I am really, really fussy about dumplings. My (Asian) parents taught me to be so!
The hunt for excellent dumplings is an ongoing quest and I am honestly surprised to report that the best dumpling experience I’ve had in a while was in a food court.
New Shanghai is a Sydney-based restaurant chain which has set up its first store in Melbourne inside Emporium’s upmarket ‘cafe court’. When I was invited to its launch I was not expecting too much – a chain restaurant? in a food court?
Well, I was genuinely impressed with the dumplings, and all the food, that I had at New Shanghai. The Shanghainese cuisine was fresh, flavoursome, consistently high quality and reasonably priced.
While the entrance to New Shanghai is through food court seating, the interior design is more befitting of a restaurant. Inspiration came from the 20s hutongs of Shanghai and there are touches of Chinoiserie without being over-the-top kitsch. I particularly liked the cobblestone tiles to create a feeling of being in a Shanghainese backstreet.
The large double-sided placemat menus are overwhelming so fortunately the dishes for the night had already selected for me. Not that some items are helpfully highlighted as house specialties so you can’t go too far wrong.
My favourite dishes included:
Sheng Jian Bao, my favourite combination of bao and dumpling. New Shanghai’s version was the fluffiest of pillows, well fried and crispy on the bottom yet still nestling a piping hot, juicy filling ($10.50 for 8). The dough was amazingly light and I could have easily eaten the whole plate without experiencing a stomach full of lead.
Their xiao long bao were similarly excellent ($7.80 for 8) with soft pliable skins and a soupy centre. Marks down for no fresh ginger and no chilli sauce though.
The Shepherd’s purse and pork wonton with red chilli oil, peanut butter and spices ($11.50 for 10) satisfied my need for heat and I particularly relished the slippery skins and peanut flavours in the sauce.
Vegetarians do not despair, for the steamed vegetarian dumplings ($9 for 8) were delicious open parcels of velvety skins and shredded vegetables. They needed a dash more seasoning or you can just add a liberal dose of soy and vinegar.
If you like dumplings then New Shanghai is a place to watch. What amazed me most about their dumplings was the consistency in execution. You can watch the dumplings being made on site at the front of the store and those quick fingers produce thousands of dumplings fresh every day.
From the main plates my stand out favourite was the crispy duck with steamed buns ($31.80 for half duck). The meat was similar to that of Peking duck but instead of a thin pancake wrapper we used a featherlight butterfly-shaped purse to hold the meat, cucumber and spring onion. A textural and flavour sensation.
The other must-have dish is the salt and pepper soft shell crab ($29.80). Large fleshy pieces of crab encased in a light flaky batter, these morsels were seriously addictive.
While the rest of my meal was generally good a lowlight was dessert. There are some traditional Chinese desserts on the menu (mostly involving red bean, green bean or sesame paste) but we were offered shaved ice with seasonal fresh fruit ($12.80).
I’m not sure that mango and strawberries are seasonal for winter (maybe if you’re in Queensland) but the combination of bland commercial vanilla ice cream and fluorescent, fake-tasting fruit sauce did not endear the dessert to me.
New Shanghai is a really exciting addition to Chinese dining in Melbourne. While it’s been a few years since I’ve been in Shanghai I think it rivals some of the best food that I had in that city. Don’t be prejudiced by its food court location and chain restaurant branding – go and judge for yourself.