As a general rule I’m not a huge fan of Chinese food. The reason for this is because my mum makes the traditional dishes so often at home that I’m not going to go out and order the exact same thing. I go out and eat for something different, and Chinese food isn’t something I crave.
However with the last time I experienced proper Chinese food being back in late January when I left Taipei and with the parents returning for my graduation this week, the Sister thought it was prudent to re-acquaint me with the flavours of the Orient. I thus agreed to pay a return visit to our local branch of New Shanghai in Chatswood Chase with her and her boyfriend.
Actually, correction, new fiancé! I’m to have a brother now, exciting stuff No official dates set as yet… Anyway, back to the review!
We arrived about 6.30 pm, and it was an average level of busy. It was Sunday, the first day that daylight saving had ended, and we suspected that most people had listened to their bellies and come out for dinner regardless of the time. This was proved correct when the restaurant was semi-deserted at 7.30 pm, which is the usual time for New Shanghai to be at its dinner peak. We generally come here instead of the original shop at the Lemon Grove Shopping Centre, as that one tends to have a longer line and the dishes take a while to come out. To wait in line here, you write the number of people in your group down on the sheet of paper at the entrance before taking a number and waiting for it to be called. All very yum cha-ish style. You’re given a paper menu in the meantime so you can negotiate with one another as you wait around the Chatswood Chase food court area.
I prefer the decor of the Chatswood Chase branch over the Lemon Grove branch. Decorated in shades of bright red and black, traditional Chinese people may call it ‘tacky’, however I think it has a bit of an old-style street theme to it.
There are various group tables, a couple of rooms for larger groups, a bar at the open kitchen window where you can watch the aproned, hatted and masked chefs folding dumplings, and a few large communal tables. Your menus double as your placemats, so don’t be surprised when they take your order and then simply leave. Soy and black vinegar are available at all tables, as well as serviettes and those silly chopsticks which I can never break open evenly no matter how hard I try! We had a pot of Chrysanthemum tea ($4.80) to share, which was light and refreshing.
We had gone for a large selection of the menu, although funnily enough, by-passed the usual xiao long bao due to a negative experience that weekend at Eveleigh Markets, but we won’t go into that. Once we had ordered, all of the food proceeded to come out at a very high speed, with the first dish, the Pan-fried pork dumplings ($9.50) emerging after only about 10 minutes.
The dumpling skins were quite doughy but still crispy, and we ate up the carbs with relish. Dipped into a mixture of soy and vinegar (I do 1/3 soy, 2/3 vinegar as I’ve been recommended at Din Tai Fung), the pork mince was tender and the acidity of the vinegar cut through any of the oiliness from the fried skin.
The Stir-fried String Bean with Dried Shrimps and Soy Sauce ($12.80) was next to arrive, glistening brightly with a light layer of oil.
The beans were deliciously fresh and perfectly cooked: not too soggy, not too crispy. The natural sweetness of the beans was beautifully offset by the savoury, seafood tang of the dried shrimp and the light soy dressing.
The Sister had obliged with my request for the Salt and Pepper Deep-fried Tofu ($13.80), and I was so glad she had, because it was the best salt and pepper tofu I’ve ever had, hands down.
The fried escallots, dried chillies and fresh spring onions did nothing to detract from the crisp, perfectly crunchy deep-fried batter over the cubes of silken tofu. Each square was expertly seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper. I hoovered up more than half of this dish and only stopped when it was taken away from in front of me
The Sister and her fiancé had ordered the Stir-fried Clam with X.O. Sauce ($14.80). While I’ve now had mussels before and gotten over my squeamishness for clams, I’m still a bit tentative when biting down on their chewy texture.
I sampled one, and it had been beautifully cooked in the spicy XO sauce, yet still retained its natural flavour. They had been cleaned well, so there was absolutely no grittiness to speak of. Sister’s fiancé was polishing off the pork dumplings at the end and mopped them up in the remaining XO sauce – truly one of Asian food’s best creations.
The Sister had asked if I’d be up for trying their Pork buns ($5.80), as its been ages since we last had these. To say the Chinese name phonetically in Mandarin, it is called ‘gwoa bao’. They’re a traditional Taiwanese dish that’s had on special occasions, and the Momofuku branches are well-known for theirs. I’m yet to have the Momofuku experience; it’s on the to do list!
The buns were a bit of a let down. While the buns were soft, smooth and perfectly steamed, the pork belly hadn’t been marinated in any sort of sauce, more resembling a thicker slab of the un-flavoured meat you would normally get as a ramen accompaniment. There was a bit too much hoisin sauce, and they had left out the peanut powder and the preserved vegetables which are present in the original Taiwanese version.
Last of all, we finished off with the Pork and Chive Dumplings ($9.50), which came out steamingly hot.
Tender and flavoursome with the chives, they reminded me nostalgically of the dumpling-making sessions my family have, where we will make the dumpling skins from scratch. With the parents back, I have no doubt we will have one soon!
A very satisfying Chinese fix and I’ll definitely be back for that salt and pepper tofu. Nom nom.
345 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood NSW 2067
(02) 9412 3358