Despite the ever-changing dining scene in Shanghai, some Western-style restaurants kept serving their original dishes throughout the decades. The classic tastes they serve are still the favourite of loyal clients, who are known as laokela.
In Shanghainese, laokela are senior gentlemen who know how to enjoy life. This is a term which possibly was derived from "old clerk", someone who has a good job and leads a middle-class life.
Red House Restaurant, known in Chinese as Hong Fangzi, and Deda Western Food Restaurant are two of the oldest Western restaurants in Shanghai that enjoy high recognition among gourmets.
Many senior Shanghainese had their first date in one of two restaurants, and until now, the Red House's baked clams a la maison, Deda's fried pork chop, hand-made salad sauce, and sweet and sour borsch are still ordered by Shanghainese when they come back to recall old times.
Opened in 1935 by a Jewish Italian and his French wife, Red House was originally named Chez Revere and located on the city's busiest Middle Huaihai Road.
The French restaurant soon won its reputation among Shanghai's foreign residents who enjoyed genuine Western food there.
In 1941, Louis Revere, owner of the restaurant, was put in a concentration camp after the outbreak of the Pacific War because he was Jewish. When Revere was released in 1945, he purchased a restaurant on South Shaanxi Road and renamed it Chez Louis.
Like many of his counterparts, Revere went back to his homeland in the early 1950s, and the restaurant was purchased by Shanghainese Liu Ruifu for 2,000 yuan ($323 in current exchange rate). The red-brick restaurant continued serving Western food and changed its name to Red House at the suggestion of Peking Opera legend Mei Lanfang.
The Red House became more famous after two top leaders tasted its dishes－Chen Yi in 1954, when he was mayor of Shanghai, and Liu Shaoqi in 1959, when he was the president of China.
Since then, "go to Red House to have Western cuisine" has become a catchphrase among local residents. In the early 1980s, people lined up to get a seat at the Red House Restaurant. Sometimes, they even sat on the stairs because the queuing was too exhausting.
Deda was founded by a French expat in 1897, and later purchased by local resident Chen Ansheng. The restaurant was named Deda because it served Germanstyle cuisine, and Deguo in Chinese means Germany.
Originally located on Tanggu Road in Hongkou district, Deda offered Western cuisine and food for nearby foreigners, administrative clerks, bank employees, news reporters, businessmen and medical staff.
It was so popular that it even provided a delivery service for foreign ships. Deda's business expanded quickly, and it opened a new branch at the crossing of East Nanjing Road and Middle Sichuan Road in July 1946.
The new restaurant could accommodate 140 diners on the second floor, but was still short of seating capacity during business hours.
Former Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek's sons Chiang Wei-Kuo and Chiang Ching-kuo, movie star Qin Yi and reporter Lin Fang were regular patrons of Deda.
The restaurant later added special services such as home delivery, cooking for customers at home, and buying raw materials.
In the more than one decade since 1952, the business of the original Hongkou Deda went from bad to worse, and it was finally forced to close down.
The Nanjing Road Deda also strived to make ends meet.
During its peak days in the 1980s and 1990s, Deda served more than 8,000 overseas tourists from more than 80 countries and regions every year, and the restaurant became a popular destination for foreigners and overseas Chinese.
While they have retained their original menus, both restaurants have made some changes to attract younger customers, such as providing set meals.
"We now offer a 48-yuan lunch to attract white-collar staff in the neighborhood, and the move has been well received since it was launched in July 2014," said Huang Zheng, manager of Shanghai Red House Restaurant.
Lao Jianrong, executive deputy general manager of Deda, said customers in their 30s are their new target group, because they can afford more expensive dishes and have a good understanding of Western food.
"There are quite a few things I want to do. One is to open more bakery stores, and the other is to expand our product chain to ready meals." Lao said.
According to Lao, Deda plans to offer semi-made set meals in 2015, targeting young people who want to have Western food at home but don't know how to cook or have no time to do so.
"All you need to do is to heat the soup, microwave the bread for 10 seconds, and warm the steak a little bit," Lao said.