If you’ve ever gone down the main strip of Ashfield, you will notice the multiple Shanghainese restaurants bearing similar names like New Shanghai, Shanghai Night and, I kid you not, New Shanghai Night. These restaurants, including Taste of Shanghai, serve up many Shanghainese favourites like xiao long bao and pan-fried pork buns.
We were in the area and circumstances meant we couldn’t attend the Street Food Markets as planned (one of our friends had a chronic injury that worsened so he couldn’t make the walk from the station). Instead, we headed over to Taste of Shanghai for our dumpling fix.
Though we rarely have issues finding a table during weeknight like we used to when we lived in the area, the weekend evenings are a completely different story for ToS. A crowd waiting on the sidewalk desperately keeping an ear out for queue numbers is a common sight. We joined this crowd, took a number and, after an agonising half hour wait, managed to get a table (the bullets we take for you guys).
The inside of the restaurant is even worse with narrow aisles and tables squashed together. The sound in this small space makes it difficult to even think as people chat and cutlery clinks on plates; we actually tried filming but you couldn’t hear anything over the hubbub! Though service is not particularly personal, it is impressive how efficient the waiters are, aided by a tick-and-circle order form to minimise communication errors when ordering food and drink. After perusing the magazine-style menu, we checked off our selections and confirmed them with a passing waiter.
After a short wait, our first dish came out: pan-fried pork buns. These have a special place in my heart as the absolute favourite of mine in this restaurant. More than once I’ve had to pay for my overeagerness and dealt with a burnt tongue for the next week.
The bottom of the bun was perfectly browned and crisped to perfection. The dough was thick enough to contain the soup and meat without breaking apart and the flavour fills your mouth with umami and the perfectly balanced flavours of meat and fried dough. The only thing to be aware of is that if you leave these buns for too long or try to take them home, the soup will soak into the dough and you’ll lose that element of the dish.
The next dish to come out were two steamers of xiao long bao (XLB), otherwise known as soup dumplings. This is the signature dish of ToS and is also a mainstay of the restaurant’s more famous competitor, Din Tai Fung. It is a must if you come here. These delicate dumplings consist of a thin skin and a hot soup filling with a pork centre.
The skin of this dumpling is better than most. Often you’ll find that the dough is too thick, so it is difficult to eat or it is too thin and the dumpling falls apart as you try to pick it up. There is nothing more disheartening than watching that delicious soup leak away into the steamer.
In this case, the skin was solid enough to hold the soup in very well but thin enough to make it easy for me to bite the top off. The filling is very smooth and compliments the texture of the dough perfectly. With a bit of vinegar and soy-sauce, each dumpling is a package of pure gold sliding down your throat. We finished the two servings off with ease between the three of us!
The wontons in red chilli oil sauce is a favourite of my girlfriend’s and number three on my list after the pan-fried pork buns and XLB (you can’t escape the goodness of that soup). This dish has always been generous in serving, with 10 huge wontons in a red chilli oil dressing, topped with black and white sesame seeds and spring onions. Despite the name, the red chilli oil sauce is not very spicy at all, being there to dress the wontons rather than burn off your mouth.
These wontons are very different to the usual fare we’re used to with our normal wonton noodle soup which pale in comparison to these wontons which are half the size of your palm. The filling is a solid mixture of pork, chive and ginger which holds most of the flavour of this dish. These three dishes form the essentials we always order when we visit Taste of Shanghai.
The steamed vegetarian dumplings were a first-time order for us as we find that a good vegetarian dumpling makes for a good dumpling restaurant. As expected, these dumplings were quite good compared to other vegetarian dumplings we’ve tried in the past.
We could taste the individual ingredients of chive, spring onion, vermicelli, mushroom and ginger. The skin was a bit too thick, making the dumpling a little too chewy for our liking instead of complementing the soft filling. Overall, it was a solid vegetarian dumpling.
This soup was surprisingly refreshing. The shredded pork in the soup really shines through and the flavour dominates the profile of the soup. The green vegetable and bean curd served to give the soup more substance than just the pork. The serving was rather large and we had to take about half of it home (and it tasted even better the day after).
The spicy diced chicken was a heavy dish compared to everything else we ordered. The deep fried chicken peices were topped with capsicum, dried chilli, onion and peanuts. It packed a quite a punch, being spiced with Szechuan pepper, the dominant flavour of this dish, coupled with dried chilli. We couldn’t finish this dish as it was too heavy and we were already getting full from all the dumplings! #noregrets
This was probably the only let down of our meal. The rice was too oily (we found a pool of oil on the bottom of the rice when we packed it away) and the flavours of the salty pork and green vegetables just did not come through. We think this dish may have been rushed out as it feels like they didn’t give it as much attention as it needed. We ate a bit of it but ultimately left it mostly untouched as we couldn’t stomach the oil and lack of flavour.
After this meal, we are still convinced that Taste of Shanghai remains one of the top Shanghainese restaurants in Ashfield. The offerings were solid and the quality of their dishes have remained more or less consistent over the year that we have regularly visited. We look forward to visiting the Taste of Shanghai whenever we’re in the area.
Cost: $103 for 3 people
Payment options: cash or credit ($20 minimum)