HuTong Dumpling Bar, Melbourne CBD
Melbourne’s dumpling trend seems to have passed (our latest obsessions are American diner style food and Asian street food), yet HuTong Dumpling Bar is still consistently a top 5 fixture on Urbanspoon’s most popular restaurants (on the moderately priced list). So, when it seems that for the most part the city has moved onto the next big fad, how is it that HuTong is still so popular and so relevant?
Traditionally, a HuTong is a narrow alley or lane way in China, consisting of a number of traditional courtyard residences, particularly prominent in Beijing. Appropriate, considering you need to make your way down the alley that is Market Lane, in the heart of Melbourne’s pulsing CBD. If you’re turning up for dinner or a weekend lunch and don’t have a reservation, expect a wait. I’m normally very anti-waiting to be fed, but this is one of the few places I will advocate a short delay for.
This most recent visit of mine was after work on Friday night with a good friend, also a dumpling fiend. We’d both had one of those weeks, and needed wine, quick service and incredible dumplings to dull the pain of our mundane Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 lives.
We got in pretty early, 5:30pm (right on opening time) and were promptly seated down stairs. If you can get a seat upstairs, that’s even better – the atmosphere is electric and you no longer feel like you’re in the heart of Melbourne’s business district. That said, downstairs is where you get front row seats to the show that is professional dumpling making. This girl took little lumps of dough and rolled them into perfectly formed circles, the likes of which I’d need a cookie cutter to achieve. We watched, completely mesmerised, until we realised we probably needed to order if we wanted to eat them any time soon – we’d been seated 10 minutes and there was already a line at the door.
We ordered four plates of dumplings:
- Shao-long Bao
- Pan fried dumplings
- Crab meat and prawn dumplings
- Duck meat dumplings
They started coming out within 5 minutes of ordering, which we’re putting down to the fact that we got in early before the Friday night mayhem really began. Whatever, we were happy!
The Shao-long Bao were first out, and are their signature and most delicious dumplings. Delicate, steamed little parcels filled with the most magnificent broth, pork and prawn, they’re best left a few minutes to cool if you’re like me and want to pop the whole thing in your mouth at once so you can get that whole (literal) flavour explosion in your mouth. You could also take the classier route and nibble the parcel a little to release some of the steam, suck out the broth and delicately eat the rest of the dumpling. Or not.
The crab meat and duck meat dumplings were delicious too, translucent skins somehow simultaneously packed full of flavour and very subtle at the same time. Last out were the pan fried pork dumplings, a favourite of mine. All magnificently uniform and standing to attention on their crispy base, they are meaty and juicy – the ultimate (albeit unexpected) comfort food.
If you’re a dumpling lover, there’s not much on the menu that will disappoint you. They do main meals as well, which are also delicious, but they’re so well known for their dumplings that it’s hard to order anything else! HuTong sometimes gets a bad wrap because, for dumplings, it’s not super cheap (we paid around $65 for 20 dumplings and 4 glasses of wine), but I honestly believe that you get what you pay for, and these dumplings are worth a little more. So, while Melbourne may be past it’s dumpling epidemic, we still appreciate good and authentic food, which is why while the other food fads continue to come and go, HuTong will most likely continue to be relevant and top 5 worthy.