Thursday, November 10, 2011

Poppet Does Dumplings


Address: 161 Commercial Road Prahran, Victoria, 3141

Phone: (03) 9098 1188

Open seven days, 11am until 3pmand 5.30pm until 10.30pm 
(until 11.30 pm on Friday and Saturday)

Most people in Melbourne have heard of or eaten at HuTong Dumpling Bar in Market Lane in the CBD. But this famous dumpling destination also has a restaurant in Prahran, underneath the arty Cullen Hotel

We visited on account of my little brother, who turned 11 that day. When asked where he would like to go for lunch, the sophisticated little sucker requested yum cha at HuTong. There is something inherently appealing about piles of steaming food being constantly wheeled out to you.

The restaurant seats about 150 people and features two private dining rooms, ideal for larger groups or corporate lunches. There’s a modern spin on traditional Chinese décor, with large concrete grey bricks, dark wooden furnishings and glowing gold lantern ceiling lights. 

Decorative china pots and vases brighten up the dark wooden screens, which contain stacks of wine bottles waiting to be opened. Diners can watch the chefs folding, stuffing and assembling their dumplings from scratch, courtesy of a glass-fronted kitchen.

The service was gracious and responsive, even if there was a language barrier at times. The staff were all smiles and quickly took our drink orders once we were seated. We pre-emptively ordered Chinese tea in an attempt to aid digestion.

One of the standout dishes was the wontons with chilli sauce. Steamed wontons arrived swimming in a sweet and spicy sauce of soy and rice wine vinegar. Chilli seeds floated in the liquid, which cushioned the moreish dumplings. Sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds and zesty spring onions, they are a must try at HuTong. 

The sugar cane prawn was a deep fried ball of diced prawn meat, complete with a stick of sugar cane protruding from the crumbed shell. The condensed texture of the meat was somewhat processed, but it was satisfying chewing on the sugar cane stick that released a warm, sweet juice.

The meat of the prawn balls’ also tasted processed, and the celery stick failed to refresh the deep-fried exterior. At the core of each ball was cooked egg, which did little to endear me further to this selection.

Always a favourite, the steamed BBQ pork buns housed sticky pork meat encased in a fluffy bun. The sugary buns had a cloud-like consistency and as usual, they were the dim sum of choice for those under 12.

The ginger chicken and prawn dumplings arrived beneath a blanket of julienned spring onion. The thin wonton skin was velvety and the filling was light and full of flavour. These dumplings were one of my favourites and are highly recommended. 

The fine translucent skin of the prawn and garlic chive dumplings was an alluring window to what awaited us inside. Stuffed with bright green chives and plump prawn meet, these steamed beauties were a definite winner.

Despite their garish green colouring, the vegetarian spinach dumplings were delicious. Alongside the spinach were a variety of meaty mushrooms, which were complemented by crunchy cashew nuts.

The spring rolls were ordered to please the birthday boy and were accompanied by a sweet plum sauce. They were like any other spring roll: oily with fillings that burn the roof of your mouth (why do we never learn?).

The seasoning on both the salt and pepper chicken wings and squid was simply scrumptious. Both had a crispy batter sprinkled with sliced spring onions. The batter overpowered the sparse meat on the chicken wings, but it was well suited to the tender squid. We all licked our fingers clean of the salt and pepper coating, too involved with the distinctive taste to mind our manners.

The lightly fried rice paper rolls were a refreshing take on traditional rice paper rolls. They weren’t too oily, which meant that health conscious rice paper roll aficionados could still sample them guilt free. These ones contained prawn meat and vegetables and were delightful when dipped in the plum sauce from the spring rolls. 

The prawn, pork and scallop dumplings were too busy. The pork meat was topped by a juicy scallop and wrapped in a sheet of soggy seaweed. Crowned with a prawn, they looked better than they tasted. 

Similar to the above dumplings, the scallop dumplings were below average. The presentation was unimpressive with a slimy yellow skin enveloping diced pork meat and a scallop. The sweet scallop was the best component in both of these dishes.

Now onto a favourite: the duck dumpling. The clear, gluey skin was filled with tasty meat, fresh spring onions and a hint of carrot and mushroom. All the dumplings with this thin, translucent covering were superior to the others.

The fried prawn moneybags were similar to shark fin dumplings. The fried dumplings were not as enjoyable as the steamed dumplings, resembling greasy fast food rather than fresh, handmade dishes.

There is something about Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce that ’s always appealing. Perhaps the abundance of greens on a plate convinces me that I’m balancing the fried food I’ve just consumed with a healthy serve of vegetables. Maybe it’s the idiosyncratic salty taste of the sauce, or the satisfaction that comes from chomping down on the crunchy greens. Then again, maybe it’s just damn delicious. HuTong’s, was no exception.

Finally, we enjoyed the shao-long bao, or soup dumplings. These were the only dumplings we ordered straight away, knowing we would be pleased with the result. These conical morsels feature a slightly thicker, silky dumpling skin containing pork meat. Surrounding the meat is a broth, which spurts out with the first bite. As usual, they were delicious.

The conversation while consuming these flavour bombs usually relates to the best way to eat them. One big mouthful? Puncture the top and slurp out the soup? Bite the side and let it dribble down your chin? (It’s fun). Pierce it with a chopstick and suck out the insides? Regardless of how you do it, one always forgets just how scalding the soup inside is.

After such a selection of dumplings, dessert was out of the question for most of us, although the birthday boy wanted a mango pudding. “It’s my birthday!” he reminded us, and he received. Half of it was gone before I had a chance to take a picture, but I managed to snap some of the desserts displayed in a cabinet near the kitchen.

If you plan on visiting HuTong, my advice is to stick to the dishes you know you will enjoy, such as the soup dumplings. It seems that if you decide to be adventurous, you risk disappointment. Also, head there with a group of people. Yum cha is designed for sharing, as are many Chinese dishes, and you can sample a larger selection this way. My final words of wisdom: don’t over order. It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to everything that comes past, but eating too much makes you bloated and can turn a good value meal into an expensive outing. As Confucius says: do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.


HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Or for the city restaurant:

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

With wontons on the brain, I’d like to leave you with this quirky recipe, adapted from Jo Cooks

(Beautiful photos also courtesy of above link)

Nutella and Strawberry Wontons

A sweet alternative to pork and prawn that takes half an hour, including cooking. This recipe for these sweet morsels makes about 28 wontons. While strawberries and Nutella are used here, you could also try other berries, marshmallows, dulce du leche, white chocolate buttons, or cut up pieces of your favourite chocolate bar.

You will need:

❤ 28 wonton wrappers
❤ 28 teaspoon Nutella
❤ 1 cup of chopped strawberries
❤ Oil for frying
❤ Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Now what?

1. Place the wonton wrappers carefully on a bench top. In the middle of each, drop a teaspoon of your chosen ingredients.

2. Dip your finger in water and run it across the edge of the wonton wrapper, then carefully pull one half over the other to make a triangle. Firmly but carefully press the edges together, ensuring the sides are sealed properly. Take the other two sides and bring them up and wrap them over each other, using more water if necessary.

3. Heat the oil on medium until it is hot.

4. Fry the wontons a few at a time for about 2 to 3 minutes each.

5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and if desired, stuff face.

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