When you see a queue outside a bar or restaurant do you join it? Or do you walk away?
For the last few months, we’ve seen the queue outside Shanghai Street in Melbourne’s chinatown and walked away. There is so much choice for dumplings that we never thought it worth the wait. Last week we decided to join the queue and finally see what all the fuss was about.
Shanghai Street is not a street, it’s a dumpling house on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne’s bustling chinatown. During our time here we’ve eaten a lot of dumplings (an embarrassing amount actually) and I like to think I’m a bit of an expert now on what constitutes great yum cha.
Yum Cha is a Chinese phrase meaning ‘to go for dim sum and tea’. Traditionally this is a lunch time activity and you’ll see the dumpling houses around Chinatown are busiest between 12 – 3pm. We ate a selection of different types of dumplings including a soup with noodles so technically not strictly yum cha but I love the saying and what it’s meaning encompasses.
One of the things I love about Chinatown is the abundance of front window kitchen areas. I love to look in and see the chefs rolling dumplings, or using giant meat cleavers to chop crispy duck portions. There’s a big front kitchen area at Shanghai Street with at least 5 people rolling dumplings at an alarmingly fast rate. Mesmerising!
So, back to that hazy Saturday lunch time. We joined the queue and waited patiently for our turn to enter to rather utilitarian dining room. Eventually we were in! We chose four dishes between three and ordered individual pots of steaming green tea.
Here’s what we ate:
- Traditional pork XiaoLongBao
- Wontons in chilli oil with peanut & sesame butter sauce
- Prawn and pork wonton soup with noodles
- Fried vegetable dumplings
Interestingly, all three of us had a different favourite. For me, the XiaoLongBao were a clear winner. I’ve had these a lot and love to lift the delicate parcel up with my chopsticks, nibble the corner off and drink the meaty stock inside, before eating the rest in one or two bites (depending on size!). These particular XiaoLongBao were perfect. Soft, silky dough and a flavourful pork mixture inside. Truly perfect.
The vegetable dumplings were something new to all of us, fried on one side and reminiscent of Japanese gyoza. The filling was delicate in flavour and mostly cabbage. I doused mine in soy and vinegar for additional seasoning.
We’ve eaten and loved wontons in chilli and peanut sauce before, at Juicy Bao
just along the road. Those ones were deliciously spicy from the generous coating of chilli oil whereas these ones were slightly mellower heat wise. The peanut and sesame sauce was divine, and once we’d devoured the wontons, I used my spoon to scoop every last drop I could.
Finally, the noodle and wonton soup. Ordered on a whim because we’d not tried dumplings in soup before. The broth was almost clear and I had low flavour expectations. How wrong I was! It was a delicious, delicate pork and vegetable broth (at a guess) which complimented the pork and prawn mixture perfectly. The cabbage was green and fresh tasting which worked well against the rest of the meaty and spicy dishes we’d ordered. The noodles were spot on too, with a little bite. This dish was Dave’s favourite and one we’ll reorder for sure.
So, to conclude. Was Shanghai Street worth the wait? My answer would be a resounding YES. There are many great dumplings to be eaten in Melbourne and if you’re short on time I think there are other places you can go and enjoy immensely. But, the food we ate at Shanghai Street was beautiful and truly some of the best we’ve eaten in Melbourne’s chinatown.
Queues can often raise expectations beyond reality but on this occasion, the place and the flavours wowed us!