The place is called North East China Family, which is probably one of the most fobby and can-sooo-tell-that-this-is-a-Mainlander-joint restaurant names I’ve ever come across. It is, indeed, a rather eccentric place with its flashing neon signs alluring punters wanting a bite to eat before venturing into one of Flinders Lane’s many drinking holes. A far cry from the greasy, cramped stinkholes that are usually associated with dumpling restaurants in Melbourne, this one’s virtually spotless, airy and modern. One could safely assume that this used to be a gallery before it turned into a dumpling restaurant.
Some notes before I begin: The staff, while friendly, sometimes elicited a WTF from me. For example, we had just received our menus and – I swear this is true – five second later, a waiter appeared ready to take our order. Weird. We politely told him to give us a second while we navigated our way through the menu which contained multitudes of bad grammar, spelling errors and inconsistencies between fonts. We also spotted an item called “noodle powder” and we had to ask a waitress what it was because none of us could read Chinese (menus were written in both Chinese and English). She seemed to have a little trouble explaining what the dish was but I finally gathered that it was just a fried vermicelli dish (why they couldn’t just write that on the menu was beyond me. Noodle powder? pffffffft).
Another note: The dumplings on the menu are of the steamed variety and if you wanted them fried, it’s an extra $1.
One more note: There are hardly any tables for just two people and so more likely than not, you would be asked to share a table with a bunch of random strangers (in our case, two uber-fobs in tartan). The good thing, though, was that the tables here are quite big so it’s not like you have to touch them or anything like that. Heh.
Okay, food time!
This was something called “dried noodles with pork sauce” ($9.50) which we ordered only because we wanted to try something interesting. We got a warm bowl of fresh hand-pulled wheat noodles with pork meat in a slightly sweet blackbean sauce and sliced cucumber – yep, zha jiang mien noodles. We were required to mix all the ingredients together so that each strand of noodle was covered in the brown sauce. While I enjoyed my first bite, subsequent forkfuls made me gag because it was starting to get too salty for me (either because of the blackbean overload or because of MSG (?)). I think Adam liked it better than me though, which was good because otherwise it would have gone to waste…
Fried pork and cabbage dumplings (15 pieces for $8.50). Out of all the dishes I had tonight, this was the one that came out the winner. Sure, they were a bit oily. Sure, some of them had holes in them. And sure, they could’ve been more crispy. But boy, were they good. Despite them being a bit on the more-greasy-than-what-I-would’ve-liked side, they actually tasted “cleaner” than most dumplings I’ve had. Yum.
Steamed leek, shrimp and egg dumplings (15 pieces for $9.00). Okay, upon first bite my initial reaction was “Holy sheet! Chive overload!” Indeed, the filling of each dumpling comprised of 5% egg, 10% shrimp and 85% chive. It was literally like eating a spoonful of chives which is not always a pleasant experience, even for people who DO love chives. After the second dumpling, I was beginning to wonder where the leek had gone. Was it buried in there with the shrimp? Was it being beaten up Underbelly-style by the gang of chive bad arses? If that’s the case, why didn’t they just call them chive, shrimp and egg dumplings instead? Another thought: Perhaps the people here really meant to say chive but their fobby electronic dictionaries gave them “leek” instead when they were designing their menu. Either way, they suck!
Bellies more than satisfied, we left $28.80 lighter (that included Adam’s can of Sprite) and with a renewed assurance that yes, smiley waiters/waiteresses at dumpling restaurants do exist (even if they were up with the fairies). North East China Family was indeed a refreshing change from the places that cluster around the Chinatown area and yes, the fried pork dumplings were delish but perhaps not enough to make me walk all the way from one end of the city to the other. Having said that though, if I happened to be in the City Library and suddenly had a dumpling craving (and can’t be bothered walking a few blocks into Bourke/Little Bourke), then I’d be on my way here!