Winner: Shandong Mama
It’s a simple canteen in a Bourke Street arcade, and you can’t even drink on the premises, but Shandong Mama takes the value-for-money crown hands down. This tiny little joint has bowled Melbourne over in the past year with incredibly fresh Shandong-inspired dishes and the friendliest service in Chinatown. Punters are lining up for the delicate steamed fish dumplings – balls of oily mackerel, fragrant with ginger, coriander root and chives, captured in the thinnest skins. There’s the bright, fresh crunch of super-fine cabbage and jellyfish ribbons tangled together in a citrus-sesame dressing, and spicy fat-marbled slivers of Chinese sausage. It’s all made daily by Meiyan Wang (aka Mama), for whom running the restaurant constitutes retirement after 40 years dutiful service to the Chinese government as an accountant. Mama’s godson Colin Chee beams around the room handing out peanuts – softened and salty from a boil in soy and Chinese five spice – to those caught waiting, and he tells us that Wang is regularly up past midnight, prepping dumplings and stretching noodles. “She has so much energy because this what she does for herself – this is her legacy for her daughter.” They really aim to please at Shandong Mama, and they really do. We love it, and you will too.
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