After all the Baz Luhrmann opening night hooplah died down, the Emporium
has proven to be a shopping centre, no more and no less. Save in one important respect: the schmick food court.
The third floor of deliciousness, as it shall be henceforth known, for once deserves the hype. Even a cynic might concur that some crystal ball-gazing futurist deserved their massive consultancy fee for declaring the likes of EARL Canteen, Jimmy Grants and Pho Nom the future of fast food.
And then you’ve got New Shanghai, which perches on the edge of the food court and shares its loos, but is otherwise a separate entity. ‘Restaurant’ is perhaps too strong a word: the service is too ruthlessly utilitarian for that, and the dishes turn up in a rapid muddle without heed to progression or table size.
With its cobblestone tiles and odd outbreak of Chinoiserie, ‘smart dumpling-caff’’ probably sums it up better. And really, it’s not difficult to see it as the food equivalent of Topshop’s fast fashion: it’s not going to set the world on fire but it will make you happy. And it’s wallet-friendly, too.
Dumplings are Melbourne’s culinary lifeblood and New Shanghai bigs up its credentials with a phalanx of chefs madly pleating little pouches of goodness behind glass. Their closest rival is HuTong, and the excellent xiao long bao skins here are thinner, although they’re not as bold on the hot soup shot that can take the skin off your mouth. Crab meat lends the pork a touch of richness, although they lose a point for not having slivers of ginger for the vinegar. Let’s call it a draw.
Hit the slippery, pork-filled ‘shepherd’s purse’ wontons with chilli oil and a dribble of peanut butter for a modern spin on classic flavours, and the lamb and leek for northern-style comfort. Open-ended vegetarian dumplings with translucent vermicelli noodles and some dutiful greenery flecked with carrot are dullsville in comparison.
The rest of the menu treads a path as normcore as Uniqlo. Meaty little clams in ginger and shallot are tasty albeit slightly gritty, fried rice tossed in XO sauce quickly gets shoved to the side, while pillowy cubes of deep-fried silken tofu finished in salted egg yolk have a good chance of converting the anti-soybean curd brigade.
The staff has the service graces of traffic wardens, and they’ll throw you out when the shopping center closes. It oughtn’t be a problem: the very basic drinks list is no reason to linger, although you can BYO wine (and, better still, book). Best treat New Shanghai as a high-energy pit-stop - the new norm of food fashion.