Friday, January 21, 2011

January 13, 2011: HuTong Dumpling Bar

HuTong has become the hottest dumpling place in town, with rave reviews in the papers, reviews all over the blogosphere and tables that are basically impossible to come by without a booking. We've swung by a few times with friends on the hunt for a CBD dinner to be told that the wait was 45 minutes, or 2 hours, or that there was no way we'd get a table. Still, Cindy and I weren't too put out - despite all the enthusiasm, HuTong seemed like a place unlikely to really knock a vegos sock's off - their signature dish, Xiau Long Bao, are dumplings filled with pork and a meaty gelatin soup, and everything else people raved about seemed to be filled with pork mince or seafood or, at the very least, cooked in chicken stock. Our enthusiasm was rekindled by Gretelgettingfatter, who left a comment on our China Red post letting us know that she'd found some winning vegeterian HuTong dishes for us to try out. (and summarising her own vegetarian XLB recipe!) Armed with the knowledge that we could eat there, we booked ourselves a table and headed in for dinner.

We ended up ordering exactly what GGF suggested, starting with the claypot eggplant in Szechuan chilli sauce ($13.80).

This was my favourite dish of the night - the eggplant was meltingly soft, thick with chilli oil and somehow sweet and spicy at the same time. I'm sure I ended up with a sheen of red oil all over my face, but it was definitely worth it.

Next up was the dumplings, the genre in which HuTong has made its name. These were mixed vegie dumplings ($5), and were full of satisfying chunks of a range of vegetables.

The skin was sticky and gelatinous but not as gloopy as the ones we had at China Red. Luckily, HuTong has the same amazing Szechuan chilli oil that I fell in love with at China Red, which turns any half-decent dumpling into a taste sensation.

Finally we went with the stir-fried spinach in ginger and spring onion sauce ($15.80).

This was an excellent serving of greens - not overcooked and smothered in too much sauce as is sometimes the case. The ginger and spring onion sauce gave a nice spark the crispy greens, giving us a chance to pretend that we were healthy after too much of the oily eggplant.

So, how to sum up our Hutong experience? The food was quite good and the prices much more reasonable than China Red - for a tick over $30, we ate ourselves to a standstill. Still, there's something unsatisfying about having to book a table for this kind of food - in my head, dumplings are something you get the urge for suddenly and need to eat at once, not something you plan a few days ahead for. Despite the horror stories in many other reviews (seriously, there's a weird vibe to much of the writing about HuTong where it seems you have to earn a taste of the precious XLB by putting up with abominable treatment), we had good service - they were helpful and speedy and we didn't have to wait for our table. The room itself was a bit frustrating - we were seated upstairs and the noise seemed to bounce off the walls, meaning any loud conversations nearby quickly drowned us out. Still, HuTong is probably worth a visit - just to experience Melbourne's hippest dumpling place. Now, can someone please make me some vegetarian Xiao Long Bao?

Compiling and reading this list of other Hutong reviews took me a goddamn age - it really is one of the buzziest places in town (I didn't even include reviews of their Prahran venue!).

Most visitors have raved about the food (at least the XLB, which everyone seems to have ordered), even in the face of mediocre service. Check out positive reviews from: Tummy Rumbles, Ooh, Look, The Value Add, The Modern Fabulous, Ze Eats, Foodies n Places, Footscray Food Blog, Melbourne Culinary Journal, I Eat Therefore I Am, Mel: Hot or Not, He Needs Food, Delishaz, Saint-ism, Cruxie Faye, Half Eaten, My Food Odyssey, Dizzy Inamorata, Ms I-Hua, Eat Drink Stagger, Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, Melbourne Gastronome, Foodswings, Ichigo Shortcake, Christine's Foodie Adventures, Totally Addicted to Taste, Bellygood, Melbourne's Bargain Foodie, Gluttony Gluttony, I've Always Been Here, The Jess Ho (one, two, three times!), Cookbook, Lisalicious, What's for Tea?, Munching in Melbourne, Saucy Thyme, Gosstronomy, Barley Blog, Because I Can't Cook, 730 Days of My Life, Our Food Tales, Suck My Radish, On Golden Food, Tastes Like Yum and Eat and Be Merry.

A few people have been less impressed: Dollymic, A Daily Obsession, Debrief me, 6 Lumens, Sarah Cooks, Jeroxie.

It was great to read the experiences of Nouveau Potato and Confessions of an eco-food dude eating vegetarian food there - looks like we'll have to go back to check out the spinach dumplings at some stage.

HuTong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne
03 9650 8128
entrees ~$5-8, mains ~ $10-15


  1. Don't get me start on Prahran....I rather have mediocre serve than bad food.

    Anyway, I am glad you had a better waiter than we had. I won't say it is a bad experience. The food is jsut average.

    Maybe time for Din Tai Feng to open one in Melb... healthy competition is always good.

  2. Firstly, I've only had good experiences food wise at HuTong. Service is seriously a hot topic. I'm surprised at how many reviews there are about HuTong. Something about the place really gets people writing.

    You can try the Shanghai Noodles next time. That's very nice. And I think there is a Chilli Tofu dish?

    On the topic of chilli oils/sauce, I totally concur about theirs, it does turn a half decent dumpling into an amazing one. We should go on a chilli sauce hunt one day.

    Here's some other chilli sauce that you may like if you're ever at these restaurants.

    *Aunties Dumplings in Carnegie - best chilli sauce ever. It's the Asian style with fried shallots, garlic, chilli etc.

    *First Taste Claypot in Springvale, Box Hill or Footscray - their chilli sauce is super spicy and goes so well with the slight sweet soy sauce on the crispy claypot rice.

    *Pho Hung Vuong in Springvale - super super spicy chilli sauce that has kick to kill.

    *Hoa Tran in Springvale - again another hot chilli sauce with lots of items in it.

  3. Thanks for the chilli sauce tips Thanh. Maybe you should write a guide to Melbourne's best spicy sauces on your blog - it'd be a resource that I'd definitely make good use of.

  4. That's a great idea. I should try and write a guide, seeing as I love chilli sauce.