What: New Shanghai
Where: South Piazza, Charlestown Square
Prices: Cold dishes $4 to $9; dim sim $5.80 to $12.80; soup $4.50 to $11.80; vegetables $9.80 to $15.80; noodles and rice $2 to $11.80; mains $13.80 to $29.80; dessert $4.90 to $8.80
Wines: BYO, $2 per head corkage
Hours: Thursday 11am to 9.30pm; every other day 11am to 9pm
Extras: Chinese tea $3.50 to $4.80
Vegetarian: Three or four dishes using tofu, or bean curd
Bookings: 4943 5857
Bottom line: About $70 for two
When you're on a good thing, stick to it. Sydney's most popular Shanghai dumpling place has reached Newcastle. The fifth jewel in the New Shanghai crown has opened in the piazza at Charlestown Square. Inside, carved window grilles and pebble floors bring a vibe that is rural Shanghai; outside you would swear you were in a suburban shopping centre.
Those in the know are familiar with the spectacle of dumplings prepared with skill and precision in the signature fishbowl kitchen. The staff has been well-trained in this exacting art and the dumplings come out fresh and fast.
You might start with cold drunken chicken ($9). Slices of succulent, steamed chicken breast covered in its slippery, silky skin have benefited from an overnight bath of Chinese wine infused with fragrant coriander and delicate spice. And it goes down a treat with a pot of jasmine tea.
Go with a few mates and you can sample not just the signature pan-fried pork dumplings or xiao long bao (steamed mini soup buns) but also other Shanghai specialties liked the deep-fried calamari ($18.80) coated with salted egg yolk (you can also choose prawn, $22.80, or blue swimmer crab, $29.80). The calamari yields to the chopsticks and the excessively salty egg yolk crust provides a satisfying crunch. You will need to order lots of blander dumplings or rice cakes and some greens to neutralise the salt.
Xiao long bao or expertly formed mini pork buns ($7) come in a bamboo steamer but be warned; remember to pierce each of the dumplings with your chopsticks or you might just wear the mouth-burning broth which bathes the minced pork filling.
For a colour and texture interlude you can't go past a large dish of garlicky, brilliant green stir-fried spinach ($9.80); or you might try some stir-fried green beans with dried shrimps and soy sauce ($11.80).
How can you resist something called "shepherd's purse" pork wonton ($9.80)? Glutinous wonton wrappers enclose a pork filling bursting with sliced green shallot. You won't need extra sauces for this dish. There is already plenty of red chilli oil swirling through the light sauce, with creamy sesame butter going some way to modify the heat.
For a change in texture try the stir-fired Chinese rice cake with XO sauce and shredded pork ($12.80). The XO sauce coating the chewy rice flour discs is not as hot as the chilli oil but still packs a punch. Shredded pork and more steamed spinach bring balance.
Desserts feature predictable green or red bean paste with ice cream and shaved ice but why be predictable when you can have "slow-cooked white fungus with papaya" ($4.80). This is a dish for all seasons. Served ice cold, its slightly crunchy texture is guaranteed to refresh on a hot summer day, while providing the perfect comfort food when served hot in winter. Cubes of red papaya add a seasonal note, but you might be just as likely to find red beans or pumpkin cubes in the light syrup.
The young, Chinese wait staff is friendly and efficient and the view of the kitchen keeps you entertained while you wait.