Alastair and I were in Sydney in March to hang out in the Harbour and watch his cousin compete in an 18-foot skiff regatta, like we did last year. Coincidentally Penny and her Mister were also in town so we arranged to meet up for lunch at Din Tai Fung.
Din Tai Fung is a chain of restaurants that started in Taiwan in 1974. Initially it was a humble dumpling house, but it has now grown to 47 restaurants in 10 different countries. The first (and currently only) one in Australia opened in 2008.
Windows to the dumpling production kitchen provide entertainment, as you can watch at least a dozen chefs with hats, face masks and white aprons, meticulously make dumplings. It is claimed that all of the food is made with “scientific precision” in every restaurant, and that no matter where in the world you are, every meal is the same – the same weight, the same flavour, and even cooked at the same temperature and humidity.
It’s also claimed that each XLB dumpling pastry weighs between 4.8 – 5.2 grams, with an exact 6.5cm diameter. There are 18 folds, and when stuffed with the filling, weighs between 20.6 – 21.4 grams. Now, I didn’t weigh my dumplings so I don’t know if this is true – but I did notice that the chef pinching off pieces of dough to make dumpling skin had a small scale in front of him. I hope that he didn’t have to weigh every single piece!
We were there early, and fortunately walked straight in as soon as the restaurant opened. The restaurant is a large L-shape, with lots of mirrors and many wooden tables all squeezed in together. Once seated, a hamper was placed alongside the table to hold our bags. Initially I looked at it in confusion – “Is that for our bags?” I asked Penny’s Mister, who was sitting opposite me. Turns out that it was – what a good idea to keep bags off the floor – and once our bags were inside, a staff member covered it with a cloth!
It didn’t take us long to decide what we wanted to eat, which was just about everything. Narrowing down our choices took us a little bit longer! Ordering was done via ticking off an order sheet, and within five minutes of our order being taken away, the first dish came out. Literally less than five minutes. I’ve never had food come out that quickly before!
First out were the Cha Jiang noodle ($11.80) – Shanghainese noodles with minced pork, soya bean and dried bean curd. They were pretty good, with a generous amount of topping and springy noodles.
We also tried the dan dan noodles ($10.80), which had a spicy, creamy peanut and sesame sauce. It was like noodles covered in peanut butter. One word: awesome.
This was the silken tofu with pork floss and century egg ($6.80). The tofu was served cold, which initially seemed a bit weird, but I liked it once I got over the initial shock. The pork floss was great – so light, fluffy and porky!
We had to order a token vegetable dish. These were green beans wok fried with minced pork and dried prawn mince ($12.80). I am very partial to green beans, and enjoyed them. They still retained a bit of crunch and were well flavoured with the pork and prawn mince.
The Shanghainese style drunken chicken ($8.80) was prepared by deboning a free range chicken drumstick and marinating it in a blend of Chinese rice wine. The chicken was silky and tender, but this was a particularly small portion. It doesn’t look that small in the photo, but it was really tiny, which was a bit disappointing.
The prawn and pork wontons in a spicy sauce (6 pieces $8.80) were not bad. The sauce wasn’t particularly spicy, though the wonton skins were really good and slippery.
The prawn and pork jiao zi ($9.80 for 6 pieces) were fine, though perhaps a bit pricey? I mean, the xiao long bao below were cheaper… and I know which dumpling I’d rather eat!
The stars of the show were the xiao long bao. We ended up ordering THREE baskets – one basket of crab meat XLB (6 pieces for $15.80) and two baskets of pork XLB (6 pieces for $8.80).
Just looking at them, you can see how beautiful and plump with soup the XLB were. The skins were thin and elastic, but strong enough not to break when picking up the dumplings. I was surprised to find that the soup inside wasn’t scalding hot and was at the right temperature to eat almost straight away – normally eating XLB can lead to a terribly burnt mouth!
I found that I preferred the pork XLB to the crab ones. I couldn’t taste a big difference in the two fillings, and the pork ones were much cheaper. I thought that the XLB were really good, though I did find the flavour of the soup and filling fairly subtle – they weren’t bland, just not as oomphy as others I’ve had.
Oh and in case you don’t know how to eat XLB, there’s a helpful instruction card on the table. The last step tells you to drink the soup and eat the XLB together – I agree! Some people tell you to suck out the soup first, but what’s the point in that?! You could just drink soup and eat normal dumplings. :p
We also had the deboned pork chop ($8.80) which the menu claims is a Taiwanese specialty. It’s a fried pork chop – can’t go wrong, really.
And finally we had fried rice with prawns ($13.80). It was just fried rice, but it was surprisingly good. It tasted really clean and wasn’t oily at all.
I really enjoyed our lunch at Din Tai Fung and thought it was worth visiting for the XLB alone. Alastair enjoyed it too, and I know this because I could hear him muttering “Yum, yum, yum,” the entire meal. 😉 I wonder if they’ll ever open a Melbourne restaurant – I suppose we can live in hope! If not, I’ll just have to go back next year.
Oh, and Sydney was beautiful – as always.
Din Tai Fung
Shop 11. 04 Level 1
World Square Shopping Centre
644 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: +61 (02) 9264 6010