171 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3868
“I’m going to Da Hu tonight!” I told fellow-foodie friend, Dave, one day. “The Who?” he replied, somewhat tongue-in-cheekily. He is well aware of my penchant for referencing music and pop culture in my titles but this time, he was the first to see the existence of a homophone binding the restaurant’s name and the name of one of my favourite bands together, which was more in-your-face than Roger Daltrey’s on-stage presence. I must be so blind.
Shirley and I were craving Peking duck the other week. Like, really craving it. But because we were too tight to pay an arm and a leg for four measly slices of (albeit amazing) Peking duck at Flower Drum and because we couldn’t be arsed tramming it up Smith St for a good value duck banquet at Old Kingdom, we made do with Da Hu. Now even though Da Hu has been around for long as I could remember, the place has never really caught my attention. The upstairs restaurant sits on the corner of Lt Bourke and Russell quietly content to watch punters stroll past to more out-there restaurants such as the ‘Drum, various bustling dumpling restaurants and vivacious Sichuan dining rooms. Not to fear though, Da Hu still attracts a steady stream of patrons without making an effort.
Complimentary prawn crackers. Unidentifiable brown gunk around the edges of some of the crackers deemed them too skanky to eat.
We shared an entree of spicy scallops ($8.50) to start off with. They were fried in crunchy batter before being seasoned with garlic, fried onion and shrimp and peppers. They weren’t spicy at all.
A plate of pan-fried dumplings (six for $7.50) was next. A far cry from the ones dished out at Shanghai Village et al both in terms of taste and value for money, they were the most horrible dumplings I had the misfortune of trying. They were soggy, oily, almost cold and by golly, the fillings were mushy and drenched in some sort of sweet flavouring that I couldn’t identify (like sweet soy, but not that) – it was like they were trying to mask the meat or something like that.
With that in mind, I guess I should not have been so surprised to find that they used the exact same filling in their xiaolongbao dumplings (six pieces for $6.80). They were only marginally better than the pan-fried dumplings, only because they were steamed rather than fried and hence, not (that) oily.
Given our lacklustre entrees, I wasn’t expecting much for the main event in spite of the admittedly impressive arrangement that was presented to us, with each condiment neatly contained in little bowls.
For $25.80, we enjoyed half a duck which, to me, was pretty cheap for Peking duck. I wouldn’t say that it was the best duck I’ve ever had but given our crappy entrees (and hence, my probable clouded judgement), the duck was something that I would pay $25.80 for again. The meat-fat-skin ratio was spot-on for the most part (not including the bits at the end where it was pretty much 10% skin, 5% meat and 85% fat) and if you carefully tipped the oil onto one corner of the plate, you can grab a nice piece of duck that was plump and tasty. As for the condiments? I couldn’t fault the pancake at all (perfectly thin, not at all soggy) and thought the way they chopped up the cucumber and spring onion into little matchsticks before arranging them in a little bowl was cute (though they were a little dry).
It is obvious that Roger Daltrey did not have Da Hu in mind when he wrote “Here For More.” If one was to judge Da Hu by the spread we had that night, one would struggle to find a good reason to go back. That said, if you were stranded in the city, craving duck and can’t afford Flower Drum, then grab yourself a partner and cut yourselves up a half (or even a whole) duck before heading to Maxim’s downstairs for dessert.