New Shanghai

On show: Dumpling-makers at work.
On show: Dumpling-makers at work. Photo: Patrick Scala

Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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Opening hours Sat-Wed, 11am-7pm; Thurs-Fri, 11am-9pm
Features BYO, Licensed, Cheap Eats
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 03 9994 9386

New Shanghai reverses the shopping centre norm - it sells Chinese goods that are made in Melbourne. Handmade Shanghai dumplings, friends, which means xiao long bao - the No.1 dim sum.

These twisted-top dumplings with a spurt of hot broth are a Shanghai specialty, and not on menus at more mainstream Chinese restaurants around town. They're tricky to make - the dough has to be just the right thickness so it doesn't burst under the weight of the broth, which comes from gelatin in the mince mix that melts to liquid as the dumplings are steamed.

Shanghai specialty: Xiao long bao.
Shanghai specialty: Xiao long bao. Photo: Supplied

New Shanghai's xiao long bao are good, and come filled with pork, as well as with pork and crab meat. They also come with a how-to-eat warning on the menu: "Please make a small hole on the dumpling to let the broth flow out on to your spoon. This will avoid burning your mouth." With our batch, though, there was no danger of scalding even sipping straight from the dumpling; they could have been hotter.

Other specialties include drunken chicken (it's been on the rice wine), and deep-fried sweet-and-sour shredded beef. You might try salty egg yolk crumbed calamari, and vibrant spinach stir-fried with garlic. But you could just as happily come just for dim sum.

There are pan-fried potsticker pork dumplings, steamed buns with a strip of pork belly and cucumber smothered in hoisin sauce, and pretty vegetarian dumplings that look like an open purse, filled with vermicelli and delicate shreds of mushroom, carrot and greens. On one visit, ours came frozen in the middle. They were quickly replaced, but it did make me wonder: why were ours frozen when the dumpling masters were busy folding and pleating in the booth at the restaurant's entrance? More work goes into making the vegetarian dumplings, apparently, and some come from one of the sister restaurants in Sydney.

There's a splendid old-Shanghai aesthetic at New Shanghai.
There's a splendid old-Shanghai aesthetic at New Shanghai. Photo: Patrick Scala

New Shanghai Emporium is the Melbourne link in a chain of New Shanghai restaurants that includes five outlets in Sydney, one in Brisbane and one in Shanghai. The New Shanghai empire, started by the current owner's parents, has been growing since the early '90s. The restaurants' hallmarks are the dumpling-makers' booth and a splendid old-Shanghai aesthetic. At Emporium, the front room is lined with shuttered windows and tiled with cobblestones to evoke a classic hutong. The back room is like a sultry salon, with wood panelling, faux-flocked bamboo print wallpaper and red chandeliers. The furniture is heavy wood, with long share benches. There's good service, and you can book.

But for the telltale Uniqlo puffer jackets slumped over many an ornate chair, you wouldn't know you were in a shopping centre.

Dish… Xiao long bao
Do… Drink - there's teas, taro milk and Tsingtao beer
Don't… Have time to stop? Takeaway available.
Vibe… Vintage Shanghai salon