Camy Shanghai Dumpling and Noodle Restaurant, often abbreviated to The Shanghai Dumpling House, has been a part of the Chinatown culinary scene since, well, forever. To admit you’ve never been invites looks of pity and disbelief - unless your friends were better raised than that, in which case you’ll find yourself lining up on Tattersall’s Lane in short order, waiting for a table.
But don’t let the near-inevitable queue put you off - things move quickly around here, and it’s rare to wait for longer than ten minutes. This has a lot to do with the famed $12 “Eat all you can eat” menu, which seems to have been devised to fire people through the doors as quickly as possible. The service itself is very fast - you’ve barely sat down before the first dish has arrived.
Each table receives one plate of each item on the menu - when it’s empty you simply draw the attention of a stone-faced server and let them know you’d like another. In theory, there are various versions of several dishes - beef or pork, vegetarian or meat - but in practice you’re unlikely to have the chance to explain your preference.
The food is turned out with mechanical speed by kitchen staff who must be either wonders of efficiency or people constantly on the verge of a mental breakdown. Diners fetch their own plastic cups of free jasmine tea, and often have to request bowls to eat from as these things get overlooked.
The bill for each table is wedged into the corner under the laminate, the bathrooms are fairly penitential and it’s a quirk of the restaurant that every now and again the Happy Birthday song blasts over the PA at ear-splitting volume. So why do so many Melbournites love this nerve-jangling establishment? Because it offers the cheapest, fastest meals you’re likely to find in Chinatown, that’s why. “Eat all you can” is practically an order.