Thursday, November 26, 2009

HuTong Dumpling Bar, Melbourne

I have read many great things about this place and the last time I came here, admittedly a busy Friday lunch time, I couldn't even get a table!

Tonight, I wasn't taking any chances; I had arranged for my friend and I to arrive at five-thirty on the dot.  This being their opening time for the evening.  We weren't the only ones thinking along these lines either, as there was already a couple eagerly waiting by the entrance.  

Since the doors had not yet opened, we decided to wait patiently under the protection of our umbrella.  In the next few minutes, three more groups of people arrived and I felt impulsed to move closer to the entrance behind the first couple.  I felt them cautiously eye me up as I did this, but I didn't care.  I wanted a table tonight, no matter what.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait too long for the doors to open.  As we entered, I proceeded to ask for a table for two, a little nervously when I saw the huge list of 'reservations'.  We were given a table on their ground floor by the window.  It looked a little cramped, so I very nicely asked for a table upstairs.  The waitress muttered something to the waiter in their mother tongue and the waiter nodded before they ushered us upstairs - without a smile I might add. 

Upstairs on the first floor, there are a few four person booths with strategically scattered wooden tables for four and two around the rest of the room.  A technicolour stained glass window formation sits alongside the booths.  The bare red brick walls, with wooden beams running across the ceiling gave this room an almost barn conversion feel.  I was impressed by how tastefully decorated and upmarket this place was compared to some of the other dumpling houses in Chinatown, Melbourne.

We grabbed a two person table and were promptly presented with menus.  The menu had a few pages displaying photo images of the dishes.  Always helpful when you are trying to picture what a dish looks like when you have absolutely no idea...

The first picture on the first page was that of HuTong's infamous 'Shao Long Baos' or more precisely Xiao Long Bao ($10.80 for 8).  I decided that we had to have them.  My friend duly agreed.  We also decided to try the 'Szechuan Chilli Wontons'.  Being careful not to order too much, we decided to go for just one main dish - the 'Prawn and Eggplant Szechuan Chilli' Claypot' and one steamed rice to share.

A pot of Chinese tea was ordered to refresh our palates.  I personally don't like to drink anything other than this with a Chinese meal;  I really don't find beer or wine complimentary.

Our chilli wontons were the first of the trio of dishes to arrive.  They were steamed wontons in Szechuan chilli sauce with a sprinkling of spring onions (scallions).  You get eight of these little wontons and they were really rather tasty.  Although they weren't as steaming hot as we had expected them to be.  Instead they were just on the warm side of tepid.

Furthermore, not being a big fan of aniseed, I did at one point get a pretty strong taste of it which annoyingly wouldn't go away.  Nevertheless, this did not stop me from devouring them and I can confidently say that I would quite happily eat these again. 

The steaming Xiao Long Baos arrived as a set of octuplets in a bamboo steamer.  These are a Shanghai speciality and are simply known as soup dumplings.  That's right, they contain soup! 

The unleavened flour dumpling skins were soft and a little translucent.  They were steaming hot and tasted oh so deliciously good.  Using your chopsticks, simply pick them up by pinching the tops.  With your other hand, hold your spoon or bowl close by so that you can swiftly transfer the dumpling into your spoon or bowl so as to avoid them falling onto the table, which God forbid if that were to happen. 

Be careful when biting into these babies as the soup inside will naturally squirt out.  We both concluded that these were really good soup dumplings.  The meat inside was well minced and seasoned, and the soup was deliciously subtle.  Excuse the slightly out of focus photo...

The last dish to arrive was the Szechuan chilli prawn and eggplant claypot.  It was certainly a substantial size.  The aubergine didn't taste bitter and the prawns had been floured before they were cooked. 

However, there were only about seven or eight prawns in the claypot.  Considering that this is a $20.80 dish, we expected there to be more prawns.  So it was a little disappointing to find so little amongst the layers of aubergine slices.  Altogether though, a well rounded and robust dish which wasn't too spicy, but perhaps a touch stingy with the prawns.

We polished off the wontons and the dumplings, but we really couldn't manage all the eggplant.  And that is only, because we were full and pretty eggplanted out. 

I would give these soup dumplings gold stars and they really were the highlight of my meal.  It is certainly worth a trip to HuTong's for their Shao Long Baos.  I wonder if they do take out...

HuTong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9650 8128 

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