Shanghai Street

Xiao long bao soup dumplings.
Xiao long bao soup dumplings. Photo: Chris Hopkins

146-148 Little Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 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, Cheap, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9662 3226

If dumpling dogmatism delivered us from evil I'd screech and shout about them until dusk on doomsday. However, it doesn't, so I'm not going to make a pronouncement about which of Melbourne's dumplings is best. Rather, I'm going to celebrate the fact that we're in any position to have hair-splitting arguments about dumplings at all. It wasn't always so.

Shanghai Street is not the newest, biggest or most photogenic purveyor of pastry packages but it's so unrelentingly popular that there are three branches in the city (all with queue management policies) and another in Prahran.

A large part of the restaurant's fame rests on their freshly made xiao long bao, No. 1 on the 100-item menu. One of Shanghai's most famous exports, these steamed dumplings encase minced pork and aspic-turned-soup inside a laden, translucent skin. The trick is to nip a portal in the casing with your teeth and slurp the soup before biting into the remainder.

Popular: There are three Shanghai Street branches in the CBD.
Popular: There are three Shanghai Street branches in the CBD. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Shanghai Street's dumplings are bigger than some; I needed three chomps to get them into me. But what bites they were: meaty sweet, sticky and slightly spiced.

I rate xiao long bao by the cone of silence they create: if the world goes quiet while the dumpling goes down then they're good. These turned Melbourne to a whisper.

It's not just dumplings. I also like the cold poached chicken smothered in spicy peanut sauce (No. 32) and the clay pot of clear porky broth, soybean curd sheets rolled like crepes and greens (No. 58).

Clay pot filled with pork broth, greens and bean curd sheets.
Clay pot filled with pork broth, greens and bean curd sheets. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Service is factory-efficient: you'll be pushed to order while queuing, and you fetch tea from a thermos in the corner. It's perfunctory but not uncaring, based on an assumption that we all prize swift dispatch above all else. As one frequently afflicted by dumpling emergencies, I can only concur.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)