The first question I asked when I knew I was going to be in Melbourne for a full week is (like the true fatty I am) 'Where am I going to eat?' This dining out in other cities is a serious business. I don't ever want to waste a dining opportunity so I like to plan to eat at places to make sure I make the most of the situation and don't end up walking into some mediocre joint just because I'm starving. Believe me, it's happened before. Too many times.
I needed to take into consideration a number of factors including:
- location: - staying in the city means that you are in walking distance to many great places, I wanted to make the most of that and minimise the car trips around;
- dining advice: - some of the many pieces of dining advice I had been given by my lovely foodie friends had to be adhered to, after all the best recommendations come from other food obsessives.
- price:- with a whole week of eating out ahead of me, I definitely had to consider price and couldn't imagine work would like to reimburse me for dinners at Vue de Monde, Grossi Florentino, Flowerdrum and Longrain consecutively.
- health:- often after I come back from a couple of weeks away, I just feel really sick, mostly because of lack of home cooked food. I now make sure I buy some fruit and nuts (thanks David Jones Food Hall) and try to have simple breakfasts and lunches so that I can indulge in dinner. Sometimes, this doesn't work, and on weekends it certainly doesn't but luckily there is a lovely sushi shop around the corner from where I work in Melbourne, so most days I have some sashimi for lunch with an apple and not much else, which does stop me from having to go into lockdown mode when I get home i.e. eat steamed vegies for three days straight.
Because it was so late, the restaurant had only a few tables of lingering people eating lunch. This was in stark contrast to when we visited again later in the week on Saturday night when the place was PACKED to the brims, there was a huge line. More on that later.
The setup was pretty typical for a Chinese restaurant. Very simple decore. The menu was also fairly simple, but a couple of things caught my eye. Obviously I was there for the dumplings, and seeing there was only me, I thought I would get two different types just to try it out.
Firstly I decided to order some lemonade. I'm not really sure why, but usually when I'm eating dumplings I'm in the mood for bo-lei tea and lemonade. When the waiter came back, he placed two cans of lemonade on my table- I was a little bemused but told him politely that I had only ordered one. He then proceeded to tell me that I had definitely ordered two. I calmly, once again, explained that there was only one of me, and I had only ordered one can of lemonade, to which I received incredulous looks, a barrage of mandarin as he took the other can away and wiped it off the bill. I actually found this rather funny and when I started to laugh, I think the waiter must have thought that I understood him in his native tongue, because then he was extremely embarrassed and polite and was smiling at me the whole afternoon, paying very close attention to my table.
I must note, this place is extremely cheap. For 8 pieces of fried pork dumpling the cost is $5.50 but if you order the 15 pieces it is only $6.80 - so if you go with a few people, it's definitely worth getting the extra 7 dumplings for a meagre $1.30.
I decided on 8 pieces of the fried pork dumplings ($5.50) (hey, there was only one of me!) and 6 pieces of the steamed spinach dumplings for $4.50.
The first serve of dumplings arrived in record time, probably about 2 minutes after I had placed my order. The pan fried pork dumplings were extremely crispy on the bottom, maybe even a little bit burnt, but except for the most burnt dumpling, this didn't really affect the flavour. The dumpling pastry was thick and soft like it should be, and the soupy insides burst into my mouth when taking a bite. The dumpling filling could have been more flavoursome, and this was a bit of a let down, as I would have liked the big flavours of pork, shallots and ginger to hit me a little more. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy them, as I did, and promptly finished off the whole plate after dousing with delicious vinegar.
The steamed spinach dumplings were funny little things. I think they had not been steamed long enough but they were still pretty delightful. They were packed with delicious spinachy filling, which really tasted like nothing else- just spinach, exactly what I love. The outsides were soft, and after a quick vinegar dousing, they too went down a treat. I have to admit, I was feeling very full after my 14 dumplings, and perhaps a bit of a piggy, but I really didn't care. There is something about dumplings that make you feel quite contented.
After my reasonably successful, eventful and very cheap lunch ($12.20), I left to go back to another meeting with a dumpling belly.
Fast forward to Friday Night. My friends had arrived from Brisbane for the weekend, we had been for a couple of drinks, and wanted something to eat. We were in the area, so I suggested the dumpling house. The girls were a little bit excited until we arrived at the door and found a huge line that didn't really seem to be moving AT ALL. It was at that point I was cursing Melbournites and their late eating habits- afterall it was 9:30 p.m. We waited in line for what seemed like an eternity. There were three of us in the line, whilst the other two detoured and were coming in about ten minutes after making a quick stop at the hotel. Big mistake. We realised that we weren't going to get seated without them, so rang them and told them to hurry up. By the time their slow selves arrived, my stomach was growling at me for the neglect, and luckily, we got a table pretty quickly, although it was a bit of a dilemma.
The place was PACKED. I seriously don't think they could have fitted more people if they tried, every inch of the upstairs restaurant was taken over, by literally hundreds of people scoffing down dumplings. We realised there was a few issues when we were seated on the same table with another five people who started to wish us 'good luck' getting served when we sat down.
In actual fact, the whole evening turned out to be a chinese version of Fawlty Towers. We ordered a number of dishes, including more steamed spinach and fried pork dumplings, along with some fried beef dumplings (12 pce for $6.80), some steamed mushroom and vegetable dumplings (20 pieces for $6.80) some steamed pork and chicken dumplings (8 pces for $6.80) , a serve of fried rice (can't remember), two serves of chinese greens with oyster sauce, four beers (for the girls) and one lemonade (for me).
A couple of things arrived slowly, and whilst we chatted with the table next door, we found out that they were extremely unsatisfied with their meals. IN actual fact, I'm putting it down to them being tightarses. They had gone for the 'all you can eat option' which contained about 6 different dishes, that you could obviously order more of if you wanted. We avoided this option as we were there to eat dumplings, not all the other offerings, and was glad we did when the complaining started. For heaven's sake- they were threatening not to pay their full bill, which I might add was $12 per head. They thought they had only received $10 value so would only pay that amount. Our table found this hilarious, as they had a MASSIVE amount of food on their table, but they insisted it was the principle.
Things started to unravel for us pretty quickly, when the girls asked if their drinks were coming, they were told they had run out. Could they have the other type of beer on the menu? Yes they could. Could I have a lemonade? No I couldn't, I would have to have a lemon squash- which was fine for me. I really didn't mind, and I found the whole situation hilarious.
After getting our initial servings of dumplings, greens and rice, the waitress came over to clear our table. Alas, we had not received 4 serves of our dumplings. When asked about them, we were told that they had run out, so we couldn't have any. I did see them still serving other tables however. The waitress told us that they had run out for about an hour, and when I asked her why she didn't tell us when we ordered she just shook her head. She then promptly started to clear out table and asked us to leave- I sarcastically asked if we could 'just finish our drinks' expecting her to say 'that's fine' and she said 'No, finish them downstairs.' Ha ha ha ha ha.
I replied to her 'I'm going to blog that', although I'm sure it was lost in translation. I at least asked her to take the dumplings that we didn't receive off the bill, and she obliged, but if I didn't ask, I'm quite sure we would have paid for the full lot. In actual fact, I'm not sure we didn't pay for them, as the bill was about $80 and although this is pretty damn cheap, I'm not sure the prices really added up to that, without the other dumplings. Oh well, whatever will be will be.
As I looked back towards our tightarse friends at the next table to wave, I caught a glimpse of the waitress trying to take a half finished plate of rice from the table, with one of the guys grabbing it back from her. Priceless.
We sauntered downstairs to pay the bill and were greeted with signs, 'Please do not take your alcohol outside' but upon walking out, it was obvious that other tables had been kicked out too, they were obviously trying to shut in a big hurry. The other diners were milling around the front door downing their drinks, and one guy pulled a dumpling out of his pocket and began to munch on it as he wondered up the lane. Obviously a seasoned diner.
The whole evening had been pretty funny, but in all seriousness, I would have liked to try the other dumplings, and be treated with a little more respect than we were. If they couldn't seat us and serve us at 10:00 p.m., that is fine, but don't seat us then take our order in the first place.
If I ever go back, which I might because I'm not sure where else to go for dumplings in Chinatown Melbourne, I won't go late, and I will probably have a few drinks to prepare myself for the evening. When I walk in the door, I will half expect to see our friends from the next table hugging the empty plates, with the waitress yelling at them, or maybe they'll even be serving, us. I'm sure there is some kind of punishment for refusing to pay the bill.
When to go: If you want to have a hilarious, cheap evening, eat a few good dumplings and some delicious asian greens, but probably miss out on half your order. It's worth it just for the entertainment.
Tell me readers, have you had any dining experiences like this, and would you find it funny, or just be really, really annoyed?
Camy Shanghai Dumpling House
25 Tattersalls Lane (Off Little Bourke Street)
03 9663 8555