Isn't it funny when you have interstate visitors and you haul them around doing all the things in Melbourne you think they want to do, but you yourself never do? Go down to St Kilda beach, go up the Rialto, go walk along Southbank, ho hum. When we have visitors here a while back we took them to yum cha in Chinatown and it was so bad I wish I had showed them the real Melbourne and driven to Gold Leaf Sunshine, made them walk 20 minutes from the only parking spot we could find, crammed them into the waiting area eyeball to eyeball with the lobsters, before pillaging each cart filled with fabulous, authentic dim sum.
That was why when Penny said she had found a great yum cha place in the city, I could not wait to check it out. Shanghai Dynasty is on the second floor of the new centre that is on (I think) the old Village Cinemas site in Bourke Street. China Red is on the ground floor as well as Dragon Boat (AVOID, AVOID)
Take the escalators up and it is as if you have been transported to a casino on the Las Vegas strip. Opulence everywhere - filigree-encrusted grandfather clocks, diamantes, chandeliers galore.
Faux bronze statuettes of horsemen with bugles, Versace-esque medusa heads, marble columns, naves and apses and everywhere staff in natty livery dashing about with walkie talkies.
These are plain buns made of a similar dough to char siu bao, deep fried and served with condensed milk. They were very naughty - the most processed white flour with a fried, crunchy exterior, dunked in fatty, sugary milk. I was keen to try other more highly flavoursome things but the kids liked them. First time seeing these at yum cha.
Prawns in beancurd
Love this dish and this was a fantastic version. Prawns are rolled into neat packages with beancurd skin which when fried becomes crispy like pastry with the soft, sweet prawns inside. I may be wrong but I believe this wrapping is the skin formed when soy milk is boiled (just like the skin on your truckstop latte - mmm, not!) There are also steamed versions which I am not a massive fan of.
Tofu with enoki mushrooms
Fantastic dish! Little tofu lifeboats, bundles of enoki mushrooms lashed to them with a nori strip. A fabulous textural contrast between the soft tofu and the pleasantly stringy mushrooms - and when I say "textural" it is not a euphemism (as it it often is) for bland. Fabulous!
Salt and pepper squid
Pretty much perfect - soft and juicy squid in light, non-greasy batter, covered with that fabulous sprinkle of garlic, chilli, spring onion and all the little crispy battered bits that sloughed off. Mmm! This was more your classic restaurant style - I do like the other versions I have had at Gold Leaf in particular where the legs are less battered and there is no (albeit delicious) garlic/chilli sprinkle.
Plump - check. Juicy - check. Delicate - check. Har gow are a yum cha classic and are said to be a good benchmark dish for a yum cha restaurant as they are hard to not make mushy. These passed the test with flying colours.
Cha siu bao
Every kid's favourite and big kids too. Normally there are only two per basket. I wish Shanghai Dynasty was around when we were little, because being one of three meant that we always had to get two baskets of cha siu bao which would make four and would inevitably lead to a fight over who got the last one. The dough was soft, delicate and fragrant and the filling very carefully made - the hoi sin flavour was actually very light, they tasted more like pork buns than BBQ pork buns. Nevertheless, a shining example of good bao.
Perfect prawn cheong fun, wide rice noodle sheets flopped around a filling to make delicate rolls. These were well-made, not at all mushy and absolutely delicious. I love the thin, sweet soy dressing. Have a look at cheong fun in Macao here on Half-Eaten.
These were very well-executed - button mushrooms stuffed with tender prawn mince, steamed and served in a thick garlic and butter sauce. The sauce was not to my taste, maybe because it was so divergent from the rest of the Asian flavours. I think this is one of Shanghai Dynasty's signature dishes though and Penny gave it a big thumbs up, so try it and see what you think.
BBQ pork pastries
No kidding, these were the best BBQ pork pastries I have ever had. The pastry was incredible - so flaky, literally melt-in-the-mouth, like a savoury yo-yo biscuit (I am sure the result of copious quantities of lard). Tucked inside like a bulging wallet, the filling was warm, sweet BBQ pork, this time with a real cha siu/BBQ flavour that the bao earlier lacked. Despite all of these rich ingredients they managed to taste so light.
High chair at Shanghai Dynasty!
Excuse all the superlatives - the bling did not get to me, rather, it was in fact a truly fantastic yum cha experience. This is the Melbourne branch of the original Shanghai Dynasty, a famed Cantonese restaurant in Shanghai itself. The service was great - there are two yum cha sittings, 11am and 1pm, which makes it less of a bunfight. Don't be intimidated by the decor - there is no dress code as such and they are very kid friendly. Even the prices were a surprise, standard to supreme from $4.80 to $9.80.
Shanghai Dynasty is a winner for yum cha - they have the full package. I say, it may be baroque, but don't fix it.
Address: Level 1, 206 Bourke St, Melbourne (map)
Phone: 9663 7770
Yum cha $4.80 to $9.80
Lift to first floor
Mention when booking as squishy and busy?