As a food blogger, I find it difficult to go to the same place twice. However my husband is a creature of habit and loves going somewhere reliable and ordering the same thing every single time. He good naturedly puts up with the constantly revolving door of restaurant adventures whilst still pining for his favourite restaurant Shanghai Night. He loves the dumplings there and we often joke that somewhere under that Finnish/Anglo exterior beats the heart of a Northern Chinese man. I promised him that as a treat for getting out of hospital, we could go to Shanghai Night and my ever loyal friends and fellow dumpling lovers Queen Viv and Miss America immediately piped up to come along for the ride - after all Winter _is _dumpling season. The song I am hearing in my head is my own version of Deck The Halls: "Tis the season to eat dumplings! Fa la la la la la la la la!".
The queue is long, as witnessed by the crowd gathered outside. We have a booking for 7pm but here a booking is not quite a booking. It just means that they apologise several times while you wait. While we wait (we're seated at 7.25pm), we see a framed award at the front that says that Shanghai Night was a Nominee for "Best Shopfront Presentation" from the Ashfield Mayor. I love the food, but I can't say that the window is anything spectacular. Queen Viv loves the ceramic fish on the counter which she tries to lift up to take a closer look at only to find that it is glued down.
_The crowd gathers
Prices have gone up since our last visit by about 70c-$1 per dish. As we're here to partake of a Dumplingalooza fest, we order dumplings a plenty. The wall specials tell us that there are two types of new dumplings (a fish and a lamb & onion dumpling) and with the 18 portion size being only $2 more than the 12 portion size, we figure we'll go the whole way. And when I look up from studying the new menu, who do I see sitting next to me at an adjoining table but one of my favourite food bloggers - the lovely Yas from Hungry Digital Elf!
There's no sense of order with entrees or mains here. When it comes out is when it comes out. Our tofu with chicken mince on rice arrives first. It's a purely comforting dish with the soft tofu and small chicken pieces coated in a delicious sauce. Sometimes we find that there is more flavour than other times. Tonight it's good although the carrots are way too crunchy. It's a huge plate too and more than one person could eat.
My husband's favourite dish arrives next: the huge serving of 16 thick skinned pork and mushroom filled dumplings. Not as delicate as the Xiao Long Bao they're nevertheless sustaining and filling and when paired with chili sauce and vinegar they're delicious.
_Miss America presents! Xiao Long Bao $6.50 for 8. Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?
The Xiao Long Bao are next, the gorgeously gingery soup dumplings. Do you see something wrong with this picture? A seasoned XLB eater would spot it straight away. Yes all of the liquid has drained out of these somewhere and there is no gorgeous soupy interior. I could cry but I can console myself with the onslaught of dumplings to come.
The fish dumplings which could have gone so wrong are actually pretty good. The fish inside is similar to the fish balls you can buy in Chinatown that are made out of fish paste with some shallots thrown in for flavour. It's quite mild but the fish inside is moist and soft.
These are tasty and not at all muttony as we thought they might be. Filling and delicious, they're the table's second favourite after the pork and mushroom.
These aren't bad although they aren't quite as tasty as I've had and lack seasoning (something that happens from time to time here). We make use of the soy sauce on the table to try and correct the imbalance.
The curry beef and vermicelli soup isn't great. Albeit it's only $3.50 but the soup tastes mostly of curry powder and is underseasoned. I leave this to my husband who eats it as he hates seeing food go to waste. He remarks that if anything, it's very warming to the stomach.
A new dish - the steamed mixed dumpling assortment are a great way to familiarise yourself with the dumplings here. However my two favourite dumplings aren't here. The Xiao Long Bao aren't part of this plate.
The pan fried dumplings are my favourite dumplings along with the Xiao Long Bao. When they set these down, I'm not too impressed. The bottoms don't look particularly crispy. Even when upturning them for inspection (is that somehow undignified for the dumpling?) they don't look anywhere near brown enough.
However looks can be deceiving and somehow they've managed to deep fry the bottoms so that they're so deliciously crispy. They're glorious when the bottoms are this crisp and the tops are so fluffy. Inside there's some gingery soup and now that I know how to eat these babies I can forever kiss away any Pretty Woman escargot moments with the dumplings flying across the table.
We simply ordered this dish because we couldn't figure out what on earth it was from the description: "Beiji Sauce and shallots Pork Under Flour Piece". Now I should explain that ordering like this has inherent risks and we've had unsuccessful dishes using this method. Thankfully we luck out with this one. The flour mentioned comes in the form of pancakes (like Peking Duck pancakes) which Queen Viv doesn't like as they're too greasy tasting and the beiji sauce and pork and shallots is an oily stir fry. It's very tasty indeed with the rich, thick sauce running down your hands as you try and eat these pancakes. But yes, very oily indeed.
With the names on the menu you're never quite sure what you're going to get and this is another case in point. Resembling what you might encounter at Yum Cha these are aren't particularly pumpkin flavoured (perhaps pumpkin contributes more to the colour) they're filled with sweetened red bean paste. The outer is like a Ham Sui Gok - all tactile and chewy and it's a fittingly sweet end.
To exit we walk all the way to the back of the restaurant past the man making dumplings who is so surprised to see someone walk past him he says "Hi" to us and past the crowds eating noodles and dumplings. There are people waiting outside for a table too. We're perplexed by the best window award but perhaps not by the crowds.
So tell me Dear Reader, are you a fellow dumpling addict? How many can you eat in one sitting?
275 Liverpool Rd
Ashfield NSW 2131
Phone +61 (02) 9798 8437
open 7 days 10am-10pm
Vegetarian options: About 4-5 items