As Melbourne fast approaches Winter, with a deep chill in the air, leaving the house becomes a task in itself. My desires to travel to uncharted and unfamiliar restaurant territory is quashed precisely for this reason. You may have found yourself in this recent situation, deciding on a particular spot for dinner, coming to the conclusion to go with an old favourite after a lengthy discussion. Further, a place that allows bookings can prevent one from potentially catching pneumonia while standing in a queue for hours on end. Thus, we decided on Hu Tong Dumpling Bar in Prahran. Local – Check. Booking – check. Reliable – check.
This, my friends, is no ordinary door. This is both the entrance to the Hu Tong eatery and a gym work out all in one. If I was you, I would consider a few bicep curls before attempting to push your way through the heavy metal displayed above. Once we entered the restaurant we were glad to have a reservation. Even though we dined on a weeknight, Hu Tong attracts a variety of locals and families looking for a reasonably priced - it was very busy. Undoubtedly, you will notice a ‘dumpling-preparation viewing station’ as you enter the main dining room. Take a minute to watch the cooks prepare excellent dim sum, in a multitude of varieties, which you will surely be chomming minutes later.
You will notice some of the most elegant restaurateurs in Melbourne sipping Chinese tea and chatting the night away, in the friendly spacious environment. While our numbers weren’t large enough to constitute a round table (my personal favourite), we did notice the unfortunate lack of the ‘lazy susan’ that saddened me ever so slightly. You will love the menu, which, in Japanese fashion, has many photos next to the available dishes. Usually, this does not bode well for a restaurant but in this instance I let it slide.
To begin warming our engines, we dined on vegetable dumplings (12 pieces for $16.80). The interesting green wrappers, with its chewy texture provide a casing for the insides, which formed a piece of vegetable mash. Vinegar, soy and chilli dipping sauce varieties all available for your coating pleasures.
Now we really start to get into the good stuff. The wontons with hot chilli sauce (8 pieces for $12.80) – a must order. These are very soft dumplings and the oil/soy/chilli sauce in which they are bathed matched perfectly with each parcel. Make sure to try to use a soup spoon to get some of the sauce with the wonton when eating. Amazing! Note: these were not very spicy, I would say more on the mild side of hotness.
The staff will always recommend Hu Tong’s signature dumpling dish of Shao-long Bao (8 pieces for $12.80). Often staff will talk up a dish that often does not match expectations. This is not the case here. I have had these every time I’ve visited Hu’s and you will not regret ordering these. To break it down, these are pork dumplings with captured broth inside the wrapping. Not only are they delicious, but fun to eat as well. A must order. On the back of the menu is an in depth depiction of how to eat these dumplings. A good read, to ensure no spillage of the broth and full eating pleasure.
Peking Duck (Half a duck – 8 pieces for $33.00). Another great appetizer, Hu Tong excel in preparing this dish. Soft duck, crispy skin, warm pancake and a dash of plum sauce. Two pieces each really hit the spot, (especially because they were slightly on the smaller side). Once piece is never enough. There is a funny guide on the back of the menu with steps on how to eat the duck too. Bloody obvious though – chom it in the mouth in one go. Obviously!
Diced chicken in chilli sauce with peanuts ($22.80). This was an appealing and inexpensive large sharing dish. No unique chomming experience here, just a reliable Chinese plate that pleased all. Note: I had to remove the plethora of dried chilli skins from my helping – good practice of chop sticks. The waiter informed us that no vegetables would arrive with our main course but from the photo above it looks like either we got lucky or he gave us wrong information. Either way, it’s always good to have some vegetables – right?
The shredded beef with home made BBQ sauce ($28.80) can be viewed above. These beefs strips were heavily glazed and fried but totally addictive. Without question, the small amount of beef within the batter was of a poor standard. Nevertheless, myself and fellow chommers did not leave any left overs. The photo is quite deceiving in that it looks like a small serve, when in truth the mound of beef was built tall rather than wide.
I’m a little confused as to why Hu Tong is ranked as the third best Melbourne restaurant on Urbanspoon. Don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed all my visits to this spot, but number three – I don’t think so. Here we have a solid mid-range Chinese restaurant, that is family friendly and open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. It is a reliable spot to hit up some classic Chinese food out of the city- just off Chapel Street. Take it from The Chommery; do not hesitate to order more dumplings – that’s where the money’s at!. It’s called a ‘dumpling bar’ for a reason.
The Important Details…
Noise: Loads of
Suitable for: All
Dress: Smart casual
Price: $40 a head (not including alcohol)
My View: Superb dumplings found here
Address: 161 Commercial Road, Prahran (The Cullen Hotel)
Phone: (03) 9098 1188