Thursday, March 23, 2017

Shark Fin Inn, Melbourne CBD by Benny

Melbourne’s historic theatre district, centred around Her Majesty’s and the Princess Theatre (both built in 1886) is temptingly close to the vibrant Chinatown area. So, when Bilby Blue and I were treating Nanna to an afternoon matinée, it was an easy decision to grab a pre-theatre yum cha at the top end of Little Bourke Street. After surveying the many options, nostalgia beckoned us towards the Shark Fin Inn – it used to be a Benny family favourite, but we hadn’t been there for several years.

Shark Fin Inn, spare ribs, chicken feet, beancurd roll
Spare ribs, chicken feet and beancurd rolls

Back in the 1980s when the Shark Fin Inn first opened, yum cha was offered by only a few select Chinese restaurants, and only for Sunday lunch. It was a real treat, and the Shark Fin quickly gained a reputation for being one of the best. Nowadays yum cha is available all over Melbourne, seven days a week, whether you are craving a traditional offering (such as Mei Jing or Gold Leaf), café-style dining (Shanghai Street or Hutong Dumpling Bar), or a more innovative interpretation (Susie Wong or Block 7 Kitchen). Has the Shark Fin maintained its reputation?

Shark Fin Inn, pan fried dumplings
Pan fried dumplings

The Shark Fin looks just the same as I remembered it. The slightly awkward entrance into a tiny greeting area is still there; a very small dining area at street level and a larger room (but not as large as in my memories) on the first floor; generic furniture and décor in a style that was recognisable from late last century. While it is as clean and presentable as any modern restaurant, the décor and basic layout could probably benefit from an update.

Shark Fin Inn, prawn sweetcorn dumplings
Prawn and sweetcorn dumplings

However, one thing was very much better in comparison with our usual 21st century Chinese restaurant experience: service. Downstairs was almost full, and I was impressed that before being offered a table upstairs, the maître d’ ensured that Nanna was comfortable with the stairs (she was).

Shark Fin Inn, gai lan
Gai Lan

This notable level of solicitude and friendliness from all the staff extended for the entire meal, and contrasted with the brusque efficiency that seems to be typical of many Chinese restaurants.

What about the food?

Shark Fin Inn, xiao long baos
Xiao long baos

All but one of our yum cha dishes were good. The chicken feet, prawn and sweet corn dumplings, pork spare ribs, bean curd rolls, pan fried dumplings, Gai Lan and mango pudding all met the standards that we have come to expect – great flavours and textures. Just slightly under par but still acceptable, was the xiao long bao. The filling was tasty with a slurp of a good soup, but we thought that the pastry was a bit too thick.

Shark Fin Inn, deep fried squid
However, the deep fried spicy squid was disappointing. This is normally a Benny family favourite, but our serving had obviously been wandering around the room for far too long and was served at not much above room temperature. The batter was consequently oily and no longer crisp. The squid itself was also rather chewy.

Shark Fin Inn, mango pudding
Mango pudding

The Shark Fin Inn is certainly able to mix it with the best on the standard yum cha dishes, but on the day we visited only those standard dishes appeared to be on offer. It did not seem to have any of the more innovative offerings that pop up even at suburban yum chas. Maybe you just have to know what to order.

Shark Fin Inn, yum cha

Verdict

We really liked it
We really liked it.
Mid value
Mid value.

Overall

A good, well-priced CBD restaurant delivering a standard yum cha. Service is very friendly. Avoid dishes that have been circling the room for a while. Order your favourites direct from the kitchen if the trolleys take too long to get to you – the friendly staff will serve them while they are still piping hot.

Find it at

Shark Fin Inn
50 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Phone (03) 9662 2681

Shark Fin Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hanging in HK atm, and the mother in law "tut tuts" at ordering fung jiao. I kinda like it though.

This was the restaurant I met my husband of 15 years <3.

PS, my new fave is dau miu prawn gwoh - translucent wrapper with prawn and dau miu filling. Try it if you get to HK

EatAndBeMerry ForTomorrowWeDiet said...

Lucky you for being in HK and it must be wonderful to visit favourite restaurants! I love dau miu - I hope that this dumpling will make its way to the Australian yum cha menus.
~ Bureaucrat

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