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