Nanjing Story (03 9639 1617) is a little further up in the vicinity of Chinatown in the CBD from Swanston Street, but not impossible to hotfoot it to. About two blocks up from the Swanston street entrance where the big red gateway is, head up Little Bourke Street to this new addition at #105. Operating hours are 7 days a week from 11.30am to 3pm, before they reopen from 5pm to 9.30pm each evening, except for Friday and Saturday, when they stay open that half hour later till 10pm.
Simplicity is the key at this little restaurant with a no-frills approach to its furnishings. It's filled with natural daylight and a mural along one side of the wall. It pays attention to what's more important, and that's the food and the service. The waitress was extremely helpful on the day and everything we ordered was filled with flavour, especially the stock; and in any cuisine, stock is everything.
Obviously all the customers in the restaurant agree as the place was nearly at full capacity, considering they've only been open two months, and have no social media at all, at this stage, to speak of.
Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu of the People's Republic of China and the second-largest city in the East China region. Ducks blood vermicelli soup, dumplings and Jinling roast duck (aka Peking duck in Beijing) amongst others are very much signature dishes from Nanjing, and as such, you'll find the Ducks Blood and Vermicelli Soup with Fried Tofu, Duck Liver & Gizzard amongst the restaurant's signature menu.
Always up for a culinary adventure, how could I resist? Other signature dishes included steamed baos with beef, pork and chive fillings and panfried original pork buns that also come with beef and vegetable fillings, along with mini wontons in soup with prices ranging from $8.80 to $12.80.
We ordered the Ducks Blood Soup as mentioned, along with entrees (listed as small dishes) in the same price range as the signature dishes, of Pork Wonton in Soup (12 pcs) and Pork Wonton in Chilli Sauce with Peanut (12 pcs). For Mains, we opted for Boiled Fish Fillets in Spicy Sichuan Sauce and Peking Duck with Pancake Wraps (8 duck pieces and 8 wraps), but without the second course of fried noodle with shredded duck included in the price, as we couldn't possibly have finished it.
We kept the drinks simple with Jasmine Tea and a Dark Plum Juice. Desserts will not be available for another month and will consist of a red kidney bean dessert and a glutinous rice dessert. The chef kindly offered to, and whipped us up the Glutinous Rice Ball with Peanut Dessert, swimming in a warm, not overly sweet, rice custard.
The stock in both the wonton soup and the ducks blood was filled with flavour and delicious. The wontons were as expected, light and flavoursome. I have however never had pork wonton served in chilli sauce with peanut as a complete dish, and it was just delightful and deliciously different from the soup. Though the beautiful stock did nothing to take away from the flavour of the wontons.
As for the ducks blood soup, tasty as it was and filling with all that vermicelli, I have to admit to thinking, I wish they had served the ducks blood in two inch sized blocks with just three or four in the soup, which would have amounted to the same volume as what was, without looking like chopped liver. That's about the only wishful thinking I had as the rest was beautifully and simply served up.
After all those 12 pieces of wontons each and the soups, we were pretty lame at trying to finish the delicious Mains, but as always, have room for dessert, no matter how full. The boiled fish fillets in spicy Sichuan sauce was an enormous serving, however the stock as such was different. It wasn't your usual tasty, flavour-filled beef stock, but was thinner, with the concentration more on the spicy (we were warned) Sichuan flavours, filled with chillies as you can see. The duck was milder by miles in flavour and came with a dark rich salty sauce to coat the pancakes before loading it up with duck and salad. Dessert was simplicity, warm, with just the right sweetness, and just what the doctor ordered after an Asian meal. That we managed to down with gusto.
We had to request a doggy bag as there was no way we could finish it all. Asian style, these individual dishes that range from $20-$40 are made to be shared. A family or group of friends would typically order 2 or 3 dishes along with a few bowls of white rice, making it very cost-effective. Keeping it simple, I could have fed a family of four with just the fish fillet dish and bowls of rice, making that $23.80 dish very reasonable for four people.
Other offerings include entrees of cold noodle salad, preserved egg with tofu and dried meat floss, bangbang chicken, drunken chicken, Nanjing style salted duck and nine others including spring rolls (3-4 pieces) and spring onion pancakes which were around $6 with the others ranging from $8 upwards. Boiled and pan-fried dumplings ranged from $6.80 (5-6 pcs) to $11.80 (10-12 pcs) with wontons coming in around the same price range.
For mains, you have your seafood of king prawns, fish fillets, Barramundi etcetera that is steamed, Sichuan style, sweet and sour, boiled, with salted egg yolks or cooked with wasabi sauce and more. There's a good selection in the vegetable menu to choose from and the same goes for the pork, beef, poultry and soup section of the menu. Fried rice and fried noodles can be eaten for under $14, and the same goes for the Lunch Menu.
Many of the local workers that popped in kept their lunches simple with either a plate of dumplings or shared fried rice. A choice of twelve options is not a bad lunch menu which you can have as a noodle soup, in dry noodles or with rice. There's Sichuan style shredded pork; spicy ground pork; pork, tofu and potato in homemade chilli sauce; boiled fish with pickled cabbage and chilli; braised pork belly; duck in special sauce; lamb; mixed veg; steamed bean roll in five spices; eggplant and pork mince; beef in satay sauce; and sweet and sour pork. If what we ate was anything to go by, I have no doubt they'd all be delicious.
The usual canned and bottled soft drinks are on offer along with premium teas, or you could go for a Chinese Tsing Tao, a Japanese Asahi, a Mexican Corona or Australian Crown Larger Beer. There's also shiraz, sauvignon, chardonnay and so on to choose from in wines, making the venue a very feasible place to pop in to for dinner.