Hutong Dumpling Bar | Dessert Story
14-16 Market Ln
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9650 8128
I’m visiting Hong Kong with Fakegf and Damo later this year. It will predominantly be a foodie trip, and for me, it’ll be a photography expedition as well!
You could say this visit to Hutong incidentally became a ‘test run’ on how well we’d get along dining together. Alright, alright… it isn’t Hong Kong cuisine at Hutong, but it’s close enough! And I know this ‘test run’ concept is quite silly, especially since we’d booked the air tickets already. But believe me, dining out with the wrong people can be not that fun at all!
From the reviews I’ve read, Hutong seemed very popular for their dumplings. In particular, the Xiao Long Bao. And I’m glad I booked… the inward stream through the front doors were quite continuous even on a Wednesday night.
There’s one thing about Asian eating places, they can be quite dingy and filthy. Not that I have big problems with that, but my recent visit to Nasi Lemak House in Carlton had left me feeling a little squeamish. Hutong isn’t exactly that upmarket or posh, it’s more mid-range… and clean. Decor has that half-old and half-new feel. It looked on the varnished side and reminded me of new ‘antiques’. Not too bad. Service was efficient and polite.
It turned out that the three of us had pretty synchronised dish preferences in the end: we wanted to sample the dumplings, we did not need rice. and we wanted veggies. We ordered small too… so that there was space for dessert.
小笼汤包 Shao-long Bao (8 pieces, East China) $11.80
I regret to say that Hutong’s much celebrated dumplings left us with a feeling of want. Granted, the meat inside was quite tasty and gingery, but everything else wasn’t a ‘wow’. The dumplings did not come out steamingly hot, the skins were pretty thick, and when you nibble into the dumpling, you don’t get a squirt of piping hot broth. Instead, it was more a flow of murky tasting, thickish broth with hints of flour. Also, the ginger strips that accompanied the Chinese vinegar sauce weren’t finely sliced.
I’m sure Xiao Long Baos have regional variations around China, and I can’t vouch that I’m an authority over this ‘East China’ version, but I humbly believe there can be room for improvement here. I mean… Really? C’mon Melbourne… this can’t be the end game for good Xiao Long Baos in our city, right?
This will make me look biatchy, but I’d like to show you a photo of Xiao Long Baos I had in Singapore last year as a point of comparison. Look at how much thinner the skins are, don’t these dumplings look a lot more delicate? Pick one up with chopsticks and the whole dumpling wobbles loosely with delicious hot soup inside. The ginger strips served at that small eatery were also very finely sliced, and I think that suggests a good measure of pride with the cooking.
The next thing I am going to mention should be taken tongue-in-cheek. Fakegf joked that the “reason why Xiao Long Bao skins in Melbourne are a bit thick is because the ang mohs (Westerners) don’t know how to kiap (grab) the dumplings with chopsticks”. That statement sent me into helpless giggles!
红油抄手 Wantons w Hot Chilli Sauce (8 pieces) $9.80
I’ve been told that another must-try dish at Hutong were these chilli oil dumplings. I had no point of comparison for these, and just thought they were pretty enjoyable. The chilli oil seasoning was mostly sweet with a vinegary tang and it was just slightly spicy. As usual, Fakegf thinks they could afford to make this dish many notches spicier. And I agree, for such an intimidatingly red and spicy-looking dish, it was kinda wimpy in chilli hotness. Damo can’t tolerate spicy foods but he could eat these.
菠菜素水饺 Boiled Dumpling Stuffed w Spinach (6 pieces ) $7
蒜茸豆苗 Sauteed Snow Pea Shoot in Garlic $16.80
I normally wouldn’t order spinach dumplings, but Damo was pretty keen about it so we tried a serve. We all agreed that the skins were once again on the thick side, but Damo and Fakegf enjoyed the interesting filling. I was not a fan of both both filling and skin.
But I’m glad that our taste preferences for leafy veggies synced. When it comes to stir-fried leafy veggies, I love love dou miao (snow pea sprouts) over and above all the other usual suspects (gai lan, buk choy, choy sum, kang kong). Dou miao tastes nicest when it’s done simple, just fried with garlic. They cooked it exactly the way we like it here. My only small gripe is how it’s a touch pricey, but snow pea sprouts aren’t cheap veggies anyway.
I’ve visited Hutong two years ago and had a pretty unspectacular meal there. Now that I’ve returned with the more objective ‘gaze’ of a food blogger, my mind has not changed that much. It’s easy to get swept up by the tide of rave reviews, so let’s think of this post as my own way of putting things into perspective. I’m not saying that Hutong’s dumplings are terrible, they were okay. They just could be better. And I’m hoping that with some constructive feedback, they will get better.
195 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9650 7776
We continued our meal ala HK travel-buddies, place-hopping style by tromping down the road to Dessert Story, a new place for Asian-style desserts. It’s only been opened a couple of months, but seeing the long queues of people waiting outside had put me off from visiting. The place is bright and it can be on the noisy side, but once you’re seated, it isn’t that bad. Although on my most recent visit on a Saturday night, it was too chaotic for me.
Hanging lanterns with Chinese inscriptions lends a fun, cheery, and slightly Hong Kong feel. However, the menu tends to be quite florid with their ingredients, lacking the simplicity of Hong Kong desserts. I hear from Daisy that the menu seems to be more Taiwanese-oriented in that regard, interesting to know!
And somebody needs to tell me how the table and ordering system works here, because we totally mucked it up! We lined up, ordered, and then realised we did not have a table. Thankfully, one of the serving staff squeezed things here and there and found us a spot before the desserts arrived.
Red Bean Tofu Pudding $5.50
Fakegf’s tau fu fa (soy bean custard) dish did not exactly hit the mark for her because the custard wasn’t smooth in texture, making it a rather unrefined dessert. I had a taste and personally did not mind it because the flavour of beancurd was there and it was nice. Since tau fu fa is so hard to find in Melbourne, for me I’d say order this if you have cravings. It can’t be found anywhere else at night anyway so you got no choice…!
Black Sesame w Red Bean Soup $5.90
With respect to this HK trip we’re about to make together, Damo and Fakegf are both more HK-oriented than myself. I can’t speak Cantonese while they both can to some degree… and Fakegf has family in HK. The two of them seem to enjoy Chinese-style black sesame sweet soups, while I’m not as familiar with that dessert.
Damo liked what was served here, but commented that while the soup was thick, it wasn’t that rich with black sesame goodness because some of the thickness seemed to be starch-based. From the spoonful I had, I more or less agreed, and think that Monga does this dessert better.
Green Tea Snow Ice w Red Bean and Chocolate $8.90
To cap off the night, I chose, and found, a winning dessert! It is really nice when a place makes their snow ice delicate and fluffy using a proper ice shaving machine.This mountain of delight was soft, soothing and gossamer-like, with a nice push of green tea matcha without going overboard with sweetness or creaminess. Perfect for me, and so so moreish! This is a dessert I’d come back for, even in Winter.
What a fun night of eating with my putative travel companions, this ‘test run’ was a success! I’m sure we will have a great time eating together in Hong Kong.
Peanut Snow Ice with Black Sesame and Crushed Peanut $8.90
Let me just extend this post a smidgin to cover one more dessert. I came back within a fortnight, this time I got the other incredibly appealing snow ice dessert on the menu. The peanut snow ice was diaphanously delicious in texture and flavour, everything just goes ‘poof!’… and it melts in your mouth so softly. However, I still prefer the green tea snow ice over this one.
Dessert Story milk tea $3.80
The milk tea was a bit of a disappointment. It tasted diluted and quite floral in flavour, like jasmine tea with milk, which was just an odd combination when fakegf and I drank it.
I’ve also finally figured out the table and ordering system here. You have to ignore the snaking queue outside… go right in and find yourself a table first. And be prepared to share tables. On busy nights, there’ll be a girl inside who holds a ticketing number pad. Go to her first to get your number. Once you have a table, then line up and order. Menus are scarce, and it frustrates me that some people who’d been queuing will only get to look at the menu right when they’re at the payment counter, hence holding up the queue even more. I personally think this system needs a lot more improvement before I’m willing to come back on busy nights.
NB: I visited the Swanston St branch months after publication of this post and had the previously loved Green Tea Snow Ice. It tasted like jasmine green tea there, floral without any matcha fragrance. Disappointing. I’m not sure whether the formula has changed or the recipe varies between branches, but do take note.