Melbourne dumpling-lovers, start your engines. Din Tai Fung Melbourne has arrived.
This famous, and long-awaited, restaurant chain has taken up the whole of level 4 inside Emporium Melbourne. You can’t miss the entrance as there will be crowd of hungry people outside.
Inside the decor is a surprising combination of Scandi-chic with an Asian sensibility designed by Design Clarity.
It’s not often you spot filament lights in Asian restaurants and they combine together with other ‘hipster-cafe’ features such as an abundance of blonde wood, a long retro blue banquette, curved lines and wall-hanging greenery.
Particularly Asian elements still creep in though – waiters wield bag stands to protect your handbags and shopping and coat covers for the back of your chair.
You order by ticking off a paper menu with over a hundred items. Daunted, I call my (Chinese) mother to provide ordering advice (though there is a picture menu available to assist). She says ‘every visit to Din Tai Fung would not be complete without their famous xiao long bao’.
These darling 18-times pleated soup dumplings (6 for $10.80) are made by an army of mask-clad chefs in the large kitchen and then carried in a sky-high tower of bamboo steamers to be distributed to expectant folk.
Din Tai Fung’s XLB are superb. The weight of the piping hot broth, the thin pouch of dumpling skin, the the perfect balance of texture and flavour, all go towards making these some of the best xiao long bao you’ll find anywhere in the world. What’s amazing is the consistency of the product – I’ve had Din Tai Fung’s XLB in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai and each time they send me into a food orgasm.
Din Tai Fung are also famous for their noodles, and my mum suggested trying the braised beef noodle soup ($16.80). It’s a steaming bowl consisting of a fat wad of handmade noodles sitting underneath four slices of beef shank in a flavoursome broth. The pliable noodles are a highlight though the beef could be more tender.
Finally, I try one of their steamed buns ($3). The vegetarian bun comes so beautifully pleated I don’t want to touch it. I take a bite and discover the fluffiest of pillows with a loose mixture of shredded vegetables and mushrooms nestled inside.
Din Tai Fung may be a global restaurant chain but it’s one that’s of consistently high quality and reasonably priced. It’s an exciting addition to Chinese dining in Melbourne and it was telling that on my visit 95% of the patrons were Asian, young and old. It’s safe to say they know a good dumpling when they eat it (and are willing to line up for it).
My final tip is to arrive 5-10 minutes before opening time. The kitchen is quick but each table still takes around 45 minutes to turn around. So if you miss the first tranche of the 230-odd seats you’ll have to hang around salivating over your paper menu until there’s room.
Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne 9654 1876