16 Liverpool Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9090 7778
I think it’s fair to say that one shouldn’t expect the best service at a cheap and easy dumpling restaurant. You go there, you order, you polish off a plate of dumplings with your mates (or if you’re a loser like me, alone) and then you exit stage left, all within the space of thirty minutes – maybe 45 minutes if you’re a slow eater like myself.
But when you go to a slightly upmarket dumpling restaurant, it’s reasonable to expect some level of good service. After all, you’re paying for the fancy fittings, a smile there and there and hospitality by forking out at least $3 for a dumpling. And when you do that, you better hope those dumplings bloody be good!
On paper, Ruyi sounds amazing. The beautiful quasi-Scandinavian Hecker Guthrie-designed dining room is warm, modern and just that little bit earthy – in fact, it’s the sort of look I wouldn’t mind for my future house. Think beautiful sun-reflecting light wood infused with traditional Chinese crimson and jade tones. Throw in some upmarket Chinese food using premium ingredients and off you go.
The DDR crew brought along a guest from Hong Kong to dinner, which meant there were five of us on the table. The menu is designed for sharing so we agreed to order whatever sounded good on the menu. Once that was done, we signalled for someone to take our order – on that night, the owner happened to be in charge of the floor.
So we set about ordering a whole bunch of stuff, a mix of dumplings and mains to share. We began by reciting three dumpling dishes from the menu before the owner interrupted us: ‘Is that all the dumplings you’re going to order? Because we’re actually not like those other dumpling restaurants where $10 gives you fifteen pieces you know.’
Me: ‘I’m well aware of that.’
Owner: ‘Okay, okay, just letting you know.’
I thought that was a bit weird but I continued with the order – just three more larger dishes and two desserts to round off the innings. All up, there were eight dishes between the four of us.
Owner: ‘I’m not sure if you guys have realised but we’re actually not like all the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Our portions aren’t big and you’re not going to be full – you’ll have to order more, I’m afraid.’
I may have been over-thinking things but I detected a tone of snobbery in his voice, like we were just a bunch of fobs who didn’t know that this was a slightly upmarket place. I get that he was trying to alleviate any potential disappointment that we might have when are presented with a plate that’s smaller than what we’re used to when dining at a Chinese restaurant but still, I didn’t like his tone or the way he went about saying it. He also could have done the whole ‘this menu is designed to share, we recommend you order three smalls and two large dishes’ beforehand like most restaurants that offer sharing plates tend do these days but there was none of that.
So I said to him: ‘No, this is all we’re going to order. If we’re hungry, we’ll order more food.’
But who’s to tell me how much food I’m supposed to eat?!
The owner nodded without smiling and off he went. And I’m sorry, guys, but that pretty much soured our Ruyi experience.
But let’s get on with the food.
At $3 each, the xiaolongbao didn’t come cheap. Oh sure, each dumpling contained crab meat and sure, the pork was probably (but probably not) free range pork but still, $3 is as steep as the Grampians.
They were nice, but not $3 nice.
The chilli sauce wontons were slightly cheaper, but $2.50 per dumpling is still not cheap in anyone’s books. Again nice, but not omg-so-gewd-foodgasms-galore nice.
It was the same deal with the fried pork and chive dumplings – see a pattern here? In fact, I dare say these were slightly oily and although they don’t look it in the photo, they were a bit soggy too.
I’m not big on soft shell crab so I already knew I wasn’t going to like these. This was a very bland dish; not only that, the batter lack the requisite crunch. Those on the table who are actually into this crustacean also agreed with me – they were also disappointed.
Compared to the soft shell crab, the duck stir fry wasn’t too bad. Throw in a handful of shredded roasted duck and bean shoots into a sticky sweet sauce, how can you fail? Sure, they didn’t fail but they certainly didn’t top the class. The sauce, which I found too sweet in the first place, bogged the elements of the dish down. Not only that, there was a serious lack of wok hei in this dish. It was very dull and lifeless – kind of like me at the moment thanks to my cold but at least I taste (somewhat) delicious.
We were told that this was Ruyi’s interpretation of the ‘Aussie favourite, the lemon chicken.’ The only difference between a plate of the suburban classic and Ruyi’s summer chicken was that they used mangoes instead of lemons. Big whoop. I found the sauce very sweet and one-dimensional, thus making the whole thing boring.
After that, we had the option to order more food. We were all still hungry so I guess the owner made a good point about us not having ordered enough food. Still, I didn’t like the way we were told that. At this point, none of us were keen to order anything else from the a la carte menu so we ordered a couple of desserts to share and decided to head elsewhere to fill the remaining sad, empty cervices in our stomachs.
Compared to the savoury dishes, Ruyi’s desserts were decent. The delicate and herby jelly paired well with the creamy vanilla ice cream, while the pistachio added a lovely crunch. It was a well-balanced and refreshing dessert.
The banana fritters would have been great if they hadn’t used chocolate ice cream – but that’s just me, I’m not a fan of chocolate ice cream. The ‘frozen milk’ was essentially milk custard blobs that were battered and then fried, something that sounded good on paper but were just okay to taste.
Given all the seemingly positive social media hype surrounding Ruyi, we were disappointed with our meal. The owner’s attitude went a long way in diminishing our experience but the mediocre food at not-so-cheap prices didn’t help Ruyi’s cause either. It’s a beautiful restaurant (probably one of the prettiest I’ve been in for a while) but what’s the point when the food and service isn’t up to scratch?
In the end, we all finished our night at a Hot Star Chicken outlet where a few pieces of (quite possibly) genetically modified chicken breast fillets coated in batter and spices and stuff made us happier than the meal we had at Ruyi.