Eating Out (of Town): Melbourne: Shandong Mama

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This is another little “catch-up” restaurant review post from my recent trip to Melbourne.  About a week or two before I left, my friend Rachel had just been down to Melbourne.  She told me, “I’ve found the most amazing dumpling place, you seriously have to go – it’s changed my life!”.  Now, not to say I wasn’t a little dubious, but that’s a big claim.

Once I was down there though, it turned out that my hotel was located right across the road from Chinatown.  OK, if that’s not a sign that I should try these dumplings, I don’t know what is.  

So I went walking through the Chinatown mall, looking for this place my friend had told me about.  Alas, I couldn’t find it, and had to turn to my nemesis Google maps.  Google told me that I could find in in Bourke St.  “Bourke St” I cried!  That’s not even in Chinatown!  Its next door!  Turns out they were both right.  Sandwiched in an arcade of fluorescent lit shops that connects to BOTH Bourke St and Little Bourke St is Shandong Mama.  It sits opposite a hair salon, a nail salon and a confusing place called “Pancake Dessert House” – which sells neither pancakes nor dessert.  So, needless to say, it wasn’t exactly brimming with atmosphere.

The warmth inside was a pleasant respite from the cool Melbourne winds.  The service from the staff was ok.  Good, not great.  From the looks of this place, you shouldn’t be expecting Shangri-La.  Like it’s staff, its simple, and straight to the point.  However, they do have some nice booths, and a cute selection of books and a Gigi cat near the register.

We ordered the Boiled Vegan Dumplings, the Boiled Dill-icious Dumplings, the Pan fried Chicken and Shepard’s Purse Dumplings, and the Pan fried Pork Dumplings.  There is a complimentary tea that is served, but you do need to ask for it.

Well, what can I say.  These are hands down the best dumplings I’ve ever had.  I wasn’t expecting much, especially from the vegan dumplings,  but they were amazing.  My favourite by far, was the vegan ones, perhaps because these were the ones I was most dubious about.  Filled with finely shredded zucchini and ribbons of tofu, they tasted truly amazing, and being that they are boiled and vegan, you know that they are going to be pretty good for you.

The dill-icious pork boiled dumplings were also fantastic, but it goes without saying, they are heavily flavoured with dill – so you best like the taste of dill if you order these.  The chicken and pork pan fried were also very flavourful, however being that they are fried, they do sit a bit heavier on your stomach, and you probably would be well advised to not be too greedy with them.

You get between 10-12 dumplings per plate, and they cost between ~$10.80-$12.80.  There are about six varieties of boiled and six of fried, as well as a wide selection of additional dishes such as soups, and side dishes.  Each table has a selection of sauces (chili oil, soy sauce and red vinegar), and the drinks menu offers lots of options.  The only thing I could really pick fault with at Shandong Mama was that I had to keep asking for tea refills.  And considering how much tea I drink, it got a bit aggravating having to  flag someone down every 5 or so minutes.

I was surprised to see quite a few negative reviews of this restaurant on urban spoon, most of which boasted they’d had much better dumplings elsewhere.  I can’t explain this.  Whether the seafood based dumplings were not so great (as I didn’t try these I couldn’t comment), or whether its that Melbourne has the best dumplings in the country – I don’t know.  If its the latter, please share the love and tell us where these supposedly better dumplings are!

As far as I’m concerned, I now will have to scour my hometown of Brisbane to find anything that even closely resembles the magic that is Shandong Mama.  My life too, has been changed forever by their affordable and delicious parcels of goodness.

Shandong Mama on Urbanspoon

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