinades from Japan and mixes them with other ingredients according to the owner's secret recipe. One of its most popular dishes is the crispy fried soft-shell crab. The crabs, which are caught right after they have molted their shells, are imported from Malaysia and are frozen before the new exoskeleton can harden. After defrosting, they are marinated in sauce before frying.
Zhang, who has a five-month-old daughter, said the restaurant is like his other child, adding that he hopes both grow to be healthy and strong.
Hundreds of fish fill the aquariums at Water and Nature. The napkins, chopstick racks and trays are all shaped like fish. Cute ceramic turtles and fish are placed on plates to entertain children.Provided to China Daily
But Water and Nature isn't Shanghai's only unique family-style restaurant. Esther Tseung, a Hong Kong native, turned her childhood fascination with teddy bears into Esther's Bear, a shop that initially taught customers how to make teddy bears in Shanghai but eventually incorporated a restaurant.
"I wanted to create a retro atmosphere relying on the fact that teddy bears were important friends for many people when they were younger,"said Tseung, who opened the establishment in 2007.
The vintage look reflects the establishment's location at Tianzifang, a maze of alleyways that features traditional stone-framed houses and small craft stores, trendy art studios and boutique shops.
Hundreds of bears can be found throughout the two-story, 800-square-meter restaurant, said manager Billy Sun.
On the first floor is a teddy bear museum showcasing the owner's lifelong collection, some of which are limited editions. A wide range of the cuddly stuffed animals in different colors, sizes and clothing crowd shelves and chairs. The walls are full of paintings and graffiti of bears.
On the first floor of Esther's Bear is a teddy bear museum showcasing the owner’s lifelong collection, some of which are limited editions. The second floor holds an overwhelming number of handmade teddy bears by a small cabinet.Provided to China Daily
The dining space is adorned with posters and sofa cushions of bears. Even the chairs are in the shape of bears. Upon climbing the narrow wooden staircase that leads to the second floor, there is an overwhelming number of handmade teddy bears by a small cabinet, many of which have not been completed.
"Many parents bring their children to spend a pleasurable afternoon, learning how to make a teddy bear by themselves and enjoying some snacks and beverages,"said Sun, who added that the establishment employs an artisan to tutor customers on how to stuff and stitch up a teddy bear.
The price of the bears varies from 128 yuan ($20.93) to more than 500 yuan, depending on the materials, he said.
The restaurant serves mainly Thai food, though Italian dishes were added to the menu a year ago. Fried shrimp cake, pineapple fried rice, lemon fish and bear-shaped pizza are popular with children.
It also serves a dessert called the bear's paw cake, which is a chocolate mousse cake with the imprint of a bear's paw.