On meeting a fellow foodie for lunch today, we decided to take a walk through Chinatown. Having dismissed a few places, we stopped at Shanghai Village.
Upon entering the pillar box red door to the restaurant, prospective customers are politely informed that they can only pay in cash. As can be expected when arriving at a popular Chinese restaurant in the peak of a busy lunchtime hour, we had no choice but to join the back of an already eager queue of customers. Whilst we stood waiting patiently, we watched as a spectacle of waiters buzzed in and out of the kitchen carrying trays of food to their respective tables. We could have been in any busy Chinatown restaurant around the world.
Assessing the place, it's impossible to ignore how impressively pink the walls are. In fact, they wouldn't look out of place in a tart's boudoir. Along the main side wall, there are Chinese lantern covered lights that sit in between framed beer poster prints. It makes for an interesting take on East meets West.
What was more interesting however, was an A4 sheet of paper sellotaped to the wall in front of the entrance. It had inkjet printed CCTV images of some customers walking out of the restaurant. Much to our amusement, it was entitled 'The Black List That Left Without Paying.'
As diners finished up and vacated their tables, the queue started to dwindle and we went up to find an empty table on the mezzanine level.
As the table had not yet been cleared of the last diners' now empty dishes, it was a case of having to frantically wave down any waiter that managed to catch our eye. Seeing my efforts go unnoticed several times, our next door table reassuringly chirped in that service is a little slow. I changed tactics and started flailing like a mad woman with both arms.
I eventually caught the attention of a waiter and he proceeded to clear the table and brought us some menus. It's vast and the choice is immense, so it took us both a while to read through. There's a good choice of dumplings, both steamed and deep fried. Seeing how every other table had a plate of steamed dumplings, we decided that they must be good. We chose the Steamed chicken and prawn dumplings ($6.50), the West Lake style duck on rice ($7) and the Chinese broccoli with garlic ($10).
Having forgotten to order any tea, we watched as others gathered to the coffee urn sitting on what looked like an old wooden writing desk. They grabbed chopsticks and Western style cutlery (fork and spoon), plastic rice bowls and filled small cups with hot chinese tea from the urn; I followed their cue.
The food didn't take too long to arrive. The dumplings looked pale but interesting, the duck was dark from the soy sauce and the vegetables were a beautiful silky green in colour.
You can only see seven dumplings, but there were in fact eight. I accidentally took one before remembering to take a photo!The chicken and prawn dumplings were suprisingly good. As I bit into my first dumpling, it exploded with mouthwateringly hot broth that had a subtle hint of vinegar. It was truly delicious. The prawn was still whole and the minced chicken was tender. The rice wrapping was soft and not too chewy. The chinese broccoli was cooked just right, not too soft with a little crunch. Unfortunately though, the duck was a bit too salty from the soy sauce for our liking. On the whole, considering how inexpensive this meal was, I can honestly say that this place really does deserve to be one of Melbourne's Cheap Eats.
It may not be the sort of place that you want to bring a first date to, unless you're a poor student that is. But if you're after something cheap and cheerful, this is the place to come. With most dishes being under $10, it really is very good value for money.
Oh, and remember to pay at the counter on your way out, otherwise you may find your picture gloriously posted on their black list for all to see.
112 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9663 1878