When we left Richmond, I was devastated to part with Xiao Ting Box on Victoria St. Their fabulously fat, juicy, Northern-style dumplings were enough to make me overlook the grotty floor and sticky tables and keep me coming back. I still eat there on the odd occasion I make it back to Richmond, but as those visits are fewer and farther between, it was time to cut the apron strings and find a new dumpling purveyor.
I like the intimate feel of this little restaurant. Service is attentive and earnest, and they love kids. One time, after taking our order, the waiter walked out the door to return 5 minutes later with bags of vegetables and meat from the nearby Asian supermarket. That's fresh!
This is home-style Northern Chinese cooking. Rice and wheat are equal partners, potatoes pop up unexpectedly, and lamb features in authentic recipes. Their cold salad offerings are a real surprise if you are used to Cantonese food, in which vegetables may be cooked very lightly, but they are still served hot.
Potato salad, $2
You can keep your salad cream and your hard-boiled eggs - this potato salad would give any Aussie version a run for its money. The potato is grated, lightly cooked, and dressed with vinegar, a little chilli, and a touch of sesame oil. So delicious and refreshing.
Seaweed salad, $2
I just love Japanese seaweed salad - a tangle of emerald green, often stuffed atop rice in a boat-shaped, wrinkled inari or sweet beancurd pocket. Dumplings & More's seaweed offering is its plainer older sister, reserved and demure - but still waters run deep. This seaweed is more like kelp, very thinly sliced but with an almost leathery feel. The texture upon eating is fantastic though, pleasantly chewy, with the same tangy, spicy dressing as the potato version.
Steamed pork dumplings, 15 pcs for $7
I love Cantonese dumplings like har gow and siu mai, with their paper-thin, delicate wrappers. Northern Chinese dumplings are so different, with thick, fat, white skins. These pork dumplings were not the best I've ever had, though. The filling was quite rustic and coarsely minced, with a little too much ginger.
Fried beef dumplings, 15 pcs for $8
Their beef counterparts, fried this time, had the wonderful contrast between the dough's soft interior and its crispy exterior. Unfortunately, the filling did lack flavour.
Pork with capsicum, $10
This was a simple, honest dish of tender pork and crunchy capsicum, cooked quickly and simply in soy and a little rice wine. It was great, but the bottom layer had to be sacrificed due to the puddle of oil it sat in.
Pork mince with cucumber and noodles, $8
Beijing-style noodles - these ones handmade I suspect, long, slippery, and ash-grey in colour - topped with roughly minced pork and shredded cucumber. Could this be the precursor to spaghetti bolognese, carried along the Silk Road back to Italy? Dumplings & More's version was good, but lacked punch and the sweetness that should come from the brown bean sauce.
Lamb skewer, $1.50
With ho-hum dumplings and lacklustre mains, why keep going back? Dear readers, I will overlook a multitude of sins for just another of Dumplings & More's lamb skewers. Tender, smoky, juicy lamb, quickly grilled, then sprinkled with an Aladdin's spice mix of cumin and chilli. The flavour is absolutely superb, and makes me daydream of caravans along the Silk Road, open fires on shifting sands. A couple of these skewers and a salad will set you back $5 and I promise will be one of the best lunches you've ever had.
One time I was in there, a burly truckie came through the door. Like a lighthouse in his fluoro yellow safety jacket, he squared his broad shoulders up to the counter, smiled a familiar smile to the owner, and called for three lamb and three kidney skewers. Here is a man, I thought, who looks like he has the pick of roadhouses from Kealba to Kalgoorlie, but when he gets a hankering for steak & kidney, Dumplings & More is his pick.
Dumplings & More
96 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 2165
Hours: 11.00 a.m. - 9.30 p.m., 7 days