Monday, August 22, 2011

New Shanghai (Bondi Junction) - Shanghai-light of the East(ern Suburbs)

Before the Westfield gourmet juggernaut hit the Sydney CBD, there was another aspiring Westfield food court aiming for a more upmarket eating experience, and that was Bondi Junction in Sydney's east. But while Westfield Sydney has sauteed, braised, deep-fried, baked, and sous-vide its way to the top of the food court tree with celebrity chef power and a variety of killer eateries, Bondi Junction has been in the doldrums. Despite possessing a generous vista of the city skyline and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, its coterie of anonymous and perfunctory cut-and-paste eateries is uninspiring. Even without the infestation of the mass-produced dreck from the multinational McDonalds, KFCs, and Subways of this world, there is little attraction to eating here.

Thank goodness then for New Shanghai, a casual takeaway branch of the popular restaurant which had its start in Sydney's Ashfield before expanding to North Shore Chatswood and places as diverse as Charlestown (near Newcastle), Shanghai, and Singapore.

New Shanghai's philosophy to popularise Shanghainese cuisine allows an array of well known and more esoteric dishes to be tasted, and this fits perfectly into a food court setting; one can order as little or as much as one desires without feeling guilty, and it's an ideal place for snacking and for experiencing unfamilar food.

There is a large selection of Shanghai-style noodles, rice, and soups, as well as their signature dumplings, which are made to order as one waits, with all the action happening in the dedicated dumpling-making 'theatre' that is an extension of the counter. Quality and freshness are assured as the dumpling practitioner rolls, kneads, fills, and seasons the dumplings by hand, and within ten to fifteen minutes the parcels of steamed or fried deliciousness are presented piping hot for one's consumption.

Drunken chicken ($9) - chicken soaked in Chinese wine with herb and spice
While waiting for the dumplings to be crafted, we indulge in two cold dishes to whet the appetite. The first is the popular drunken chicken, uber-tender pieces of galline thigh marinated in a deliciously sweet Chinese wine; its menu description of being "soaked" is rather unappetising though and should be changed. The skin is slipperily silky and the whole dish is moreish, particularly with a bowl of steamed rice. In my experience, a few Caucasians are afraid of chicken which is still a pale white/yellow but this is a great dish that everyone should enjoy.

Sweet and sour pork rib in dark vinegar sauce ($5)
The sweet and sour pork ribs on the other hand are a more difficult recommendation, mainly because of the fiddly pork ribs. There is nothing wrong with the dark vinegar sweet and sour sauce which is tangy and scrumptious, but the amount of chewy cartilage in this dish is disconcerting. Similar to chewing on the endless bones present in chicken's feet, a lot of sucking is required to make the most out of the limited pork flesh, and the upshot is rather unfulfilling.

New Shanghai Xiao Long Bao - steamed mini pork bun/New Shanghai crab meat Xiao Long Bao - steamed mini crab meat and pork bun
There are two types of handmade xiao long bao (steamed mini buns), one with pork mince and the other the same but luxuriously studded with shredded crab meat. In some cases, the two varieties are barely distinguishable but the New Shanghai versions are distinct with the crab clearly present. The 'baos' are wonderfully steamed fresh and one needs to be wary of the hot soup hiding inside. The dainty balls of meat within are well cooked to a luscious tenderness but the delicate casing is a little dry and tough where they're pinched at the apex. Still fine examples of the beloved XLB.

Pan fried pork dumpling/New Shanghai pan fried pork bun/New Shanghai pan fried crab meat and pork bun/Deep fried pastry filled with shallot and ham and coated with sesame/Deep fried pastry filled with white radish, dried shrimps and shallots/Steamed vegetable dumpling
A melange of dumplings, buns, and deep-fried pastries are equally excellent, even without their being made on the spot. The pan-fried pork dumpling is meaty, moist, and tasty but the surprise is the steamed vegetable dumpling, a beautifully cooked and textured mix of diced vegetables that burst forth with flavour.

The pan-fried buns are unsurprisingly hearty with their thick doughy casings holding balls of nicely cooked pork mince and crab meat inside. Their bases are pan-fried to a smokily singed crispiness and as with the XLBs, each bun holds a spoonful of potentially scalding hot broth waiting to squirt out unsuspectingly with one's first bite. So much so that we are forbodingly issued a cute little flower-shaped Post-It note cautioning us of "Hot broth inside"; thanks girls. First degree burns averted.

The last of the dim sim-style dishes is of the deep-fried variety, and both are better than expected. The pastries are light, flaky, buttery, and not too dry, while the fillings are suitably moreish, with a mixture of ham and shallots in one, and a deliciously textural combination of white radish, dried shrimps, and shallots in the other. Just don't try whistling with these babies in the mouth.

Deep fried calamari coated with salted egg yolk ($18.80)/Combination fried rice ($9)
Leaving the satisfying dim sim-style dishes behind we try a main and a rice dish, but neither reaches any great heights. The deep-fried calamari coated with salted egg yolk is an unusual dish visually with egg yolks rendering the crunchy batter a lucent orange glow. Alas, it doesn't taste better than it looks as it's heavy, salty, and the balance is askew. The combination fried rice is light and not too oily but a little too sparing on the 'combination' part, with only diced ham and the odd prawn accompanying the standard frozen vegetables mix (peas, carrots, etc.).

Pan fried pumpkin pastry ($4.50 for 2 pieces)
It is most welcome to see a non-dessert food court eatery serving sweets, and New Shanghai has five on the menu, from the obscure (slow-cooked white fungus with papaya) to the more traditional (sesame paste dumplings). Pan-fried pumplin pastry sits somewhere in the middle, and while there is no presentation to speak of (they resemble badly fake-tanned hockey pucks), they are yummy. The outside is still a little hot, and there is a slight crunch, while the inside is gooey, smooth, and more importantly, just the right amount of sweet. At $2.25 each, they are a bargain and a lovely way to end a meal or as a naughty snack.

Westfield Sydney has the world famous Din Tai Fung but New Shanghai at Westfield Bondi Junction gives it a run for its dim sim money and in many ways betters it. New Shanghai has an extensive menu of over fifty dishes and a wider selection, including cold dishes and over twenty dim sim-style foods which Din Tai Fung cannot match. This variety alone would have one coming back, provided the food is good, and for the most part it is great. As long as one focuses on the standout dumplings and buns for which New Shanghai is famous, then one is guaranteed deliciousness. The non-dim sim-style dishes on the other hand are too uneven for a wholehearted recommendation, with the exception of the pan-fried pumpkin pastry.  With prices very affordable (the most expensive dish is the deep-fried prawn coated with salted egg yolk at $22.80), the service friendly with an added touch, and the dumpling 'theatre' adding a little flair, New Shanghai at Westfield Bondi Junction has breathed new life into this waning and stagnating food court, and about time too.

FoodiePop dined at New Shanghai as a guest of New Shanghai and George of Wasamedia.

The good: dumplings and buns; freshness; drunken chicken; pan-fried pumpkin pastry; dumpling 'theatre'; prices; efficient and amiable service; large menu; food court setting
The bad: cold sweet and sour pork ribs are too fiddly to eat; deep-fried calamari coated with salted egg yolk is too salty and heavy
What the?: slow cooked white fungus with papaya

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  1. I very rarely venture out to Bondi Junction and when I do I avoid that shopping centre at the best of times. I think I've eaten in the food court just once soon after the centre opened. New Shanghai may be a fabulous addition but I doubt I'll make my way to the Junction just to eat there. Although, if I need a dumpling fix ...

  2. I really like the food at New Shanghai! So much flavour and a good range of different offerings too :)

  3. Lol, I love the note, thoughtful touch. Drunken chicken is a favourite of mine, it's been too long without I think, as Cheesecake Boy is a bit turned off by the cold chicken.

  4. Whoa - what didn't you try?! :) It all looks great. It's been quite some time since I've eaten at that food court!

  5. Yes, the dark and moody (and more exxy) foodcourt is in is MUCH nicer than the KFC one. I like New Shanghai there. Had some interesting chewy cold fish dish there, kind of like fish jerky.

  6. aw shame about the calamari it looked awesome coated in all that egg yolk!

  7. Yeah I'm not sure about that calamari. The xiao long bao looks pretty good though. Wish Bondi wasnt so far away :(

  8. A shame about the excess cartilage on the pork ribs but they do look stickily delicious. And I heart salted egg yolk! So addictive!