Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dumplings Plus

On a recent post, a reader left a link to a recent article in the Herald Sun which highlighted the shocking underpayment of a chef at Camy, much beloved for its notoriously abrupt service and dinginess but above all unbelievably cheap dumplings.  We are aware of the need to seek out fair trade goods produced overseas but it is horrible to think that within Australia, workers are being exploited on the other side of the kitchen wall as we chow down on cheap food obliviously.

What is the answer?  A boycott of Camy seems called for but what of the article's mention that "the case is being watched anxiously all over Chinatown with employees of several other eateries poised to take action over underpayments"?  Who is underpaying staff, then?  We really have no way of knowing.  One way to at least make an informed guess might be higher prices, as opined by the reader, or perhaps a more professional and streamlined fit-out.

Lagenda and June 031

Dumplings Plus is far from a dingy dumpling den.  It's on Swanston Street at the site of a long-closed Mary Martin bookshop and after that I believe another Chinese restaurant.

Lagenda and June 020

It's kind of lavish but understated inside with bluestone walls overlaid with minimalist but imposing latticework and red fabric decorations.  Big toasty gold lanterns like ceremonial drums hang from the ceiling.  All very Forbidden City.

Lagenda and June 021

The staff are young, have natty pink uniforms and there is a nicely-dressed maitre d' to seat you.  A window allows you to watch the chefs delicately pleating dumplings (is this now de rigeur for any self-respecting dumpling joint?)

Lagenda and June 027
Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings (10 pieces), $8.80

So, compared to Camy (15 dumplings for $7.50), these are "expensive".  Really though, I don't think you can bitch about $8.80.  Compared to China Red (8 dumplings for $10.80), this is cheap.  Does this mean fair wages were paid?  I don't know.  Probably more to the point, how did the (undoubtedly battery) pig live?

I will leave the talk of ethics here as sometimes it all makes you want to lock yourself in a dark room, but all these are really valid things to at least be mindful of.  And besides, you probably want to know about the taste!  In a word - unreal.  Tasty, juicy meat, not-too-thick skins, crusty, crispy fried bottoms.  They were fantastic!  These seemed more similar to Cantonese jiao zi than the rounder Northern style at other places.  My only complaint was they had evidently been put in the pan two by two which meant that some of the skins had ripped where they were joined, meaning that some of the lovely vinegary juice had been lost.

Lagenda and June 024
Fried String Beans with Minced Pork, $14.80

One of my all-time faves.  Well-fried green beans with a scattering of pork mince that burst with soy and ginger flavour.  This had a more dark soy than XO sauce flavour but it was delicious, albeit pretty salty.  I would be happy with just this and rice.

Lagenda and June 028
Shanghai Style Stewed Pork Belly, $17.80

This was a bit of a clanger, unfortunately.  The picture made it look like dong po pork, Hu Tong's version being a small ruby-red square of heavenly pork belly, cooked to melty perfection.  This seemed really homestyle with chunks of braised belly and potato in a basic sauce.  The pork was so strong though and tasted almost muddy.  It was a bit like a Chinese version of bangers and mash - boring but OK if that's what you are after.

Lagenda and June 025
Grilled Pancake with Green Onion, $4.20

These are always good - fried dough, what could go wrong?

Given that Hu Tong is impossible to get into without a booking, Dumplings Plus is a winner in my book for walk-in, tasty and - yes - cheap dumplings.  Their xiao long bao and prawn & pork wontons in soup also come recommended (I had bad XLB recently and have had to take a break from them).  I will watch the outcome of the Camy case with interest and if that means I end up paying a few dollars more for my dumplings in the interest of fair wages, that is absolutely fine with me.

Dumplings Plus on Urbanspoon

Dumplings Plus
269 Swanston St, Melbourne City (map)
Phone:  9663 8181


  1. I love Dumplings Plus!! We've had many a Sunday afternoon "snack" turn into early dinner here. As to fairtrading ... well I wasn't exactly paid award rates when I worked a kitchen in my student days.

  2. Interesting case you make about ethics of WHERE we eat. For me, I always assume any cheap Asian place means the staff aren't well paid. And let's not even think about where the chicken and pork is sourced from... =X.

    Your dishes made me hungry this morning!!

  3. Dumplings Plus is my go-to in the city when I'm after dumplings. Their dumplings with chilli oil (not that hot at all, and the chilli oil is deliciously mixed with a sweet dark soy) is one of my favourite dumpling dishes in Melbourne.

    I think you can pretty much guarantee that almost no Chinese restaurant would be paying award wages, with the exception of some of the more fancy ones like Flower Drum and Red Emperor. But award wages simply aren't a part of the culture of that industry in China, so although it's undeniable that there are blatant cases of exploitation which are distressing and wrong, it's a little parochial to expect that restauranteurs from overseas aren't going to bring parts of their culture along with them apart from their food. Despite the legalities.

  4. I actually went to Hu Tong for the first time on the weekend - not knowing just how popular the place was, we just strolled on in (at around 2:30pm on a Saturday) and were immediately asked if we had a booking. We didn't, but luckily another few diners were just leaving, so we got a seat. I've never really had dumplings before, but my gosh they were amazing! Looking forward to trying these too now - the pan fried pork ones look spectacular!

  5. Im studing at William Angliss and most of my fellow class mates are from oversea's Asia. Sadly to say that they are under paid big time! They are taken advantage of and businesses rather emply them instead of us local students because they are cheaper to employ.

    It really is such a sad thing to see first hand because many of these international students work really long hours and then come to class looking like zombies. All because they get paid so little and have to work more to live in Melbourne high living standards and rates.

  6. Just something to ponder about, if they under pay staff then maybe they can spend the money on the nice interior and prime location.

  7. I share the unease. However, I would be hesitant to assume that financial gains attained through higher prices or lower pay are directed in any particular direction. The cynic in me suspects where they go. What do folks reckon - does the sort of grim scenario painted by Marine mean it's better to loyally support "family" restaurants? Long hours, no doubt, and low pay, no doubt; but at least they're "in-house".

  8. teenagefoodie, aahhh, I can't win!

    I love multiculturalism and wouldn't want to live in Australia without it, but I think there are some long-held cultural traditions have no place anywhere, eg female genital mutilation. Even if underpayment/exploitation is the way "it has always been done" in the home country, I still don't think it's right.

    Kenny, I was thinking the exact same thing.

  9. When I first read that article, it really bugged me that the message being sent was about the possible doom of having to pay more for dumplings - that poor worker's plight was hardly highlighted at all! Bit of an odd spin I thought, and it really seemed to boil down to Asian restaurants being known to scrimp on everything including minimum wages it seems. And I have to say that that is a real shame that they should be considered less accountable because 'everyone else is doing it too'!

    On Dumplings Plus - I liked the hand-made noodles, but my dumplings on the day were doughy! Maybe a second trip is in order...

  10. I don't think you can assume higher prices mean the workers are paid properly. I think you can assume the workers are being underpaid unless Fair Work Australia has visited them recently and been through their books.

  11. I prefer dumplings plus to camy any day. I am not going to question the cost of the plate of dumplings or where it comes from. If I do, I will end up not eating at these places. If the prices of everything goes up, well, does it do good to most people?

  12. Jocelyn that is very true. I went to UME sushi house the other day and got served mediocre food and had terrible customer service. You can see the full post on this site:

    I love going to cheap Asian places, but only if it is decent and only if they are fair to their workers. Ito is a pretty good place which is expensive but at least their workers are paid a decent wage. Izakaya Chuji on the other hand doesn't pay their staff properly.

    I didn't particularly love Dumplings plus, but maybe we just ordered the wrong things. You can see my post on this at:


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