Level 3, Emporium Melbourne, 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne, VIC 3000
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m extremely passionate about dumplings. Both of my parents hail from areas of China that are famous for their dumplings, and it’s basically what I grew up eating, so I can be very picky when it comes to their flavour, texture and authenticity.
At little over a year old, New Shanghai has made quite a name for itself, especially in the xiao long bao department. Located in the Emporium Melbourne, it’s managed to find that fine balance between affordable prices and sophistication that so many other dumpling joints struggle with. That’s why, when my family came to Melbourne to visit, I knew that it was the perfect opportunity for them to get a taste of home, and for me to try out more of the extensive menu.
True to their reputation, the xiao long bao at New Shanghai were perfect little bags of flavour – filled with that all-important soup and wrapped in a translucent skin that was thin but not soggy, able to withstand the journey from the steamer to my bowl. My only gripe was that they weren’t served with a ginger and vinegar dipping sauce, which is how they are traditionally eaten in Shanghai, but this is a minor detail that I rarely see followed. All in all, easily one of the best xiao long baos available in Melbourne.
As for the sheng jian bao (pan fried pork buns), I loved that they had crispy bottoms while still maintaining a soft airiness to their skin, which is quite unique amongst the different restaurants that I’ve had them at – another tick of approval.
The main disappointment on the dumpling front was actually from the simple pork and chive dumplings, the whole plate of which had broken and soggy skins by the time it had reached our table. Maybe it was because this was during a particularly busy lunch period, but I wasn’t very impressed with these – in fact, my favourite boiled pork dumplings can be found in Clayton (another blog post perhaps).
We ended up ordering a huge assortment of dishes, far too many to individually describe, but I’ll mention a few of the notable ones.
Usually, starters/entrees in Shanghainese cuisine largely comprise of cold dishes. Classics include turnip and jellyfish, pork terrine and of course, drunken chicken. My personal favourite entrée is the lotus root stuffed with sticky rice, and this one definitely hit the spot. Sweet and cold, it’s a strange dish to start a meal with, but somehow it just works. As for K, he would recommend the turnip and jellyfish – it might be a bit texturally strange, but I definitely think it’s worth a try!
The slow braised pork belly is a classic in Chinese home-cooking, and the dish at New Shanghai did it justice – sweet, sticky and bursting with flavour, with the added bonus of cool presentation. The only caveat is that the pork belly was very fatty, a plus for authenticity but maybe not so much for those watching their cholesterol.
Unfortunately, the noodle dishes at New Shanghai failed to impress my family, especially my dad who loves to make his own ‘la mian’, which involves repetitively pulling dough to make noodles (check out Gordon Ramsay’s attempts here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaeyFyQemDw). They lacked any form of elasticity or texture, which, according to Dad, means that they hadn’t been worked with enough to adequately develop the gluten. Whatever the reason, both noodle dishes had very little bite to them and largely fell flat.
Surprisingly, my favourite dish of the day (yes, even better than the xiao long bao) was the Shepherd’s purse and pork wontons, which were an exact replica of those that my grandmother would make me as a child. I think I can count the number of times I’ve had good authentic wontons in a restaurant outside of China on one hand, and perhaps it’s the nostalgia talking, but I think this one tops the list. They were beautifully plump with a delicate but strong wrapper, and the folding of the wontons themselves was top-notch. I believe the secret ingredient was the Shepherd’s purse, a type of vegetable/weed that was used in the filling, which just added a very distinct and unique flavour.
Despite the stiff competition, New Shanghai is definitely in my top 5 dumpling places in Melbourne. It offers large servings of traditional Shanghainese food and flavours for very reasonable prices, especially considering the sophisticated setting and not-too-shabby service. My family left the meal feeling satisfied and pleasantly surprised – I don’t think they’ve ever had such a great homely meal outside of home in Australia – a pretty outstanding achievement for New Shanghai, and a testament to their great food!