The genuine and sustained enthusiasm of trusted friends in a restaurant always triggers my curiosity, long before any published reviews. No less than four extensive phone calls touting both the quality and value of the food prompt a visit to verify if the hype is either justified or misplaced. Located in Ashfield, a mecca of Shanghai style cuisine, makes it hard to be critical of them naming their renovated digs New Shanghai, given the context and depth of competition around them. As it turns out, the basic model has been so successful, it is expanding at almost franchise-like proportions across demographic boundaries, indicating the dining market is responsive to what they bring to the table.
Compared to the atypical Asian eatery, the main room is slicker than expected without being overdone, proudly featuring the dim sim kitchen behind a large glass panel for both easy viewing and hygiene, becoming strangely mesmerising during the meal. Rather fitting then to start with the humble steamed mini pork buns ($6.80), delicate little pockets of herbal broth with nuances of pork, that are testament to the highly skilled dim sum Chefs, who unrelentingly refine their craft in full view. The pan-fried version ($8) is nicely caramelised on the base, giving it some bite, whilst maintaining the pure essence of the broth that is the key to both versions. For the record, a very brisk takeaway service thrives on both my visits, and a street front counter also offers another alternative to the dining option, without distracting from the main game.
Drunken chicken ($8.80), popular in the Shanghai region, is served cold amplifying the flavour, texture and seasoning of this technique. The poultry is cooked, then soaked overnight in Chinese Shaoxing wine, with herbs and spices to add complexity. The result is a stunningly good dish that is a must have in my opinion, and the produce is clearly of commendable quality, as there is no way to mask inferior poultry with this dish. Gelatinous, tangy sweet pork ribs in black vinegar ($6.80), also served cold, dissolve almost entirely, and do not need the shredded noodles which seem disconnected to a dish that has enough merit to stand alone. My recommendation would be order your dishes in stages because the portions are quite generous, allowing you to retain some warmth for the appropriate dishes. I have to say they handled my bill revisions with ease and without comment, unlike some other establishments who should know better.
The pizza crust-like texture of the deep-fried shallot pancake ($4.80) is not to my liking, preferring instead the sesame coated deep-fried pastry balls with shallot and ham ($8.80). This dish is far more flavoursome and a better textural outcome in my opinion. Similarly, the spring rolls ($6.80) are textbook ‘golden fried’, with clean flavours to make the experience worthwhile enough to consider seconds. The lean meat congee ($7.80), resonates with the flavour from large segments of preserved egg, although be warned, the serving size takes some getting through if you have dishes following. Stir fried handmade noodles ($8.80), with pork and vegetables delivers a lot of joy for not much coin. The texture and thickly coated noodles, with the smoky flavour of the pork and wilted greens is not rocket science, but the combination is proven and works effectively.
Deep fried crispy skin chicken ($13.80), is elevated by garlic and chilli sauce that has a well-balanced residual heat note to make the dish interesting enough. The stir fried beef in Sichuan sauce ($12.80) has lovely texture, with a hot and spicy sauce, which I would have preferred had a slightly thicker consistency. This preference does not undermine the fundamentals of an otherwise enjoyable dish. Large strips of salt and pepper squid ($16.80), which I always order with a deal of trepidation due to the surprising failure rate elsewhere, has crunch, seasoned to the absolute edge (my preference), and most importantly showcasing the main ingredient, which is tender and moreish.
The well-priced fried ice cream ($5.80), needs a basic ‘house-made’ caramel or chocolate sauce to act as a counterpoint to the massive ‘Bocce-sized’ ice cream ball and cake like casing. Perhaps sharing is a better solution, but it should be said the ice cream is of a fairly decent quality and not that far off the benchmark at Mr. Wong, if you still have the appetite to conquer it. It is probably a good time to mention any leftovers will be rounded up at twenty cents a container, providing a fallback position if you over order.
New Shanghai may yet be coming to a location near you given the current rate of expansion (five opened in NSW to date and two more planned). You may ask, is this a good thing? Providing they can maintain the quality on plate and price points, and back this up with more consistent service, being patchy on my two visits, then the answer is yes. Also, allowing autonomy and menu variation provides a point of difference keeping things interesting for those who move between venues. However, the passion, diligence and artisanal skill shown on the dim sum menu really seals the deal for me, as the difference between average and excellent is akin to a chasm for those who have experienced both ends of the spectrum.
273 Liverpool Road, Ashfield
Mon-Sun 10am to 10pm to 4pm
BYO (no corkage)