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?
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
We really liked it.
OverallA 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 atShark Fin Inn
50 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Phone (03) 9662 2681