I have to be honest. I went into New Shanghai, nestled into the third level of Emporium, rather sceptically — and not just because it went against my rule (and that of almost anyone who's on the lookout for new and unique dining experiences) that there is nothing good to be found in a food court, ever. But I also doubted the credibility of what I was about to experience; can Chinese street-style dumplings, pitched to Emporium shoppers, really be paired with matching wines? Do matching wines even exist? Nevertheless, I was curious to find out. Getting over my innate Melbourne snobbiness that recoils from eating at an international chain (New Shanghai has restaurants all over Australia, as well as Shanghai) inside a food court, I proceeded cautiously.
Normally, I would straight-up cringe at the tacky, film set-style plastic props designed to recreate a very fake Shanghai street, and sneer at the thought of unpalatably salty food court Chinese. Being pleasantly surprised, however, is a much nicer way to begin an evening. New Shanghai exceeded my expectations, and for the hour and a half I spent there, I forgot I was inside a shopping mall, riddled with fluorescent colour and overworked air conditioning.
What's important to take into consideration is how everything works as a whole. Much of the pairings worked well with the variety of dishes, which ranged from deep fried pork ribs to traditional sesame dumplings in sweet rice wine sauce. Often, the wine gave balance to the dish where it was otherwise lacking: the dry, fresh taste of a Vic sauvignon blanc cut through the too-heavy-on-the-salt and pepper prawn ($24). While the pairing itself leaves more to be desired, the originality and approach to traditional, sometimes over-worked dishes is refreshing and, over all, works very well.
The menu offering is extensive, with the majority devoted to dim sum and dumpling specialities and classics, as well as a good selection of meat and vegetable dishes, noodles, soups and seafood. Unless you have any favourites, dive straight in with the special 'hot broth' dumplings ($8.60-15.50), which should be first punctured to let the hot broth flow onto the spoon. Biting off the top also works quite well. Jazz it up with a sparkling white from the Barossa, which works surprisingly well against the fatty soup texture of the dish.
More times than not, places become known for one or two dishes and nothing beyond that, and a detail becomes the whole. What New Shanghai does exceedingly well is drawing your attention away from the micro to the macro. Its worth isn't just its food, nor for its wine or fit-out — but together, somehow, it all just works. Who knows, maybe you'll be as surprised as I was.