Shanghai Street

Shanghai Street.
Shanghai Street. Photo: Eddie Jim

146-148 Little Bourke Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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Opening hours Daily noon-3pm; Mon-Thu 4.30pm-9pm; Fri-Sat 4.30pm-9.30pm; Sun 4.30pm-8pm
Features Licensed, BYO
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments Mastercard, Visa, eftpos
Phone 03 9662 3226

I'M NOT sure what happened but I entered a zone where it was OK to eat 53 dumplings in three days. How do I feel? Great! They were all from Shanghai Street, a tiny 20-seater dumpling stronghold run by Min Shi (Sammy is his English name) and his wife, Wayna Zhu.

Both from Shanghai, they've created a typical dumpling house, open eight months, that could be found on the streets back home. Shi worked in five-star hotel kitchens before settling in Australia four years ago, doing a two-year stint at another renowned dumpling haunt, Auntie's Dumpling in Carnegie.

Specialising in xiao long bao, Shi says to be able to wrap dumplings properly - ''to make the wrappers beautiful'' - you need at least two years' experience; he's had 10. Wrappers here are indeed a thing of beauty, the dough thin enough yet strong enough to hold its contents, the pleating neat and pretty, none of it claggy or gloopy.

You can see the chefs in the cramped kitchen (one in pearls, adding a touch of glamour) parcelling up the day's dumpling supply, at present about 700.

Traditional steamed-pork xiao long bao is Shanghai Street's signature. Nibble a little hole in the dough, slurp out some of the flavoursome broth that's turned soupy from steaming, and bite into the gingery ball of pork mince inside. Good. Shi says his pork xiao long bao isn't as ''sweet'' as HuTong's version.

The vegetarian xiao long bao were awesome, the filling coarse and textured with spinach, spring onion, tiny pieces of Chinese mushroom, a few lengths of rice noodle and a subtle flavour of sesame oil.

Shanghai Street fried mini buns are pork-filled pot-stickers, their bottoms browned and chewy. Dip them in a swizzle of Chinese vinegar and chilli paste and you have a hot, soupy, flavour-packed feast.

Noodle plates are top value, the noodles slick with oil and soy, and vivid-green choi sum adding colour and crunch. A bowl of wonton soup is loaded with slippery, delicious wontons (pork and prawn, spinach and pork, or pork and mushroom), with a gentle crunch of pickle adding pops of texture. They do sweet buns too.

I was conflicted writing about Shanghai Street. Already there are queues out the door and reports that dumplings can run out early in the dinner shift.

Space could be better used with more tables of two that can quickly be converted to tables of four. But just because a place is small, it doesn't mean it shouldn't receive kudos, right? Especially when it's authentic and such a bargain.

The moral? Arrive like a New Yorker, with a book, a coffee and the expectation to queue. Staff deliver menus while you stand in line, so you can order pronto later. Once inside, a steaming basket of these bad boys is worth it. I might even go back again today.

nrousseau@theage.com.au

Where 342 Little Bourke Street, city, 0451 695 342

Prices Xiao long bao, $8.50-$10.80; dim sum, $3-$6.80; dumplings and wontons, $6.30-$8.50; noodle and rice dishes, $6.80-$10.80

Cards Cash only

Licensed and BYO wine only (no corkage)

Open Mon-Sat, 11.30am-8.30pm

Cuisine Chinese/dumplings