dumplings plus

Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong
(Level 2, near Woolworths)
Phone: 03 9318 1699

Well it’s been all go up in Knifepoint recently, with a swish new wing opening and all manner of fancy stores now available in the Wild West. The lovely new Woolworth’s is handy and well-stocked, and the other food stores in that precinct a great addition to our local shopping options. A macaron shop, a lovely continental deli, a huge fresh fruit and veg store, an Asian supermarket and a pretty decent butcher’s. It’s all good.
Another fantastic new addition down by Woolie’s is a new branch of Dumplings Plus, that Swanston Street stalwart. It’s always bustling inside and on the takeaway queue. Don’t pay attention to the opening hours mentioned elsewhere: they confirmed themselves on Saturday evening that it’s a 6.30pm close every night except Thursday and Friday when they stay open till 9.30pm for late-night shopping.
All the dumplings are made on the premises, so at busy times be prepared to wait a few minutes. The pork (or vegetarian) dumplings in chilli oil are ridiculously tasty and quite inexpensive at just under $10 for a dozen. The san choi bau are tasty enough but not the very best I’ve tasted in this Shanghai-dumpling-obsessed town. And you only get eight for your ten bucks.
One small downside so far, but nothing major: there are no Chinese bowls so you are confined to a shallow side-dish-type object to mix up your soy/vinegar/chilli sauce combo for your dumplings, or if you plan on sharing plates between a few of you. Weird, not useful for keeping the food hot and pointless if using chopsticks.
It’s worth coming back again and again for dumplings alone, but Orlando has his eye on a few other non-dumpling treats when next we visit. Further reports to follow.

Dumplings Plus on Urbanspoon

china red

Shop 6, 206 Bourke St. Melbourne

Orlando took me to this place for a Saturday evening casual dinner, having been introduced to the place by friends one lunchtime. China Red is inside the shopping mall  full of Japanese boutiques that runs between Bourke Street and Little Bourke, emerging onto Chinatown by Dragon Boat restaurant.

The gimmick here is that you order your food and drinks from a tablet perched on the wall above your table. In this way you don’t have to interact with the wait staff at all; in fact as far as I can make out this is what they prefer. All of my attempts to make eye contact and say thank you when our food was being served were studiously ignored. In two visits I never saw any member of staff smile.

That said, the food we ordered was of very good quality, quickly cooked to order and worth a repeat visit. The shao long bao we ordered were some of the best we have tasted outside Shanghai, and there is plenty of competition in Melbourne. The wontons in spicy sauce were a favourite of Orlando’s, but I found them a little too greasy to the palate. The prawn dumplings were plump and perfect. The chilli sauce on the table was laced with Szechuan pepper, just the way I like it.

The pork ribs in chilli and special sauce are chopped into bite-sized pieces, cooked until they are falling off the bone and taste just like the ones we used to get from Hong in our local takeaway in London “Hello!! Good Taste!! Hello Doy!!” Hong, a cheerful, efficient Chinese takeaway owner by day, and manicured drag queen by night, knew our Friday night order by heart. The special sauce on these ribs is a plentiful dollop of black bean sauce to augment the chopped chilli, and it tastes divine.

There is a dozen or so red wines to choose from, a similar number of whites, and a handful of wines by the glass. You can choose from jasmine, oolong, chrysanthemum or pu er tea.

Most dishes are around the $10 mark except for chef’s specials and our favourite pork ribs which are more like $18. Both of us have a healthy appetite, and three dishes is plenty for us. A bill of around $55 including two glasses of wine is good value in anyone’s language.

Once the novelty of the tablet wears off it’s probably just another modern Chinese place in Chinatown, but I can see this place becoming a favourite  of ours just for the shao long bao and pork ribs.

China Red on Urbanspoon

>Shun Fung re-visited

>Shun Fung
Barrack Square, Perth

Turns out I visit this place about once a year, and it never disappoints.

This evening I visit with Sally the Gluten Free Person. A G&T each beforehand at the fabulously-named Lucky Shag and we are ravenous. Excellent news: we agree on Singapore noodles being on the order list.

It’s before 6.30pm – in this time zone. In Sally’s Brisbane mind it’s 8.30pm and in my Melbourne head it’s 9.30pm; almost bedtime. We order quickly.

Who knew cumin lamb could be this tasty? Slow-cooked with leeks, it goes just perfectly with the Singapore noodles. The stir-fried squid with mange tout (snowpeas to southern hemisphere types) is similarly delicious.

We sit contentedly on the balcony overlooking the mighty Swan River, sheltered from most of the brisk southerly breeze, eat our fill, put the world to rights, then retire righteously to bed.

I love nights like this.

Shun Fung on the River on Urbanspoon

>bok choy tang

>Federation Square, Melbourne

Dinner for thirteen is a challenge, so the group takes turns every six weeks choosing a restaurant. Orlando – unsurprisingly – chose a posh Chinese. We had been to Bok Choy Tang before, late last summer on a stormy night. Our memories of the food and the service were good.

I was last to arrive to a rowdy table. The waiter was busy trying to take our order, so I had about two minutes to choose. We had all decided to order individually so the waiter advised that all of our food would not come out together. Why not? If this was any other type of restaurant we would all be served more or less at the same time.

I chose the pork dumplings, given that this is a Northern Chinese restaurant, and Orlando chose the duck pancakes. The pancakes were strange: they came to the table in a woven basket, already made up and then deep fried. A bit pub-food-looking. They had a crisp coating reminiscent of those “southern-fried” oven chips you can buy. They tasted fine but you could not really taste the duck, or any of the complex flavours you expect from duck pancakes. My dumplings were perfectly cooked and of a decent size, although there were only three of them. No dipping sauce however – I had to steal some of Orlando’s sweet chilli sauce which is not what you want for your dumplings.

I went with something nice and reliable for main course. I have great memories of delicious Szechuan chicken from our journey through China, and this was the taste I was looking for: perfectly fried chunks of chicken with plenty of dried chillies and onion. It came out exactly as I wanted, and a generous portion too.

About half of us got served at the same time, whilst the rest waited. Orlando, Nat and Craig had to chase their food a couple of times, and the waiter looked pretty perplexed. I reckon there had been a mix-up because they had ordered dishes that others had already been served. Finally Nat and Craig got their food but Orlando was still waiting. Most people had finished eating when his steamed chilli barramundi came out.

After all that waiting, his dish was a disappointment. There was no chilli at all on the fish, just a generous coating of diced red capsicum. Although steamed to perfection and filleted by the waiter at the table, it had little flavour.

The other small gripe was that the rice was served in very small individual bowls, so if you wanted more you had to order it again. Given the time it took to get served, this was not really an attractive proposition. I could have done with more myself.

Strangely, we were not given bowls to eat from, but small flat dishes with a vertical side much like a small flan dish. No good at all for eating with chopticks. I ended up eating from my tiny rice bowl which was difficult given the size.

Most people were happy with their orders, and the bill at $56 per head was excellent value given the amount of alcohol consumed. However I would not recommend Bok Choy Tang for a large table of diners again. Best to go in a smaller group so that you can be sure of better service.

>Shun Fung on the River

>Barrack Street Jetty, Perth, WA

After flying all the way to Perth to keep me company for the week – a four-hour flight – the least I could do was take Orlando out to dinner to thank him. Naturally, Chinese was the only option. I had seen a place down at the river which I was told was good for seafood. On a Thursday night in early spring it was almost empty when we arrived, but the interior looked far posher than the exterior hinted at.

I ordered a glass of local Margaret River cabernet shiraz and settle down to inspect the menu. It was a fancy, shiny, carefully worded tome with plenty of pictures. This was a place to reckon with.

We shared crispy pork ribs and salt and chilli squid to start. Both were divine, with plenty of bite and perfectly lightly fried. Our main courses were also excellent. My black pepper steak (yes, I know it was a seafood restaurant) was spicy, delicious and a huge portion. Orlando’s more modestly-sized stir-fried squid was similarly tempting.

Genuine Chinese food it was not. But this place will be a place to return to on our nest trip west.

>China Bar

>It was Chinese New Year and an acquaintance’s thirtieth birthday: what better opportunity to try another cheap and cheerful Chinatown eatery. China Bar came recommended by a few people. There are three branches, two in the city and one in Box Hill. We met up with the others at the Russell Street branch, right beside the entertainment stage where Chinese dancers, gymnasts, singers and performers entertained the hundreds of Melburnians who had braved the forty-degree heat to celebrate New Year in style.

China Bar is pretty small. It probably holds about fifty diners when full. Full roasted chickens and ducks are displayed proudly in the window, and above the counter a selection of dishes are displayed in full photographic glory.

We sat down the back with six others at the formica table, and helped ourselves to extra glasses for our BYO wine. Hunger, and the sheer beewilderment of the number of dishes on offer, made choosing an impossibility. Others picked my first choices – Mongolian beef, belly pork, choice of two roasts – and I was reluctant to order the same dish twice for the table. For the first time in my life, I sent the waitress away with no order from me after everybody else had chosen. Finally, somebody suggested that I limit my choice to the Specialities section, and I finally opted for satay beef.

We shared rice, noodles and stir-fried vegetables along with our own personally-chosen dishes. Everything was enormous and delicious.

We thought nothing could have detracted from our evening, until one creepy-crawly was detected on the wall near our table. In the course of the evening four baby cockroaches were seen emerging from the air-conditioning vent on the opposite wall, and making their way over to our table. They were dispatched with the aid of roll-up newspapers, but not before one almost made it into my hair, and one onto the table itself.

Now, a week later, the memory of the delicious food is fading as quickly as the memory of the cockroaches is growing. Despite the amazing food, I’m not sure if I will eat there again.