ShanDong MaMa

Soul-satifsying and heartwarming: the Daryl noodles.
Soul-satifsying and heartwarming: the Daryl noodles. Photo: Eddie Jim

Shop 7, 200 Bourke Street (inside Mid City Arcade) Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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03 9650 3818
Opening hours Daily 11am–10pm
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments Cash

Uh-oh, I've got a ''restaurant crush''. I can't stop thinking about ShanDong MaMa, a no-frills Chinese diner dishing up home-style Shandong cuisine cooked by ''mama''.

I've been here three times, besotted with its handmade noodles, its delicate zucchini and mackerel dumplings, and its daggy, yet comforting, arcade setting.

Four-month-old ShanDong is the work of Meiyan Wang, 56, and daughter Ying Hou, 30, who come from Yantai, a big fishing town on the Shandong Peninsula, north-eastern China, where seafood dishes are a speciality.

Delicate zucchini dumplings from ShanDong MaMa.
Delicate zucchini dumplings from ShanDong MaMa. Photo: Eddie Jim

Wang makes some dishes from scratch, including all of the fillings and wrappers for the boiled dumplings - commercial skins are used for the fried ones. She spends two hours a day rolling and pressing the wheat-flour noodles, she makes the broth for the signature ''Daryl'' and the ''Yuro'' noodle dishes.

Hou says the mackerel dumplings are a common dish in Yantai and that ''every family has their own secret recipe''. Wang whips the mackerel filling to a fine mousse, then adds coriander, ginger, spring onion and chives. Have them boiled, or fried into cannoli-style shapes with open ends, the flat bottoms brown and burnished.

The vegan dumplings are superb, the boiled parcels holding grated zucchini, teeny tiny pieces of fried tofu, coriander and ginger.

The dining room is no-frills at this arcade Chinese diner.
The dining room is no-frills at this arcade Chinese diner. Photo: Eddie Jim

Pause while we wait for a cup of tea. The service is sweet and friendly but can lack confidence, and the freshly made pu-erh digestive tea, served one cup at a time, can be slow to land.

For the Daryl, long strands of noodle lie coiled deep in the bowl. A soupy gravy goes on top, laden with dark-green beans, prawn, a little diced pork, dried shrimp, shiitake, springy black fungus, and ribbons of egg cracked into the broth at the end. Hou says her mother often cooked this dish for birthdays when she was growing up. Try the Yuro noodles, too, excellent with a warming gravy of leatherjacket, egg and black fungus.

If you want to share, you'll need to ask for serving tools, or just dredge the noodles out with chopsticks.

Also on offer is a hot Sichuan dish of fatty beef bits loaded with chilli. There's home-made sausage (although this wasn't available the three times I visited), salty fried peanuts, and ''yu-shiang'', a soupy sweet-and-sour mix of pork, shredded bamboo, shiitake and capsicum, the vinegar cutting through the sweetness in a mellow way. I probably wouldn't ever order the blah sauteed corn again, though. On MSG, Hou says her mother ''hates it'' and rejects its use.

The food here is soul satisfying and nourishing, like you're being well looked after. No doubt my crush will fade, but for now the love for ShanDong burns bright.

Do … Try the new beef dishes, launching soon.
Don't … Freak out if you become obsessed with ShanDong MaMa.
Dish … Daryl noodles.
Vibe … Low-key and ''in-the-know'', like you've discovered a gem.
Prices … Dumplings, $9.80-$14.80; noodles and mains, $8.90-$26.80.
Cards Cash only
Licensed Pending

Twitter: @ninarousseau, or nrousseau@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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