I think everyone in Melbourne has now heard of the Hu Tong Dumpling Bar. Although it has only been opened for a few months, it’s already attracting fans including Kelly who did a review on it not too long ago. After hearing more and more people talking about the super-omg-awesome xiao long baos (小籠包), curiosity got the better of me and so Aaron and I met up with Cathy after she finished work this afternoon and the three of us went for a walk down Chinatown and into Market Lane which houses the esteemed Flower Drum restaurant and the would-be-esteemed-if-not-for-its-crappy-service Shoya restaurant. Now the term “hu tong” is used to describe little narrow streets in Beijing which was why I found the location of the restaurant a little apt as Market Lane is a tiny cobblestone alleyway, though I guess it’s almost fair to say that you are highly unlikely to find a Flower Drum or a Shoya in the hu tongs of China.
We arrived at 1:15pm to a full house. Thankfully the waiter (complete with his blu-tooth communicator thingy or whateverthefudge it was permanently attached to his ear) managed to find a table for us upstairs. While we would’ve loved to sit downstairs and watch the dumplings chefs do their thang, the room upstairs was much more spacious so we were able to spread ourselves out with our various bags and other junk we were carrying. Although the fit out was rather impressive in that it was very clean, very comfy and very chic-modern Raise The Red Lantern-y, there were still some fobby elements to Hu Tong, for example the menu cover and the introduction (see below). Orthodox China Flavour?! Bygones have already gone?! (no sht, sherlock! ). And while the service may have been a bit slow, there were no major dramas.
Anyway, I didn’t want to eat too much because I was intending to go to the gym later that afternoon before meeting up with Adam for dinner (besides, I just wanted xiao long baos dammit) so I just let the others order whatever. They both settled on a plate of fried rice with chicken and salted fish as well as a bowl of something called “noodles with eight delicacies in hot chilli sauce.”
Go on, you know you want to.
Kelly reckons that this is the best-tasting xiao long baos in Melbourne and I think I may have to agree with her (so far, anyway). The skin, so soft and supple, only tore away when you take a tiny nibble into a corner. You then suck the flavoursome broth that’s been lurking in there wanting to escape. And there’s heaps of it too. Once all the broth is gone (either in your mouth or either splashed all over your top/bowl/table depending on how off you were with your aim), you dunk the dumpling in a bit of vinegar, then a bit of chilli oil (Hu Tong‘s chilli oil comes with finely grounded chilli and peppercorns). The tasty morsel, tender pork meat and all, is popped into your mouth. Close your eyes. Savour. Chew. Swallow. And reach for another. At $8.50 for a steamer of eight, they are definitely worth very cent. And at dinner, they hike it up to $10.50 (for eight) which I’d be happy to pay should I crave xiao long baos at nighttime.
After all that excitement, the other two dishes sadly failed to live up to such high expectations.
The fried rice with salted fish and diced chicken ($9) didn’t really do it for me… but that’s because I’m not a fan of fried rice so my opinion about this dish was always going to be biased anyway. Aaron, on the other hand, loved it so perhaps you ought to take his word for it. He particularly liked the intensity the salted fish gave the dish (I think it was the first time he’s tried it).
Noodles with eight delicacies in hot chilli sauce ($8.50). I normally steer clear from dubious-sounding dishes which have words such as “special sauce”, “delicacies” and “treasures” in it because you never know exactly what’s in them. And more often than not, they don’t even bother listing the dish’s contents on the menu. And I hate surprises too. So when Cathy decided that she wanted to try the dish (she too had no idea what it was), Aaron and I were a little apprehensive but hey, I figured that if I didn’t like it, I could always stick to my xiao long baos! Anyway, the thin wheat noodles came in a chilli oil broth which was surprisingly lukewarm and not at all fiery. I found the soup a bit too bland for my liking and the fact that it lukewarm made it less appealing to me. As for the “eight delicacies”? Nothing more than a bunch of beans, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, pork, beef. Sadly, I couldn’t recall the other three elements but having looked at the photo again, I figured that the missing three were the spring onions, the sesame seeds and the spoon. What a total let down.