But what if you don't live in Shanghai but want a taste of Shanghai without boarding a plane or boat? Well, for those of you on a limited travel budget or limited annual leave there’s a way of trying some Shanghainese dishes right here in Perth. As a bonus, the place is a bit of a collector’s gem of Shanghai too.
Recently, one of my Chinese friends recommended that I tried eating at Shanghai Tea Garden. She told me that the food was similar to food from "back home". What she also said was that the food would be less salty and possibly blander when compared to Westernised Chinese food or many other popularised Chinese restaurants. Not being a fan of dishes that rely heavily on salt, this did the opposite of deterring me.
Shanghai Tea Garden has recently been transformed by the owners of the former Mozart Bakery to a restaurant serving Chinese restaurant food as well as retaining some of its in-house made cakes. The décor at Shanghai Tea Garden was packed with a host of Shanghainese twentieth century memorabilia including photos of Shanghai, Chinese ornaments, an antique record player, draping oversized film with pictures of Shanghainese actors, and pictures of Shanghai including the infamous European style Bund. The restaurant’s décor pretty much screamed “Shanghai!”, and brought back fond memories of my previous holiday to Shanghai without actually going there.
The menu at Shanghai Tea Garden contains a variety of dishes that reflect Shanghainese as well as Chinese food generally, with most main courses in the $20-30 range. Rather than the typical Westernised local Chinese restaurant food such as sweet and sour pork and boneless lemon chicken, the dishes reflect Chinese cuisine such as Shanghai dumplings and pork belly dishes. However, some items on the menu can be a bit hard to decipher where the name doesn’t really provide a good description of what the dish should or would taste like. But I’m adventurous. Well… at least a bit.
Shanghai dumplings - $10
The Shanghai dumplings were served in a bamboo steaming basket and best eaten hot. The soft rice dough pastry was nicely thin, and inside was a meat filling and some soup or stock-like liquid that made these nice but light to eat. The Shanghai dumplings were served with a light vinegar that added a light sour acidity that gave the dumplings a nice flavour that was lighter on the palate.
Onion beef stone pot - $24
The stone pot this dish was served in seemed pretty impressive – it was a relatively attractive thick walled bowl shaped pot, and kept the sauce in the dish bubbling for some time.
The beef was chunky but not dry, and there was a large amount of sliced onion in the pot. The sauce was moderately thick, dark, and very generous such that it almost seemed like a soup that was simmering whilst the pot was hot. The beef tasted best when the pot was sizzling away. If you order this dish, it's recommended you eat it straight away but make sure you don't burn your tongue!
Crystal prawns - $24
The "crystal" up close
The prawns were peeled, deveined, crunchy and cooked in a close to clear sauce that gave the prawns a bit of a shiny glaze. Despite the relatively transparent nature of the sauce, the prawns had a fair amount of flavour without being salty.
The prawns were served on a plate with no vegetables or garnish, and were served lightly warm (and not hot) which may or may not be a good thing depending on your taste.
Fragrant chicken - $16
The fragrant chicken consisted of half a chicken cooked, and cut into pieces with the bones intact. The chicken was marinated and had a caramelised flavoured glaze to it.
Due to the marinade/glaze, the chicken was tastier than your average "crispy" chicken that was slightly sweet and savoury but also not salty. The chicken was also not dry but also not completely moist either. It also was cooked through such that there were no red bits near the bones.
Garlic spinach - $12
The spinach was blanched till it was completely soft, and cooked with a garlic and oil sauce to make it soft and not dry. The garlic sauce was a simple way of cooking the spinach that didn't drown out the taste of the spinach, but enhanced its flavour.
Salted pork, bamboo shoots, and pork ribs soup - $7
This soup was served in a nice looking cylindrical bowl. Despite the use of salted pork, the soup was not too salty, and the pork gave the soup substance and a nice meat flavour, whilst the bamboo shoots added extra texture.
Rice - $2 per head
The rice was charged on a per head basis and came in an attractive bamboo container.
In summary, Shanghai Tea Garden offers well prepared food that isn't too salty for my taste. Even though I was subsequently told that the dishes I ordered weren’t the most typical Shanghainese dishes – Whoops! – the food on offer is still reasonably authentic.
Points to note: The décor reflects the “Shanghai” in the restaurant’s name. Even though the portions of food aren’t the largest for the price, the food is pretty authentic and doesn’t rely on being salty for flavour. There are also house-made cakes on offer.
Go for: Shanghainese food in a neat little “Shanghai” restaurant filled with memorabilia from Shanghai.
Shanghai Tea Garden
1/399 William Street
NORTHBRIDGE WA 6003
(08) 9227 7066
Lunch - 10am to 3pm
Dinner - 6pm to late