It’s common sight for popular Melbourne restaurants to have a queue these days, especially those that don’t take bookings. It’s especially impossible on Friday nights when dining out is at a peak. Since Yuye and I head into the city most Friday evenings for a catch up with friends and most of us are not efficient or decisive enough to book a place beforehand, we’re always left with the dilemma of choosing a good restaurant to eat at as most popular places are either booked out or have 2 hour queues.
I’ve been wanting to dine at Shanghai Street Dumpling for the longest time. For those of you who don’t know, they’ve been gaining a lot of popularity. At the time of writing, they had 715 votes and 92% likes in Urbanspoon and had earned itself a spot in the 2012 Cheap Eats guide. That’s quite something for a cheap dumpling joint which Melbourne really has no shortage of. They must be doing something right. From memory, they didn’t take bookings but I was willing to try that evening.
I dug out my mobile from the bottom of my bag, found a seemingly correct number and dialled. A female voice greeted me at the other end and to my surprise, they said ‘a table for 10 tonight at 7pm is that correct? Your booking has been made, we look forward to seeing you tonight.’ This was at 4pm in the afternoon. I was in shock. A restaurant with huge lines surely wouldn’t take bookings for one and still have a free table at this hour?
Upon a second look, I realised I had actually booked the wrong restaurant! Yuye and my friends stared at me in amusement when I realised this, but luckily the restaurant I booked called Shanghai Street Dumplings, Wontons and Noodle is owned by the same people behind the former. I was so relieved and then it hit me that this ‘mistake’ might have been a good thing. Upon visiting the restaurant, one of my friends who had been to the former confirmed with me that the food was exactly the same. Phew!
I was quite sceptical about the quality of the dumplings as I’ve had plenty in my time and a lot of the ones I’ve had in Melbourne did not live up to expectations. Shanghai Street Dumplings however, met and surpassed those expectations with flying colours. Some were not quite the same as the authentic varieties from China but still retain their own beautiful flavours and textures.
We ordered everything to share and the first dish to arrive was the Shanghai fried noodles (上海粗炒面 － $9.30). The noodles were thick and chewy, the sauce was lip-smackingly tasty and as everyone were hungry beyond belief, this dish disappeared quite quickly. We were too reserved to fight for the last strands, if it wasn’t for that, I would have chowed it down without a second thought.
Next up was the Peking dumplings in clear chicken broth (鸡汤北方水饺 – $8.50 for 15). The skin on the dumplings were hand made like all good dumpling restaurants and was thick and bouncy. The pork filling was well seasoned and still juicy. I didn’t get to drink any of the broth since there were so many spoons and chopsticks in the bowl but I can guess what it would taste like.
We also ordered the fried pork dumplings (生煎锅贴 – $8.50 for 15) which were the same dumplings as the boiled ones but fried instead. I personally liked the fried versions better but that’s your personal preference.
We also ordered the pork and prawn wontons in chilli oil with peanut and sesame butter sauce (红油抄手 – $8.30 for 15). It’s a classic dish you will find in a lot of dumpling restaurants and has thin yellow skinned wontons drenched in a fragrant chilli oil sauce. Although it was very chilli (probably too chilli for some people) I actually liked this version more than the chicken soup dumplings as I thought the chilli brought out the flavours in the meat better and gave it an extra kick that wasn’t present in all the other dishes. It made my mouth numb but I went back for seconds and thirds.
My favourite though has to be the pork Shanghai xiao long bao (传统原味小笼包 － $8.80 for 8). These were a lot bigger than what you would find in Shanghai and I find the skin to be a bit thicker as well, but it held the contents well and still retained a lot of delicious porky soup inside. Taking a small bite and then drinking all the soup before drenching it in vinegar and eating is the way I eat mine to avoid burning my mouth with the hot soup inside.
The Shanghai fried mini buns (上海生煎包 – $8.80 for 6) is as traditional a dish as it gets. It’s something we order in Shanghai with my relatives after every single meal as a ‘dessert’. Yes I know we eat these as dessert even though we’re already full. Did I mention already that I’m from Shanghai? I quite enjoyed these buns although I think the ones in Shanghai are just that little bit better for a thinner skin and juicier meat. But I don’t think you can find better ones here in Melbourne.
We also ordered the crab and pork Shanghai xiao long bao (蟹粉小笼包 $10.80 for 8) which were nice but not sufficiently different compared to the pork to warrant a $2 increase in price. I hardly ever order this variety in Shanghai as the pork one is just as good.
I thought dinner had ended but my friends went ahead and ordered steamed buns ($4.80 for 4 pieces). I don’t usually like eating buns or bao is what they’re called in Chinese because I find them a bit too dry and doughy. The bad ones usually dry out my mouth and leave me thirsty and unsatisfied. That’s why I didn’t initially want to order them here. However, upon tasting them, I was converted. We ordered both the red bean (豆沙包) and egg custard (奶黄包) varieties and both were quite nice. The dough was super fluffy and not dry at all while the filling was not overly sweet.
In fact it was the first time I thought an egg custard bun was not too sweet. Having half of each was not satisfying enough so we ended up ordering another batch of these buns and this time I had a whole egg custard one to myself. They were delicious and provided a good palate cleanse after eating so many dumplings.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Shanghai Street Dumplings Wontons and Noodle. It has soared right to the top of the best dumplings in Melbourne list and would be my choice of restaurant if I was to have a dumpling craving. For those of you who have yet to visit, I recommend visiting this one when it’s still under the radar as when more people realise they offer the same food as the regular Shanghai Street Dumpling minus the queue, they will surely flock here as well.
I will have to visit the regular store though to see for myself whether the food is truly the same or not.
Shanghai Street Dumplings, Wontons & Noodle
Phone: 0405 427 910
64 La Trobe Street, Melbourne VIC 3000 (right next to KBox for those of you who like to sing)