Okay, patient readers, no digressions or anecdotes today.
For once, this blog post will deliver only on-topic information, just like a letter from the Tax Office (even my bank digresses: bank statements come with advertising leaflets these days).
The topic? Eating at the new New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant in my old stomping ground of Ashfield.
Because we ate so very much, I’ve divided this post into 2 parts, to avoid reader fatigue. So:
- Part 1 below centres on the restaurant and 3 entrées.
- Part 2 (link here) covers another 7 dishes and 5 insider’s tips. With a copy of the bill.
We were a party of 4 adults and 3 kids (all less than 10 years old). Yes, I went overboard when ordering.
The Aim of the Game
The purpose of this blog post is to for you to go feasting in the know with me, ie how to identify and order the good stuff. I’ve listed some hallmarks you can use to spot when a dish is prepared with skill.
I hope that from this list of 10 dishes will emerge at least one dish that is new to you, that you want to try when next dining out on Chinese food.
- some descriptions – just so you know what to expect
→ then you can decide if this is a take-the-boss/ take-hot-date/ take-drinking-buddy type of place; and
- some exceedingly handy local insider’s tips.
What to Expect
- Ashfield is a suburb <10 km west of the Sydney CBD.
- One in five Ashfield residents speaks a Chinese language at home.
- Shanghainese cuisine features prominently here. Even the Ashfield Council website makes a point of this. This healthy competition is a boon for diners in search of quality Shanghainese food.
The new-look New Shanghai
I call the restaurant “the new” New Shanghai, because this longstanding restaurant was recently refurbished.
We’ve brought many an overseas visitor to New Shanghai for a hearty dose of authentic Shanghainese food, even during its pre-refurb days of being indistinguishable from the cluster of Chinese eateries on Liverpool Road. Chinese eateries which typically sport these traits:
Trait #1. Armies of nimble-fingered, dumpling-pleating Chinese women.
Trait #2. Er…shall we say…simple and functional interiors.
Trait #3. Customers seated cosily within a peanut’s throw of one another.
For our dinner that night, we scored a table in a partitioned, semi-private section (that’s Trait #3 going out the door).
~ Not having to elbow a neighbouring table? Priceless.
~ For everything else New Shanghai offers, there’s Mastercard.
New Shanghai is not just a pretty face. Its food is more than decent too, though the locals already knew that pre-refurb.
But these days, the weekend queue would rival the line of family lawyers desiring to assist Rupert Murdoch or Wendi Deng. Take note: not all Ashfield eateries boast crowds of this size.
Family Restaurant Service – I Like It!
As I mentioned in the above section on What to Expect, the service is fearfully efficient.
That’s a good thing. I like my orders to be taken quickly.
I also understand the staff must keep things moving because of the waiting hordes. To their credit, I must stress that at no time did we feel rushed into finishing our meal. The staff just did their job competently, by:
- bringing the food quickly (I’m not complaining – when dining with ravenous kids who’ve just done sport, we don’t need the kitchen to pace our meal), and
- lingering in our partitioned room to meet our needs (eg teapot refills and more serving spoons as the dishes arrived). It is not considered restaurant Siberia when dedicated staff patrol the area to keep us happy.
A funny thing happened with our waitress.
When told we were ready to order, she came to our table and started removing a chopstick wrapper. I was surprised: I didn’t think this was the type of place where they unwrap your chopsticks for you (waiters in that type of place usually wear a suit and speak in hushed tones). Especially since the eating utensils were placed casually in the middle of the table.
Turns out the waitress was unwrapping only one pair of chopsticks. So that she could write our order on the wrapper: “Just give me the item number from the menu, and not the name of the dish you want.”
Reduce, reuse, recycle! I silently applaud.
Entreé #1: Steamed mini pork buns (Xiao long bao) $6.80
This dumpling comprises pork mince with savoury broth wrapped in a flour pastry skin.
If you can pick these up with chopsticks without perforating the skin:
~ you’ll see the broth making the dumpling sag; and
~ you’re a dexterous chopstick-user.
Never has a saggy thing looked so appealing. If you’re not so confident with your chopsticks, just slightly lift the pointy end with chopsticks, ease a spoon under the dumpling and you can deliver it intact to your mouth.
HALLMARKS OF QUALITY: Delicate and thin pastry skin. Ample broth inside. Juicy, flavoursome meat filling.
TALK LIKE A PRO: Impress your dining companions by telling them what makes the dumpling so juicy:
1. Meat used for the filling must be a bit fatty; too lean and the mixture will be dry.
2. As for the broth swishing inside the dumpling, it is separately made, then chilled to turn into jelly. The cook wraps a ball of filling and a cube of jellied broth in the pastry. When steamed, the jellied broth melts into scaldingly hot liquid.
EAT LIKE A PRO: Xiao long bao is best eaten with a splash of black vinegar to cut through the rich filling. The menu even dishes out advice on how to eat this without scalding yourself with a broth explosion: bite a hole on top, suck out the broth, then put the dumpling in your mouth.
Entreé #2: Pan-fried pork buns (Sheng jian bao) $8.80
When I was in China, it seemed every other street corner was commandeered by a stall with a massive wok cover and an even bigger hotplate. Buns like these would sit there, sizzling away, with browned bottoms and soft, steamed tops.
The pan-fried pork bun (entreé #2) is the steamed mini pork bun (entreé #1) sans broth and in a different skin. What I mean is, both pork buns have the same meat filling. But I would still order both, because the crusty, bready wrapping of the pan-fried bun makes it a different beast from the delicate steamed mini bun.
You can also eat this with black vinegar.
HALLMARKS OF QUALITY: Very crusty base. Tasty, moist filling that soaks – just that little bit – into the inside of the bready bit. No oil pooling in the dish.
ORDER LIKE A CANNY PRO: Some food writers wax lyrical about the high-class version of New Shanghai’s dumplings and buns, which have crab meat added to the pork filling. For me, the original pork-only version is already so tasty that I don’t see the need to pay extra for the premium version (which I have tried before).
Entreé #3: Shallot pancake (Cong you bing) $4.80
(Pictured is a double serve. A single serve for $4.80 comprises 1 pancake cut into 8 pieces.)
This is a savoury pancake, with moist nuggets of chopped green onions. It is also known as a green onion pancake.
Everyone in my family has a DDMO dish (“die-die-must-order” dish). I’ve successfully stopped my kids asking for spring rolls at every Chinese eatery, but green onion pancakes remain their DDMO dish.
Thanks to my kids, I’ve eaten at least 12 versions of green onion pancakes, ranging from:
Frozen → Home-made → Restaurant-made → Made-in-the-restaurant-right-before-my-very-eyes.
Not all green onion pancakes are created equal. This one is more equal than most. With the number of green onion pancakes I’ve consumed in my lifetime, you can trust my description of its…
…HALLMARKS OF QUALITY: Nicely crisped but not too greasy, with the right amount of salt. For further details, see My Secret 5 Best Ethnic Pancakes.
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