A few friends and I at work have a fortnightly outing on pay day where we all go out for a meal. With 4 of the 5 of us being immigrants to Melbourne, we thought it would be a great way to find new places in the city, while also getting to know each other a bit more. We try to go to some of the highly recommended restaurants in the city and Hutong seems to be adored by The Age newspaper. On Hutong’s XLB’s (Shao Long Bao on the menu) they say “First came the food writers, then the bloggers and, in between, visiting international chefs, all lusting to try HuTong’s famed XLBs (that’s xiao long bao dumplings), for which Melbourne has gone a bit mad. They’re like a shot glass of savoury bliss, subtle pork and prawn with a burst of jellied stock”
(picture below from The Age)
We arrived at 5:20pm on Thursday to a queue outside as the restaurant doesn’t open until 5:30pm. We were lucky to get a table without a reservation and even then, we were told that we could only have it for an hour as another party had a reservation at 6:30pm - as the review says, book ahead. An hour did give us enough time for dinner though as the dishes were brought out promptly. We tried the XLBs, the scallop dumplings and steamed pork dumplings to start. The XLBs were something special, but not as amazing as I thought they would be. They have special instructions at each table on how to eat them, which involves you picking it up in the middle (ensuring you don’t break the skin), putting it on a spoon, biting a small hole on the skin and then sucking out the soup. The scallop and prawn dumplings were good, but came in a gelatinous looking skin which was rather off putting. In spite of that, they actually tasted good, and were perhaps my favourite dumplings of the night. One of my friends didn’t like it at all as it was “too fishy” for him, however he does like prawns and scallops. The pork dumplings were just like any pork dumplings you could have eaten at any decent dumpling restaurant. Admittedly for me, I may be more accustomed to dumplings than other people, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t wowed. A few years ago, a family friend put us on to one of her friends who used to make dumplings, freeze them, and then sell them on to friends. For the next 18 months or so, I used to have dumplings once a fortnight during winter. Straight from the freezer, you would fry them in a pan until their bottoms turned slightly brown, then pour water over them and boil them. Perhaps in Melbourne, dumplings are the new cupcakes, and I’m just a few years ahead of the trend.
On to our mains and we decided on the salt and pepper prawns which came in a rather thick batter, but were cooked perfectly. Our other main was a beef brisket clay pot with dumplings. I had a small piece of beef (I’m not a huge fan) and whilst it melted in my mouth, I was a little put off by the neon yellow-green colour of the soup that it came in.
Overall, I enjoyed Hutong, but it wouldn’t be a restaurant I feel I need to rush back to anytime soon. I feel like I’ve ticked that box and am happy to say that I’ve been there, but I wasn’t as blown away as I thought I’d be.