146-148 Little Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|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.
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).
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)