The Café Court in the recently opened shopping palace of Melbourne is bursting with gourmet goodies from popular local eateries like Charlie & Co. Burgers, Jimmy Grants, I Love Pho, Chinta Ria Soul and Earl Canteen. The hidden dragon tucked in a corner is a Sydney-headquartered Shanghai-style eatery who's vying to be a serious contender in the Melbourne food scene.
New Shanghai has already made a name in Sydney from its "Xiao Long Bao" or type of Chinese meat dumpling common to Shanghai and Wuxi. Its empire already includes branches in several Sydney locations and Brisbane, and is now bringing its signature dumplings and noodle soups to the local masses.
The objective of New Shanghai is to offer customers a dining experience based on the rich assortment of modern classical Shanghai-style cuisine within Shanghai inspired interiors. The Chinese restaurant in a food court approach (similar to the Sydney Queens Plaza branch) allows New Shanghai to tap on the high visitor traffic of Emporium Melbourne.
A viewing kitchen draws you towards the restaurant, engaging you with the theatrics of dumpling pleating. Past the display of appertisers, the restaurant opens up into a contemporary interpretation of a streetside Shanghai eatery or "New" Shanghai. The modern decor is accentuated by traditional Chinese details which befits the food that is served.
Seating is comfortable with intimate options and long sharing tables. The atmosphere is friendly with polite and quick serving staff who are ever-ready to take orders and remove empty plates. A long list of Shanghai-style dumplings, noodles, soups, rice, meat and vegetable dishes covers the menu.
New Shanghai Xiao Long Bao
Having eaten my way through Shanghai and the Jiangnan region of China as well as frequented similar eateries in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, I have become accustomed to authentic flavours and therefore selective of Shanghainese food.
I understand New Shanghai's dumplings are cooked using an ancient family recipe learned in Shanghai and passed down from generation to generation. It was time to put their famed "Xiao Long Bao" ($7.80) to the taste test.
It had the hallmarks of a properly made "Xiao Long Bao". Each was a bite-size pouch of thin dough; the skin of the dumpling held together well when removed from the bamboo steamer; a nibble exposed a spoonful of piping hot broth; and the parcel of mince pork was moist. The only regret was imbalance of sweet-salty flavours between the broth and the pork.
The Pan-fried Pork Dumplings ($9.90) with a thicker skin were steamed and pan-fried with a crispy bottom. Each bite brought squirts of hot broth and juicy pork flavour. Overall, kudos to the superior technique of the team making both dumplings.
Shanghai noodle stir fried with shredded pork and vegetables
Another dish that hit the mark was the Shanghai noodle stir fried with shredded pork and vegetables ($9.90). The noodles were al dente and thoroughly coated by the rich and shiny dark sauce. It just needed more pork and vegetables.
Drunken Chicken ($9.80) and Pork Terrine ($10.50) are typical Shanghainese cold dishes but both versions in the Melbourne outlet were lacking. While the chicken slices were plump and tender, their flavour was overpowered by the thick Chinese rice wine.
A simple litmus test of authentic flavours is to gauge the number of mainland Chinese customers in the restaurant. Going by the constant flow of customer traffic, it has won over the Chinese and other cultures, which is important for success in this multicultural food capital. Prices are also affordable for students, working professionals and families looking for a satisfying feed in Emporium and the CBD. Armed with tasty morsels of freshly made Chinese dumplings, New Shanghai might just win over the tummies of Melbourne.