A cool Sunday night and my housemates and I were feeling lazy, tired after a big weekend and generally less than impressed at the thought of a new working week approaching. Also feeling unusually ethnic, we decided to hit up the streets of Ashfield in search of the perfect dim sum dinner.
We ended up in New Shanghai, mostly due to the large number of Chinese locals wandering through the doors. My parents may have had me believe many false statements during my time, such as their lame attempt to get me to eat broccoli as a child by saying that it was Bart Simpson’s favourite food (…it worked). But one thing they did tell me was that you can always trust a good Chinese restaurant by the number of Chinese diners inside.
A considered scan of the menu later, we decided that grossly over-ordering was the way to go. Our order spanned xiao long bao (who wouldn’t get this?!), pan fried pork bun, pan fried pork dumpling, green shallot pancake, salt and pepper prawn and shanghainese noodles. They were all insanely cheap – circa $8, with the most expensive meal being the salt and pepper prawns at about $18. And these meals were huge, I’m talking laaaaarge. We probably could have skipped about 2 plates, but with smells wafting, nearby tables chattering and plates clinking, we just went with it.
First up: xiao long bao
The Xiao Long Bao was absolutely delicious. The cool thing about New Shanghai – as with a number of dumpling houses – is that you can watch the dumpling making process. They were folding and weaving and stuffing and rolling and stretching and steaming like wildfire. I hadn’t realised that the filling actually contains the broth (I’d always thought it was a gelatinous blob of soup that they would somehow stuff in the dumpling, that would melt during the steaming process) that eventually melts out to become this warm, soupy liquid that can burst out of the dumpling spectacularly if you fail to eat with the appropriate delicacy and skill. After some hilarious soup squirts, we realised that the way to get about this beautiful morsel is to bite a little hole in the skin and carefully pour the soup out into your spoon, and then go for gold.
The Shanghai noodles as a dish was not particularly exceptional. There’s a little bit of chicken and a little bok choy thrown in, but what was actually pretty great was the noodles themselves. Hand made, slightly odd shapes and sizes and stir friend to al dente (to borrow a term…)
Next out came this mammoth plate of fried pork buns. I have to admit – and I’m probably the first person in the world to ever say this – but I don’t love steamed pork buns (I find the sweetness of the bun mixed with salty pork is super hard to get past), so the fried version wasn’t really ever going to get rave reviews from me. The buns were slightly less sweet, which was actually a good thing, though, and the pork was quite flavoursome. These guys also had the dangerous spurting soup.
Now, I’m not exactly sure what the real difference is – in terms of filling – between the fried pork bun and fried pork dumpling. The filling for both tasted very similar, and both had the squirting soup filling. The fried pork dumpling was actually quite different to what I had been expecting. I had sort of had in my head this beautiful, thin-skinned gyoza-type dumpling, but instead the skin was actually quite thick, although not as thick as the pork bun. The filling was also a little bit disappointing – it would have been great to see some chinese mushroom, or just some sort of accent towards one flavour – garlic and ginger is always a winner.
The shallot / green onion pancake was pretty good – it was plentiful with shallots and the pastry was deliciously flaky courtesy of the laborious rolling technique that I had just seen in the kitchen. It was a little bit oily, but then again it was fried so that is to be expected to a certain extent.
The salt and pepper prawns were well cooked – plump and juicy with a nice kick of salt and pepper. I hadn’t expected them to be lightly battered and deep fried, however, and would definitely have preferred them to be wok-tossed in the shell. That said, thinking about it, all other forms of salt and pepper goodness – squid, tofu etc – are invariably battered in the salt and pepper batter…
Overall – not a bad night. The Xiao Long Bao was delicious, although I had hoped for a little bit more from the other dishes. That said, for a huge feed for a low cost, with a cool hurried, boisterous and efficient atmosphere, it was actually a pretty good experience.
273 Liverpool Rd
Ashfield, NSW 2131
Drinks: (well, it was chinese tea – can you really stuff it up?)
Recommend? Yes for a casual, cheap eat