Since I’m from Shanghai, “how does Shanghainese food differ from other Chinese cuisine?” has been a question that many people have asked me before. After some thought I’ve come up with the conclusion that Shanghainese food tend to be a bit sweeter, some dishes a bit more sour, not as oily or chilli than other parts of China and sometimes portions seem a bit smaller as well. Maybe people from the east of China seem to like lighter food? With that said, modern Chinese food in Shanghai has somewhat combined tastes from all over China so the idea of traditional Shanghainese dishes is blurred. People’s tastes have also changed over time and I find young people these days love to eat heavy dishes with plenty of chilli and oil. Nothing wrong with that of course.
Even though I return to Shanghai at least once every year (this year will be twice to celebrate my grandma’s 100th birthday :D) I do still miss eating authentic Shanghainese food here in Melbourne. So when I was invited by David’s Restaurant in Prahran, with thanks to Nuffnang, to have dinner at the re-opening of the restaurant last week, I was overjoyed.
As it was the first blogger event I’ve attended (yes I know I’ve been doing this for so long but keep missing these chances), I was able to properly meet some of the faces behind food blogs that I’ve been reading for a long time. Namingly I dined in the company of Michelle from Iron Chef Shellie, Agnes from Off The Spork, Erwin from The Learner Chef and his companion Jenny. I had a blast chatting to these like minded people and in the near future, you might see review of David’s Restaurant on their blogs too.
David Zhou, the owner of David’s and Oriental Tea House in the CBD, was born and raised in Shanghai like myself.
He grew up eating one of my favourite dishes – wonton soup – and was apparently quite taken by the country side food at a small town just outside of Shanghai city called Zhou Zhuang (周庄). I’ve actually been to Zhou Zhuang on multiple occasions, travelling there with my family and taking friends there for sightseeing. It’s regarded by some as Venice of the East since canals replace where there should be roads and riding boats around town is a popular and important form of transport. Food at Zhou Zhuang, without doubt, is honest, tasty and wholesome which is also the type of food David is trying to serve its customers.
I didn’t have the chance to visit David’s before its refurbishment and relaunch but compared to the interior photos I’ve seen online, the new look has a completely different feel. Rather than looking like the typical ‘Chinese’ restaurant, the completely white walls, roof and tables as well as the minimalist decor feels rustic and chic, almost like those of popular cafes Melbourne is getting so familiar with. The lack of ‘traditional’ Chinese decor might not be approved by some but it does have a somewhat refreshing feel when dining here. The blue and white new crockery do however provide what is lacking in that department.
There was a communal table at the centre of the room with self serve glasses, water, bowls and Chinese soy sauce and vinegar. I thought this was a great idea for those who don’t like to wait for waitstaff to bring it to their table.
We were offered many wines and teas that I wasn’t sure where to begin drinking! My father is a huge tea drinker and often brings back different types of teas from China so I’m familiar with many of David’s tea flavours. We tried 3 different pots of teas that night, being the Bi Luo Chun, Long Jing and Happy Tea, the first 2 being green teas and the last was a red tea. Whilst I liked all of them, my fellow bloggers on the table didn’t seem to like the red tea as much (or not at all really).
The wines I tried were also fantastic although not being too good with drinking, I preferred the warm pots of tea.
The first course to arrive at our table was the spiced oolong tea quail eggs with bean curd & wolf berries. It tasted just as I expected with an aromatic tea flavour blended with a good seasoning of soy sauce and spices. The flavours reminded me of the tea eggs that we’d always make at home, with a slightly less tea and salty flavour.
The second dish was the spicy beef with white radish and cucumber. The radish and cucumber were pickled and went very well with the well seasoned spicy beef. Although not exactly the same, these are dishes that we often order as cold entrees to a meal in Shanghai.
The green ‘n’ red: green soy beans, bok choy and chilli was a refreshing and delicious veggie dish which was also part of the cold entrees. I didn’t find it very chilli though which I don’t think it was supposed to be.
One of my favourite dishes since I was little is the drunken chicken. Mum used to and still does make this beautiful dish with soaking boiled chicken in rice wine, thus giving it the ‘drunken’ or alcoholic taste. David’s version was a little less drunken than I was used to, but I think that could be because of its first day of reopening and the drunken taste has yet to be be fully absorbed. The chicken was tender and juicy, just how I like it. Another dish that mum always makes is the drunken soy beans, David has done a good job pairing these two dishes into one with their complimentary tastes.
The last cold dish of the day was the DIY shredded duck and veggie wrap. Although I don’t think wrapping duck is a dish that originated from Shanghai (I think it’s more a northern China thing) I did still enjoy this fun and vibrate dish. I did think however that there was a bit too much sauce and perhaps not enough wrap. I usually like my duck in whole pieces rather than shredded as I like the crispy skin on top of Peking duck so I think I preferred the regular Peking duck wraps I tasted at other Chinese restaurants over this dish.
The first hot dish to be served is another one of my favourite Shanghainese must get dishes during a family meal out and that is the ‘one bite’ soft shell river prawns. It’s essentially deep fried prawns where the entire shell can be eaten, including the shell. I think I like my prawns even more crunchy and fried than David’s version, although it was full of flavour.
The second hot dish was the tofu and field of mushrooms. This was a lovely and well seasoned vegetarian dish. I love tofu in any way shape or form as it is so fragrant and silky. Mushrooms is also one of my favourite ingredients, so paired together makes this dish quite nice.
My favourite dish would have to be the country comfort: sticky pork belly and chat potatoes. Although traditionally this dish is made using chicken eggs, David has added a small twist by using chat potatoes instead. Just as tasty although probably not as heavy, this dish was also surprisingly not as oily as I’m used to, not that it’s a bad thing. The pork was also tender and well seasoned.
The next dish was grandma’s 8’s: Shanghai medley of scallop, shrimp, pork, chicken, chestnut, cashew, bamboo and shiitake. This dish was surprisingly chilli as it didn’t look chilli at all. Although packed with flavour, I thought the ingredients themselves were lost in the rich soy sauce flavour and the chilliness.
Another dish that wasn’t all that to my liking was the peasant’s crab with diced scallops, fish & egg whites tossed in the wok. It’s meant to taste like crabs and I can vouch that it does. However, I’m not sure what it is, I think I just don’t really like egg whites without the egg yolks. It was also a tiny bit on the bland side and lacked depth but again this could just be my personal preference.
The last hot dish for the night was the eye fillet with potatoes, ginger and soy. I quite enjoyed this dish was it was rich in flavour and the beef was tender.
We were also provided with fried rice to go with the savoury dishes, although it tasted mostly like a regular fried rice, it had a nice added sweet touch from the Chinese sausages.
For dessert the first dish we had was the osmanthus & red bean black sticky rice pudding. It was not too sweet for a dessert with red bean which was good and I adore black sticky rice so naturally I liked this dish. However, I did think the black sticky rice was a tad undercooked for my liking as it was still a little bit chewy.
The last dish for the evening was the traditional Chinese almond pudding. It was topped with delicious crushed sweetened black sesame seeds and went very well with the strong almond flavour of the pudding.
Overall it was a fantastic evening with mostly good tasting dishes, fantastic service coupled with very good company. David himself was cheerful and talkative although it was unfortunate that he was too busy for me to really chat to him. In the next few weeks, I might have a chance to attend other David’s Restaurant events so hopefully I’ll get to chat to him properly then. David’s Restaurant serves up authentic Shanghainese cuisine with a modern twist and I highly recommended ordering a pot of hot tea to go with the meal if you happen to find yourself in the area. David’s is hidden in a small laneway just off busy Chapel St which makes this place a great little hideout away from all the hustle and bustle. As my first photo suggests, David’s has also been on The Age Good Food Guide every years since 2002, that’s a very good achievement!
Again like my Colourful Yunnan post, I thought I’d put up a few travel photos from Zhou Zhuang (from my trip there in November 2011) to show you just how beautiful and serene the town is. If you find yourself in Shanghai, it takes roughly 2 hours by bus to this town and there’s regular tour groups you can join everyday for around $100RMB per person. Ask your travel agent for more information.
Tell you a little secret…this trip to Zhou Zhuang in November 2011 was probably my most scary trip, because we walked around for too long and almost missed the bus back to Shanghai! As all tours end at around the same time (and we had paid for a return trip on that one particular bus) we would have been literally stranded there. Lucky we paid a few yuan to a 4 wheeled bike rider and he rode us to where the bus was. :S It was my navigation problem that landed us in that situation and I feel so ashamed since I had been there many times before! It was even scarier than missing flights. Seriously.
Question time: Have you ever been stranded or close to being stranded in a foreign place on a trip?
Phone: (03) 9529 5199
4 Cecil Place, Prahran VIC 3181
Note: Ichigo Shortcake dined as a guest of David’s Restaurant and Nuffnang.