Without getting all down and dirty or getting into a TMI situation, I know how to make Mr NQN happy. Whilst he's a generally amiable, agreeable man, you simply need to mention the word "dumplings" and his head springs up, his mouth curls into a wide grin and he becomes animated.
I don't use the word dumpling in vain, after all it is only effective ploy to boost his mood if it is actually followed by eating promised dumplings. I have to smile watching him as he sits straight up looking forward eagerly to tonight's dinner at David's in Prahran.
David's is a Shanghainese restaurant that has been open for 15 years. It sits on Cecil Place, a small side street off Chapel Street. And tonight we're not the only ones taking photos as we pull up outside and watch other diners stop, take photos and enter the restaurant.
The decor inside David's reminds me of yesteryear Shanghai. Designed by Hamish Guthrie, it's softly reminiscent of a time and place without beating you over the head with it. The chairs are mismatched to a degree and tables hold porcelain Chinese teapots with chopsticks, forks and spoons.
The paper menu sits as a place mat on the tables. It's a large menu with plenty of tempting options so we have to ask for some recommendations before we decide. New items are marked by a star and the menu is said to be based upon dishes from the small rural riverside town of ZhouZhuang. David Zhou emigrated from Shanghai to Australia when he was a boy and he and his wife Kathy run five businesses. His lovely daughter Yanan takes care of David's, the original restaurant.
Pork rolls: crispy pork rolls with lettuce $10 (4pcs)
The pork rolls are their version of spring rolls but these come with a side of lettuce which you can wrap the crispy golden rolls up in. It gives them a fantastic freshness and it's something that I'll try at home.
DIY Shredded duck and veggie wrap $14 (4pcs)
The shredded duck wrap comes with slices of duck, onions and bean sprouts and this is placed in a crepe thin wrap and eaten. They're satisfyingly good and like a version of a Peking duck pancake with different textures.
Steamed pork dumplings $9 (4pcs)
I know that if left to his own devices, Mr NQN would have just ordered one serve of each lot of dumplings. The steamed pork dumplings or xiao long bao have a nice amount of ginger in them although the skin is a little thicker than I like.
Pork & prawn shu mai $9 (4pcs)
The pork and prawn shu mai comes with a hot chilli sauce which packs a good amount of heat. The pork and prawn dumplings have a fresh, bouncy texture and I go for a second one.
Green prawn & bamboo dumplings $10 (4pcs)
The bright green prawn and bamboo shoot dumplings are also a favourite, the skin so fine and thin encasing the fresh prawn filling. And Mr NQN's eyes light up again when we hear that they have an all you can eat yum cha for $38 a head on weekends with 47 varieties of dumplings. He rarely requests a visit anywhere on trips but he submits a request for the yum cha.
‘One bite’ soft shell river prawns $24
The small school prawns are served with their heads on and are to be eaten whole. I found these a bit too much on the sweet side which Shanghainese food generally is, but I prefer an interplay with savoury too.
Grandma’s 8 a spicy shanghai medley of scallop, shrimp, pork, chicken, chestnut, cashew, bamboo & shiitake $26
Our three mains arrive (and yes I can see you giving me that look, those dishes before weren't even our mains). Yanan tells us that this dish is one of her father David's grandmother's dishes. During her time, many families in Shanghai were poor so it would take about a week to collect all of the ingredients for this dish going from town to town. It's a flavoursome medley of scallops, prawns, pork, chicken, chestnut, cashew, bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms, each offering their unique flavour and texture to the sweet sauced dish.
Country comfort: sticky pork belly & chat potatoes $23
This dish was pure comfort for me. It reminded me of a soy sauce dish that my mother does with chicken and there's a gentle balance between sweet and soy with the sauce of this dish. Couple the sauce with the softly yielding texture of pork belly cubes that melt in the mouth and a bed of plain boiled rice.
Iron Buddha Beef: crispy fried beef served on a generous nest of aromatic Iron Buddha tea leaves $24
The iron buddha beef with crispy tea leaves reminds me of mermaid tresses or deep fried seaweed. The beef is perfectly seasoned and tender with a good amount of garlic and chilli and the flavour of the iron buddha tea leaves.
Coconut dream – coconut and rum sago pudding with vanilla ice cream $12
It wasn't as if we had any room but Ashleigh had in no uncertain terms recommended that we have dessert. She had earmarked the white chocolate dumplings but just for comparison sake, we also order the coconut dream as I love coconut and sago. It comes served with edible rose petals on top, tinned lychees with a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the side. The sago, coconut and lychees are not overly sweet although I think that vanilla ice cream would have been a better match (vanilla was on the menu) over the scoop of chocolate ice cream given.
Soft centred, white chocolate dumplings with peanut & coconut praline & ice cream $9 (3pcs)
But nothing can stop our love for the mochi rice flour dumplings filled with soft white chocolate lava inside. There is a crunchy coconut praline on top of the three mochi and it comes with a scoop of chocolate ice cream which they suggest that you mash up with the mochi to give a soft, crunchy, warm and cold sensation. It's fabulous and I wish I had a) more stomach room and b) a room to myself and a big plate of these to eat.
And Mr NQN is already talking about the yum cha...
So tell me Dear Reader, what food makes you happiest? :) For me, it's probably cake.
NQN and Mr NQN dined as guests of David's
4 Cecil Pl, Prahran VIC 3181
Tel: +61 (03) 9529 5199
Sunday 11:30 am - 3:00 pm, 6:00-10:30 pm
Monday to Wednesday 12:00-3:00 pm, 6:00-10:00 pm
Thursday 12:00-3:00 pm, 6:00-10:30 pm
Friday & Saturday 12:00-3:00 pm, 6:00-11:00 pm