Foodies! I have been so terribly neglectful, but the good news is I have well and truly settled into my new home here in Australia’s food capital. I’ve been scouring the city and the ‘burbs for the best of everything, and in my first installment of “Melbourne’s Best” I’ve got you some tiny packages of delicious. I was in terrible danger of turning INTO a dumpling in the process of researching this post, but since when would that be a bad thing?
When I started researching this post I had decided to keep it simple, and just give you ten options. But the guys at Tai Pan in Doncaster East have created an atmosphere that is part street market and part riot. Seating 250 at a time in three packed sittings, it’s loud and fast and I loved every second of it. Every flavour of fried rice noodle, jellyfish salad and dumpling is on the trolleys; just eavesdrop on your neighbors, or hell, just point to the larger range of off-menu dishes being ordered by the Cantonese locals.
This place is a definite winner. Get there soon before the hipsters kill another suburban secret.
10: SPICE TEMPLE – Southbank
Neil Perry’s dumplings are exactly as well turned out as you’d expect from the upmarket Chinese establishment in the casino. Come here for the supplest har gao in town, stay for the prawn wantons in chilli oil and some excellent house made pork rolls.
9: GOLDEN DRAGON PALACE – Templestowe Lower
The fight for parking is worse than Chadstone on Christmas Eve and hordes of multi-generational families can be seen streaming through the door of this popular yum cha joint. Join them for ha gow (prawn dumplings) and siu mai (pork dumplings) with spicy XO sauce. Don’t ask questions, just shove in mouth. I promise goodness.
8: ORIENTAL TEA HOUSE – South Yarra
At OTH it’s all about the cha (tea). I cannot dumpling without a good selection of tea. The food selection is moderate, and except on weekends it’s tray service, but the ha gow are sweet, the Peking duck is on the money, and the tea offering is the second to none. Try the rich duck dumplings countered by a fat-busting Irn Buddha oolong brew.
7. SHANGHAI DUMPLING & NOODLE HOUSE – Melbourne
The Shanghai Dumpling House is an institution of the Chinatown culinary scene. Don’t let the near-inevitable queue put you off – things move quickly. Within 10 or so minutes, you’ll be presented with all the dumplings you can eat. And they’re good too, perfect little parcels of delicious that will keep you coming back for more despite the lines.
6: DAVID’S – Prahran
Locals will remember David’s as a formal Chinese banquet restaurant. Good news, he’s had a make-under and it was well needed. Gone are the plush banquettes and novelty lamps, replaced with distressed school chairs, share tables, and a pristine white wash paint-job. Your place-mat is the menu, and it’s now delivering regional-style share dishes. The bar has been raised.
5. HU TONG -Melbourne
At Man Tong’s older sibling they don’t smile a lot, but they don’t have to. There’s always a queue here and like all good things, it’s worth the wait. Order up a round of soup dumplings, and if you can manage it, follow them with some steamed, gelatinous pork belly.
4: LOST HEAVEN – Melbourne
This Sichuan kitchen from the Hutong Group doesn’t stint on chilli or garlic. If you love your food on the hot side, you’ll be in heaven; if you fear the chilli sweats, risk the waiters’ scorn and ask for a more mild take on the signature dishes.
3. DIN TAI FUNG – Melbourne
Expect Din Tai Fung’s signature crowd-pleasers: the glass-enclosed dumpling kitchen, xiao long bao, rainbow-bright Dumpling Gems in seven flavours (pictured) and chefs who operate with a Heston-like fanaticism for detail.
2. TIM HO WAN – Melbourne
If you’re heading to Tim Ho Wan, go the traditional route. The old-school dumplings come in the form of the arrestingly translucent casings containing a wealth of garlicky spinach and some shyly hiding shrimp meat (we say nix the prawn and give it to the vegetarians).
Drum roll please….
1: SHANDONG MAMA – Melbourne
Here it is all about the fish dumplings – they may not be the most beautiful dumpling you’ve ever eaten, but they have some serious Chinese pedigree behind them. These little, tasty parcels are all handmade and the filling features plenty of fragrant ginger and coriander root.