New Shanghai offers up Shanghainese dishes (surprise!) in both Brisbane and Sydney. We were pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to try their new menu, so headed to Queens Plaza in the CBD on a Friday evening. It was packed, with quite a line outside, and while we were lucky to get to bypass the queue, one would certainly be well advised to make a booking in advance if a weekend visit was intended. There is the option of watching chefs fold and craft dumplings while you are waiting if you haven’t planned ahead of time though.
The restaurant is thematically styled, with pictures in the style of vintage Shanghai Lady posters on the walls. Sitting down, it’s like you’re in the interior courtyard of an old family residence, with the stone tiled floor and facades of the outsides of buildings around you. In keeping with the Chinese styling, you sit in wooden chairs or stools around wooden tables. There was no music playing when we were there, but there were plenty of patron voices from the filled tables around us, without it being so raucous that you couldn’t hear the others at your own table.
There were paper menus at the table, doubling as placemats, with food on one side, and drinks and desserts on the other. There were plenty of dim sum type options, with a variety of dumplings and wontons, but also noodle and rice dishes, and other specialities. There was certainly a lot to choose from, and we ended up going with the recommendations of one of the very helpful waitstaff. That meant xiao long bao, pan fried pork buns, prawn wontons with chilli oil, peanut and sesame sauce, and sweet and sour crispy whole barramundi, mixed vegetables, and pine nuts.
To accompany it all, we asked for tea, of which they have a few options. We decided on the pu-er tea, which arrived in a pretty red teapot, and matching flower-adorned teacups.
The first thing to arrive was the barramundi dish. We had been told that it was something quite unique, that the chefs essentially turned the barramundi inside out, then deep fried it. When it came to the table, it did indeed look decidedly different from any seafood dish we had seen before. It resembled a creature from the deep, the tail fin the only thing making it recognisable as a fish. It had a thin coating of batter on the outside, and the meat underneath was nicely cooked, so it wasn’t dry despite the frying. Where it wasn’t soaked in sauce, the batter was crunchy, providing a contrast in texture. The sauce was a tomatoey sweet and sour sauce, and between that and the peas and carrots, it seemed a dish made very much for western palates, rather than actually shanghainese. It wasn’t bad, just not what we expected in this restaurant.
Xiao long bao are classic dumplings that the best dumpling restaurants must do..and get right. One always has great expectations when one orders them, and too often one is disappointed by dumpling skins that are either too thick and stodgy, or skins that are too thin and tear as soon as you try to lift the dumpling up. In this case, the dumplings had nicely thin skins. They would have been better if we had eaten them straight away, as by the time we got to them, the skins had cooled and were less supple..but photos had to be taken. They did stay intact when lifted out of the steamer tray though, and the soup stayed in the dumplings, a lightly savoury broth. The meat in the dumpling was slightly sweet, in contrast.
Next to arrive were the prawn wontons with chilli oil and peanut sauce. We had been told that this was one of their signature dishes. The wontons had thin, slippery skins, and were filled with a prawn meat mix. The peanut and chilli oil emulsion they were in tasted a bit like a satay sauce when mixed, but with more of a spicy kick. It was a bit sweet, a bit salty, and rather moreish. The cucumber slices sprinkled over the wontons brought a bit off crunch. It would have brought the dish up another level if they had been pickled, but it was a tasty mix nonetheless.
The pan fried pork buns are another dumpling restaurant classic. They looked good on the plate as they were served, proud and round, their tops patterned by the folds. The joy of pan fried pork buns is that they have the fluffy texture of a steamed bun above, and a crunchy base from being pan fried. The meat mixture in the centre was juicy and tender, and we were caught off guard by there being soup in the middle of the buns as well.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal at New Shanghai. The food was tasty, with the pan fried pork buns and the prawn wontons in chilli and peanut oil vying to be our favourites. Although the decor could be seen as being a bit kitschy, it was certainly thematically appropriate for what New Shanghai serves. The waitstaff were friendly and helpful, and despite the general busyness of the restaurant, we didn’t feel neglected. We would certainly recommend this as a place to go, perhaps with a group of friends so you can order a number of dishes and sample lots of different things.
Price point: Dumplings and wontons $8.20 to $17.30 (most around the $11 to $14 mark), with 8 to 12 on each dish, depending on which actual dish you get. Rice and noodle dishes $ 11.20 to $17. Meat and seafood dishes $18.50 to $34.
Address: Lower Ground shop 23, Queens Plaza, 226 Queen Street, Brisbane CBD
Phone: 07 3108 7652
Website: New Shanghai