I think everyone knows exactly which restaurant I’m talking about when I mention “that dodgy Shanghai dumpling place on Tattersalls Lane.” For years, it has served ridiculously cheap Shanghainese snacks and meals for hungry Melburnians, with fried pork dumplings being its speciality. For $6.50, you can get 15 pieces of pot sticker dumplings that you can eat on your own or share with a mate along with a side dish of Shanghai noodles or glutinous rice. It doesn’t matter that the food would make Gordon Ramsay faint what with its high MSG content and the fact that there is at least a cup of oil on the plate of the said pork dumplings that you ordered, it doesn’t matter that the service is far removed from Flower Drum standards and it doesn’t matter that the décor isn’t full of serious bling. It’s simple and it’s cheap – and it was practically my best friend when I was still a povo uni student.
It’s been a while since I’ve been there so when Adam and I were thinking of places to eat for dinner last night before meeting up with Cathy and Jase for some arty farty play at the Arts Centre that we had complimentary tickets to*, we decided to go for something simple. I felt like Chinese food and Adam just felt like something greasy, so Shanghai dumplings were the way to go. Although there were a few dumplings houses on Swanston St that I’d not yet tried, we decided to go a back to “that dodgy Shanghai dumpling place on Tattersalls Lane” for old time’s sake.
You know it has REALLY been a while since your last visit when you notice that the décor looks different. Still the same walls, tables and lay-out but the chairs were different, they didn’t play those cheesy covers of Frank Sinatra songs and the place looked a bit… cleaner. All good. We grabbed a table in that little room on the right and waited for our menus to arrive but they didn’t, so we just grabbed a menu from a nearby table. We decided 15 fried pork dumplings, 8 steamed pork dumplings and a plate of Shanghai noodles to share and waited for someone to serve us but no one did. There were at least three other waitresses in the vicinity but they didn’t seem that keen on serving us – they were too engrossed in replenishing already-full paper napkin dispensers or stacking bowls or they were pretending not to see us.
We finally flagged down a waitress who acted like taking down our order was just a pain in the arse. She generally acted like a moody biatch the whole time while getting even the simplest things wrong. Now, when I order at Asian places, I generally try to say what I want while pointing to the item on the menu so that they wouldn’t get it wrong (my yobbo accent is apparently too strong for some people to understand). Even then, some waiters still get it wrong like the time when the dude at Tien Dat brought Adam broken rice and fried pork when he clearly said tomato rice and chicken while POINTING to the tomato rice and chicken. Still, pointing significantly decreases the error rate. Anyway, I told the girl that I wanted 15 fried pork dumplings while pointing to the first line of the menu to which he/she replied, “15 steamed dumplings?” After correcting her and she writing it down, I asked for 8 steamed dumplings as well as Shanghai fried noodles. She seemed a bit lost when I said Shanghai fried noodles, but not before I did the whole point-to-the-menu thing again. I reckon that none of them actually know any English and the only way they know what we want was seeing the Chinese translations of the dish written below each English-written dish on the menu.
The noodles came first, which was a bit surprising as the dumplings usually come out quicker but it didn’t really bother us. I acknowledge that the Shanghai noodles aren’t usually the best at this place but the plate we had yesterday was nothing short of awful. There was no doubt that it had been pre-cooked beforehand and simply re-fried as it tasted rather “stale” and the noodles veered towards the fluoro side of yellow. Granted, it was only $7.20 a serve but I’ve had noodles that were priced at the $7 mark in Springvale and they were much nicer (and also served with a cheerful smile). The fried dumplings came out next and all was fine. But it wasn’t until we had polished off everything in sight, did we realised that our steamed dumplings were missing. We gave them another 15 minutes to bring them out before Adam politely asked a passing waiter about our dish. In response, the kid simply snapped, “They’re coming!” before scurrying away, which I thought a bit rude. Obviously it was not his fault that the dumplings were taking a bit too long, but we did ask nicely so the least he could’ve done was check up on them in the kitchen or be, well, a little bit nicer.
Five minutes later, the kid came back to our table to ask us what we had ordered. Adam and I exchanged a glance, before telling him that we were waiting for our 8 steamed dumplings. Obviously, the dumplings were NOT on their way 5 minutes ago when he told us that they were if he had not even the slightest clue what we had ordered. We decided to wait another 10 minutes before leaving. During those 10 minutes, a pair of girls came to sit in the table behind us. They were also not given menus so they asked the girl for them. The girl went to retrieve the menus, before literally throwing them on the table. How rude and unprofessional, I thought, and given the WTF looks on the girls’ faces, they thought so too. And after that, our dumplings were still a no-show. Seriously, you’d think that a dumpling restaurant would have a huge steamer of dumplings ready to go and all someone needed to do was to dish them out every time a patron orders a plate. And even if they DID run out of steamed dumplings, steaming them from afresh would NOT take 40 minutes. We signalled for our bill and we were off on our way. We didn’t even get an apology either. Poor form guys, poor form .
Afterwards, I was wondering whether their standards had really diminished or wether I was just being fussy, especially after eating at more posh eateries. However, given that Adam had ranted angrily after the meal (“F*CK! THEY CAN’T EVEN GET THREE DISHES RIGHT!”), I reckon the former is more accurate. Sub-standard food, even for a budget eatery and miserable service. I get it that it’s a hot day and I get it that working at a Chinatown restaurant is the last thing you want to do on a Sunday afternoon but for fck’s sake, please don’t take your anger out on your customers who aren’t even giving you a hard time. I know this post alone won’t deter the hundreds of diners who flock there every day but rest assured that I won’t be coming back.
* We ended up not going to that arty farty thing because it was on at 9pm and I was hella tired. And couldn’t be stuffed too. Besides, the show sounded kinda boring – give me cricket pitch diagnoses any time!