Methinks that there is something odd happening to patrons who frequently eat at one of Melbourne’s many dumpling restaurants.
And I think I’m one of them.
Introducing THE MELBOURNE DUMPLING CONSPIRACY.
The Melbourne Dumpling Conspiracy (henceforth referred to as “The Conspiracy”) is a phrase that I shall use to describe a dumpling house who has bestowed a patron a decent experience (good food, good service) on their first visit. And on the basis of that visit, the patron decides to visit that dumpling place again a second time… only to find that, this time, their experience is not as good as the first. In fact, the second experience is awful and convinces the patron never to return to that dumpling house ever again.
I’ve had more than my share of such experiences. The first time The Conspiracy hit me was back in October last year. Adam and I felt like a plate (or two) or greasy pan-fried dumplings one lunchtime so we decided to go to the place that EVERYONE likes on Tattersalls Lane. You know the one. Camy Shanghai Dumplings. Although they do not serve the best dumplings in Melbourne, we have yet been poisoned and I guess we go there just out of habit. So anyway, off we went… and endured probably the worst service ever experienced at a dumpling restaurant to date. And less than impressive dumplings to boot.
Since that day, we have never set foot at that restaurant and have sought other places to have our dumplings. Dumplings Plus on Swanston St has proved a better alternative the first time we went there. On our second visit, however, we found the dumplings less than tasty and while there was certainly nothing to complain about in terms of service and food quality, we decided that we were over that place. Just like that. (I thought I had a link to a review but I didn’t link it and I couldn’t be bothered going back to find it – sorry!)
Then came the Hu Tong craze. ZOMG! THE BEST XIAOLONGBAOS EVER! cried everyone in Melbourne. And indeed they were good, at least from what we had on our initial visit. While the noodle soup and the rice we had wasn’t all that good, Aaron and I were able to say that we would definitely come back for the awesome dumplings. The next chance to go to Hu Tong again was with Adam. Excitedly, I led him to Market Place and ordered a bunch of other stuff apart from the must-have xiaolongbaos. The Conspiracy was back again, this time not so severe as the xiaolongbaos were okay… but not great. The other dishes, on the other hand, were awful.. so much so that I would struggle to find myself back there again.
The final case I would like to bring to your attention is that of Chinatown Dumplings. Only a week ago, Adam and I stopped there for a Saturday lunch and found, to our surprise, that the food was cheap, filling and very decent. Excited that we had finally found a dumpling place that was conveniently located, cheap and yummy, we decided to make it a permanent place for lunch. Now TODAY was a day where I was SUPPOSED to attend lectures but of course, I never ended up on the bus to Clayton via Blackburn. No, I decided to go to the city to work on my court observation report by spending the morning at Melbourne Magistrates (Tuesday is, realistically, the only time I could work on my report as I work the rest of the week). I have to say that I had a pretty productive morning at court and observed some rather interesting cases including that of a Viet guy who was charged for property damage and assault – he and his mates were denied entry to Metro Nightclub on Bourke St and got distressed so he smashed the front window of the venue and assaulted the bouncers and attending police officers (Dude, you were distressed that you couldn’t get into Metro Nightclub? Metro Nightclub?! ).
Anyway, I left court at 12:50pm just before the lunchbreak and walked down Lonsdale Street to drop some stuff at Adam’s work. I then went to Chinatown Dumplings to get some takeaway so that I could bring some food over to Adam who was due to have his break at 1:30pm. Now, I’m a pretty fast walker so it would have only taken 5-7 minutes to walk from William to Elizabeth (including time taken to stop at lights), so the latest I would have arrived at Chinatown Dumplings would be 1:05pm. I placed an order of 15 pieces of fried pork dumplings (which is what people usually order) and one serving of spring onion pancake. And waited. The dining room, although almost full, was not busy in that the waiters were rushed. The last time we were there, it took us less than 10 minutes to get our food (three dishes) so I figured that 20 minutes would have been ample time for the guys to get my dumplings ready.
Okay, here’s the thing: At 1:30pm, my dumplings were NOT ready. I was sitting on the table, waiting rather patiently, observing several groups of customers come in and sit down. And about three out of five of the groups got a plate of fried pork dumplings placed in front of them. And just before you tell me, “But Miss Libby, they could have been chicken dumplings!”, let me tell you that they were, in fact, pork dumplings. Because I HEARD them order pork dumplings.
So where were my dumplings? At 1:35pm, I rang Adam to tell him that it shouldn’t take too long but as I looked over my shoulder to where the kitchen was, I saw that the kitchen wasn’t exactly “flat-out.” Alarmed and thinking that they had forgotten about my order, I asked the waiteress if my dumplings were going to be much longer. No, she said, another 3 minutes. So they’re frying now? I asked her. No, she replied, they’re still folding them.
I was shocked. One would think that these items would be so popular that they would have already been stuffed and folded earlier on so that all they needed to do was to fry them as soon as an order comes in. Secondly, even if they HAD to be made from scratch, they would not have taken 20-25 minutes to fold. Not even if they had to kill the pig at the back, mince all the meat and mix it with ginger and spring onions. I then asked the waitress why all these people got their orders before I did but she only shrugged and then went out to the back. And didn’t come out unless new customers came in. Perhaps she sensed that I was glaring at her, thus scaring her. Not that it’s her fault, of course, but you’d think that she would’ve told the kitchen staff to be a little more hasty (which she didn’t). And I still had no idea why eat-in customers were eating their dumplings before I was.
Finally, she arrived with the dumplings. At 1:45pm. Which meant that I had to wait an extra 7 minutes on top of the 3 minutes she promised me
when I had asked her if they were ready. That was on top of the 25 minutes I had to wait after I had placed my order. So in total, I had to wait approx 40 minutes or so. A quick dash back to Adam’s work got me there at 1:47pm which meant that he only had 10 minutes to eat his dumplings which were, of course, disappointingly soggy, covered with black specks (from uncleaned oil) and laying in 0.5 cm of oil. Horrible. A 40 minute wait for dumplings and a spring onion pancake which were horrible to the taste? Not good at all.
So yes folks, The Conspiracy has hit me in the bum once again. What should I make of this? Are Melbourne’s dumpling houses really struggling when it comes to consistency? Is it a sign that I should really stop eating greasy dumplings? Has anyone else been a victim of The Conspiracy?