Tuesday, August 17, 2010

HuTong Dumpling Bar

I don't get in to town as often as I would like.  When pregnant with my last baby, I saw a Chinese herbalist in Russell St regularly.  Organising babysitting and then braving PT into the city for Chinese medicine seems ridiculous when Footscray's Barkly Street is lined with practitioners.  If I was totally honest, it was probably the excuse of having an hour or two to myself to wander about in the laneways, eating interesting food, feeling cosmopolitan - well, as cosmopolitan as you can feel with cankles and stained, third-hand maternity wear.

If you are a regular reader of food blogs of the Melbourne variety, you would know that every so often something really blows up.  Recently it was Earl Canteen and its "sex sandwich;" a little while ago, it was HuTong Dumpling Bar's xiao long bao, dumplings filled with meat and soup.  I had still not tried these, and a farewell dinner before my big trip stateside with the scrumptious K was the perfect excuse to catch up with everyone else.

Entry is off Market Lane, opposite the Flower Drum.  This might seem intimidating, but let me tell you, HuTong is a worthy neighbour to this grand old Melbourne dame.

On the lower level, you can watch the chefs deftly filling and pleating their dumpling wares.  We were ushered upstairs to our reserved table.  The decor is really lovely, lots of bare wood, brick, and a sense of height rather than width.  It feels very Melbourne inside.  I was so excited to peruse the menu, which has every dish's origin within China designated, plus red stamps for house specialties.  I have heard service is poor, but we were nothing but impressed.

"Shao-Long Bao" (aka Xiao Long Bao) - East China

Much lyric has been waxed over these little parcels of delight, and for good reason.  They are absolutely divine!  You ease them very delicately from the steamer basket into a wide, Chinese-style spoon, pierce with a chopstick or your teeth, and either suck out the soup inside or let it drain into the spoon before slurping. 

I believe the soup is introduced by enclosing gelatinized stock inside the raw dumpling.  Now, my favourite things are a) dumplings, and b) homemade stock, so these just hit the jackpot for me.  The soup is so flavoursome, the skin is excellent, and the deliciate mince inside is somehow unified between the two - no hard, meaty nugget here.  Absolutely amazing!

"Wantons with Hot Chilli Sauce" - Szechuan

This might look terrifying, but even if you are not a chilli addict like me, it's not that hot.  The wontons were so delicate, with lovely slippery skins that were made even better slicked with chilli oil.  Wonderful.

Pan-Fried Dumplings - Shanghai

These panfried dumplings were also excellent - far from the grainy specimens with greasy bottoms and tough skins that other dumpling barns sell.  The xiao long bao and wontons were the standouts, though.

Dong Po Square Soft Pork - Hangzhou

This glistening, ruby-red chunk of pork belly was lovely.  It was meltingly soft and very sweet.  We couldn't bring ourselves to eat the wobbly fat, though.  I kind of have to have my fat crispy, like in Chinese crispy BBQ pork or American bacon, ya know?

Szechuan Picked Vegetables

These vegies were great - a mix of carrot, radish, and a sort of pale green chilli.  They were very tangy with vinegar and salt - not at all sweet, unlike Vietnamese pickled vegetables.  The whole dish tasted very Mexican to me, which was a total surprise, but a happy one.

It is so exciting to find dumplings made with such love and care, and with such quality ingredients.  As you might know, I do love yum cha, but it can all be a bit slap-dash.  I'm also yet to find a northern-Chinese dumpling place that I absolutely adore. Many teeter too precariously on the homely/grotty border, while others can't hide cheap fillings.  Of course I love low prices, but I am more than happy to pay more for a comparative rise in quality.  HuTong has the quality I am looking for, and it is not even that expensive.  I also love being able to see the origins of all the different dishes, and to be reminded of the enormous diversity of cuisine within China.  I look forward to many more gastronomic adventures behing HuTong's door.

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

HuTong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne (map)
Hours: Daily 11am-3pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm (til 11.30pm Fri & Sat)
Phone: 9650 8128


  1. I have a hot tip on another place making xiao long bao. The source claims they're the best xiao long bao in the city, but I'm not sure about this. Care to check it out with me when you get back?

  2. The Bloke and I had a plate of dumplings and stir fried noodles there. Yum!

  3. Waaah, why couldn't this post have gone up before I went to HuTong (in Prahran) over the weekend! I didn't eat my xiao long bao with any grace. But still, I soooo enjoyed them, as did my dining companions. I'd go back again for those soupy, dumplingy beauties alone.

  4. I want to go check out that hot tip too!

    Anyways, I went to try out Hutong awhile ago (the city one, haven't had the chance to go to to the Prahran one) and I wasn't very impressed.

    But they do say that Hutong's quality goes up and down depending on how packed they are on the day. And that day, it was definitely packed and the quality was terrible.

    Maybe I should go back again, this time for lunch.

  5. Dumplings remind me of a childhood memory with my dad. Every Saturday, we would go for a walk in Chinatown. He would constantly remind me that he and my grandmother had the same weekend bonding when he was my age. I think he was trying to tell me that I should also bring my children there when I grow up. Anyway, at the end of each trip, we would stop by this restaurant that only served dumplings. The dumplings were great! Then my dad would tell me that it's been around ever since he can remember. He would also tell me that he hoped it will still be there when it's time for me to bring my kids there. Such good memory.

  6. I see a XLB posse mounting up! Let's do it!

    Deb, I so want to go back soon and try all the other dishes. I love that they tell you what region everything is from.

    Gem, don't worry. I think you are supposed to eat dumplings in one mouthful and I never do, I always want to look inside, so I probably look like I am totally graceless too!

    Celeste, I have heard such different things - mostly always positive about the food, but many other reviews have said they have the worst service in Melbourne. ???

    Kirstine, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful recollection! My siblings and I also spent many Sundays with my dad in Chinatown eating yum cha. It was such a beloved part of my childhood, and I am now enjoying sharing it with my own kids.

  7. My tip - Red Panda - 451 High Street, Coburg!! I think we will need to accept that service will always be slightly inconstant, shall we say, in places like these. The trick is to bring someone who can either speak mandarin or cantonese!! And really its all about the xlb in the end!!


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