A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published February 13th 2019
Shining a light on Shanghaiese cuisine
Having recently visited the Oriental Teahouse, it seemed only reasonable to also try out the central hub of David Zhou's restaurant stable, the eponymous David's.
Tucked down Cecil Place, just a stone's throw from bustling Chapel Street, is iconic David's Restaurant
Our host for the evening, manager Christine Yang, a heavyweight in the hospitality industry (formerly general manager of the Red Emperor in Southbank), explained that David's came about almost by accident. "David (Zhou) used to use the (former warehouse) premises to run his tea business," she said. "When he started to serve tea samples to prospective clients, he was told he'd need a licence from the council. He filled out the forms, queued up in the council offices, and ended up with a licence to serve food and beverages to 100 patrons!" And things grew from there.
David's Restaurant was formerly a warehouse, from which David Zhou ran his herbal tea business
Like the Oriental Teahouse restaurants, the influences of David's early years, living on Nanjing Road, one of the busiest streets in Shanghai, are evident in the menu. The menu steers away from entrees and mains, using instead terms such as 'to start', 'David's favourites', and 'Let's share'. The concept is that food will come out of the kitchen when it's ready, ensuring it is super fresh when delivered to the table.
There are many delicious options on the menu, and again, we found it difficult to make a choice. Luckily we had Christine to steer us in the right direction.
We started with the chilli pork dumplings ($10 for four pieces) and a house specialty (off menu, but available if you ask for it, $3.50 each), prawn wontons. The pork dumplings were succulent, the chilli sauce giving them a flavoursome yet subtle kick.
Chilli pork dumpling - succulent
The wontons were an absolute delight, with their perfectly crisp shell giving way to large chunks of tender prawns.
Next up, we had a whole baked whiting. Again, this one is not on the menu, as it was a Lunar New Year special. Christine explained that having a whole fish is auspicious for New Year, giving prosperity from the beginning through the middle to the end of the year. From my reading, I see that this comes from the fact that the word 'fish' in Chinese sounds like 'surplus'. It's desirable to have a surplus at the end of each year.
While the head and tail of the fish were still intact, the body had been carefully filleted, so it was easy to eat. The sauce had rich complex flavours that complemented the fish; I particularly loved the ginger notes.
While the whiting is not on the regular menu, there are plenty of other seafood options to choose from, with a specific section entitled 'fisherman's catch'.
For the main courses, we had the Shanghainese sticky pork belly with chat potatoes ($30), sweet chunky eggplant, sliced chilli and spring onion with sweet black vinegar ($18) and Iron Buddha beef: crispy fried beef served on a generous nest of aromatic Iron Buddha tea leaves ($28).
Shanghaiese sticky pork belly with chat potatoes (with fried rice (left) and chunky eggplant (rear))
Christine advised us that the pork belly is a favourite, and I can see why. The pork belly was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and the sticky sauce had the perfect balance of sweet and sour. The chunky eggplant was also a delight; I'm constantly amazed by the versatility of eggplant, and this dish worked particularly well.
The Iron Buddha beef was probably my favourite dish of the meal (though it was a close contest). Christine described this dish as 'David's life on a plate' - a throwback to David's early days as a tea merchant. I haven't included a photo of the Iron Buddha beef, only because, when I reviewed my photos, I felt they didn't do the dish justice. The generous sprinkling of crisp tea leaves largely disguise what lies underneath. Again, the meat was tender, the spice and tea a thoughtful, sophisticated combination.
For dessert, we selected the star anise pannacotta, with spiced pineapple salad ($14). I particularly enjoyed the salad, which neatly balanced out the sweetness of the pannacotta.
Star anise pannacotta
David's is fully licensed but also allows BYO wine except on Friday, Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch (corkage $10 per bottle). You can view the drink menu here.
Also check out the weekend yum cha, and the Monday 'local's night' menu.
If you haven't visited David's, or haven't visited in a while, now's the time to reacquaint yourself with this sophisticated yet casual restaurant where the food is truly the star.
David's Restaurant is located at 4 Cecil Place, Prahran. It is open from 6-10pm on Monday and Tuesday, 12 noon to 3pm and 6-10pm on Wednesday and Thursday, 12 noon to 3pm and 6-11pm Friday, 11.30am - 3pm and 6-11pm on Saturday, and 11.30am-3pm and 6-10pm on Sunday.
The images in this article were taken by the writer.