Shop 24 Pineland Plaza, 647 Beenleigh Rd, Sunnybank Hills
These last couple of weeks, Thursday night has been 'mum' night. That means a girls dinner with me and my mother. We're trying to make a tradition out of it.
Last Thursday, we decided to try this new place in Sunnybank Hills. Shangpaign (I think it's meant to be a pun on champagne? Or maybe not?) Kitchen serves Shanghainese cuisine. There's not much in the way of good, authentic Shanghainese food in Brisbane so whilst we wanted to give it a go, we didn't have our hopes up.
When I stepped into the restaurant, I felt quite skeptical. It's furnished in a contemporary manner and this is perhaps most evident in the menus - small, stylized and ring-bound. I saw the elderly couple at the table next to ours struggling to read the small font. Aside from that, the waiters were definitely not from Shanghai. There was a young lady walking around who had the air of 'owner/manager' and we heard her speaking Shanghainese to the kitchen staff. This might sound trivial and unimportant to some but because Shanghai cuisine is so specific, there's no point in even ordering it if they don't try for some level of authenticity.
We ordered some cold plates to start with. The smoked fish was a bit of a let down. It tasted OK but needed more sweetness. The texture of the flesh wasn't exactly right either. My dad makes a really awesome smoked fish.
Salted duck is another of my dad's specialties. I though the one from Shangpaign Kitchen was actually pretty good. The meat was very dense and firm, which is what you want.
It was 'salted' but not 'too salty', if that makes sense. Not sure what kind of duck they used but it seemed massive because the cuts were so generous.
I also picked a chicken and salted fish tofu claypot. This was the most disappointing dish of the day. There was no element of salted fish at all. No fish and the whole flavor was extremely bland. Come to that, there didn't seem to be any chicken either. We ate it with the justification that it tasted healthy...
Finally, mum and I ordered a plate of sticker buns. I think on the menu they're probably called something like 'fried pork buns' (didn't read it properly) but it's basically a steamed bun that's fried crispy on the bottom. This is very typical Shanghainese food and it's part of my usual breakfast every time I go back. We knew that the quality of the sticker buns would be a good indicator of how well Shangpaign Kitchen reproduces Shanghainese food.
I must say... they're very, very good. The buns were puffy and the base was crispy without being tough. The pork filling had a subtle ginger flavor and the best part was the 'soup' inside. This is how Shanghainese people judge whether a bun/dumpling/anything is good or not. You bite into it tentatively and suck the soup out. Yes, they're a bit oily but so are all the good things in life. Just deal. I like to dip the buns in a bit of vinegar too.
The whole time we were at Shangpaign Kitchen, mum and I were perving at everyone else's orders. The place got REALLY FULL. This was Thursday night, by the way. About 1/2 way into our meal, there were people lined up outside. The staff didn't pressure us to speed up or anything though, which is great. Anyway, from observation, we decided it was worth a second visit.
Which is why only a few days later, we went again, this time with dad in tow. He reckons he's the Matt Preston of Shanghai food and had metaphorically rolled up his sleeves, ready to try this place we'd been talking about. We ordered the sticker buns again and they were still good. Dad gave this a thumbs up.
We also ordered a bowl of pork and vegetable wontons to share. Traditionally, Shanghainese wontons have pork mince, bok choi and some shepherds purse.
These had pork, a small amount of unidentifiable vegetable (dad thinks it's cabbage) and something that looked like bean curd. They didn't taste bad but weren't what we expected. Also, they were a bit pricey for what they are.
The final item we tried was crab roe little dragon buns. Little dragon buns are another iconic Shanghai specialty. The common ones are made of pork but fancy ones contain crab roe. You can't really get crab roe here (it's not popular among Australians) and even if it were roe, the proper buns are made with roe from a specific kind of crab that isn't available here. In short, mum thought dad was an idiot for ordering the crab roe version since it was more expensive but unlikely to be what they wanted. She was right. The crab roe was very artificial in appearance and did nothing to add to the taste.
Disregarding that, the buns were good enough for us to recognize that Shangpaign Kitchen have done a reasonable job of replicating them. As mum says, there's now somewhere in Brisbane that we can get passable Shanghai snacks. Other people must have the same opinion because the second time we went, it was packed again and we ended up sitting outside. There were still more people who came after us that were forced to wait for a table. I say good on them for producing good food and expanding what's available here. All the same, stick to the more traditional items because some dishes (ahem chicken and salted fish pot) were really pointless.