Where: New Shanghai, Emporium, Level Three, 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne
Who: Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian
Bloat score: 2 – The belt had to be completely removed
Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian were off to Europe for six months to recreate the summer pictured in Call Me By Your Name, and so it was paramount that our last meal together in a while be a meal of the Asian variety – everyone knows the worst thing about Europe other than the worrying rise of the far-right is the lack of quality Asian food. We’d already been to our favourite Delhi Streets a few weeks ago, and this time, Resident Photographer suggested we go to New Shanghai – somewhere I hadn’t visited in a while, in part because its Emporium location reminds me too much of overpriced work lunches. What I didn’t realise was that New Shanghai is an international chain, which funnily enough began in Sydney, but has now expanded across to Shanghai and Dubai.
Whenever someone asks me where the best dumplings in Melbourne are, I invariably think of Juicy Bao, Shanghai Street, Shandong Mama and HuTong, but I may add New Shanghai to the list after this experience. I’d only visited once before and what stood out were the shepherd’s purse and pork wontons in chilli oil, peanut and sesame sauce – out of bounds this time because of a) Conflicted Pescatarian’s nut allergy and b) peanuts and sesame sauce being full of histamines.
I had the best intentions of following my intolerances and ordering a Yangzhou fried rice (I’d scoured the menu thoroughly beforehand), but as soon as I entered the confines of New Shanghai and inhaled the tantalising mix of garlic, ginger and pork, my resolve waned. Also, it was my last meal with Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian for six months – who would be selfish enough to follow their intolerances on such a momentous occasion?
Not me, as anyone who reads this blog would know. Resident Photographer had visited New Shanghai for his farewell work lunch just the day before and although we couldn’t offer the same perk of paying for his bill, we ordered some of the same dishes that he’d loved during his last visit – the beef and coriander dumplings and the mapo tofu (conflicted as he is, Conflicted Pescatarian said he’d eat around the ground pork). I suggested we order the sautéed string beans with dried shrimps and soy sauce because yum and Conflicted Pescatarian couldn’t go past a serve of Australia’s national dish, salt and pepper calamari.
As an entrée, both of them also ordered the spring onion pancake, which I steadfastly avoided in a half-assed attempt to follow my intolerances (wheat is death as I’ve found out, and deep-fried wheat is like Christmas come early in that it causes the same heartburn).
The mapo tofu arrived next, followed soon after by our serve of steamed rice. The tofu was wobbly but firm and piquant with the slightly numbing aftertaste of Szechuan peppercorns. The accompanying ground pork sauce was viscous in the best way possible, no doubt due to the use of corn starch or potato starch to thicken it, with its blend of chilli paste, garlic and sesame oil blanketing the tofu. I have admitted this before, but I harbour a strong dislike of Szechuan peppercorns. Yet though this dish had enough of a numbing sensation for me to taste the Szechuan peppercorns, it wasn’t enough to make me dislike it.
I love how green beans are prepared in Chinese cuisine; they’re elevated to my favourite vegetable when they’re deep-fried until they’re wrinkled and tossed with ground pork, a winning combo. In New Shanghai’s version, the ground pork was replaced with dried shrimp – giving it that umami saltiness that I adore – and the green beans were tossed with diced garlic (I’m so glad I can eat garlic again) and a touch of soy. This was probably my favourite dish of the night.
I enjoyed the salt and pepper calamari without loving it – I’ve discovered that generally, I’m perhaps not as big a fan of this dish as the entire nation. But New Shanghai’s version was solid – enveloped in crisp batter, the squid was a good pairing with the spicy mapo tofu. I also carefully dusted all the fried shallots off the calamari, not wanting to get any more bloated than what I was already destined for.
I felt guilty once the beef and coriander dumplings arrived, knowing Conflicted Pescatarian couldn’t eat them. Resident Photographer and I swore off the other dishes to allow enough food for Conflicted Pescatarian and promptly started eating the dumplings, only for Conflicted Pescatarian to join in a minute later! The dumplings weren’t what I’d usually go for, being the pork fiend/former Hindu that I am, but the coriander was aromatic and fresh, lifting the beef to new heights.
At this stage, I was only 50% full (okay maybe 70%, but the point was – I didn’t feel ill so I saw no point in stopping). Resident Photographer was uncharacteristically full and Conflicted Pescatarian was similarly conflicted about ordering more food, so I decided to be sensible and ride out the feeling of not being 100% stuffed, which turned out to be the right decision because I got moderately bloated after.
I was intrigued by the more traditional Shanghainese dishes like the cold noodles and the pan-fried pork buns that we never got a chance to order, so while Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian are frolicking in the Tuscan sun, I may just test out a few more of New Shanghai’s dishes – all in the name of friendship so that once the two return, I’ll have ascertained the best dishes on the menu.
New Shanghai is open Saturday to Wednesday from 11am to 7pm and Thursday to Friday from 11am to 9pm.