Thursday, January 17, 2008

Treat them mean, keep 'em keen

The Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant is a bit of a Melbourne institution. Nestled away in Tatterstall Lane near the gates of China town, the restaurant is legendary for its cheap dumplings, bad service and poor food hygene. It is a reflection of the quality (or maybe the cheapness) of the food that loyal customers seem to unquestioningly accept the frequent restaurant closures due to "kitchen rennovations" and the ocassional bout of bad food poisoning. Last year I heard a rumour (actually I read it in the MX newspaper) that the restaurant had been shut down for good. So imagine my surprise when I walked past Tatterstall lane the other week and noticed a bunch of people standing outside the restaurant, waiting for a table. Yay...the restaurant hadn't been forced to shut their doors after all (must have been another kitchen rennovation all along). Anyhow, yesterday I went back to the SDR with some friends. As usual, the restaurant was packed (the owner is most adept at squeezing customers into every available nook and cranny). And as usual, my friends were late. Still, I was fortunate enough to get a most coveted booth for four (a couple of SDR novices at an adjoining non-booth table, unhappy with the fact that they had to share theirs with two other people, had later tried to sneak into another 4-person booth and was promptly shouted back to their original seats by the owner). Five minutes after we had been shown to our table, the owner returned, looking surly and told us that we had to leave because our friends had not yet arrived and, unless we ordered right away, we would lose the booth to some other waiting diners. Holy shit. We promptly placed our order (I wasn't going to be kicked out over such a minor infringement). The others finally arrived and we had a great time pigging out, but still I couldn't help but feel the gaze of the owner on my back, watching and waiting for us to finish our meal and kick us out for the constant wave of incoming customers. This place is ruthless. A woman at an adjoining table who did not know how to use chopsticks got out of her seat and was trying to find a fork (this is a self-service kinda has to get their own bowls, their own tea, and even their own soy sauce from set cutlery and condiment 'stations' located around the restaurant). She was promptly shouted back to her table. Yes folks...dining at the SDR is a most stressful experience. But, oh, the dumplings. The juicy, succulent (cheap, cheap) dumplings brings us all back time and time again. But please, SDR, more kitchen rennovations.

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