HuTong Dumpling Bar
14 - 16 Market Ln
Telephone: 03 9650 8128
Hutong is yummy. Hutong is pretty. And Hutong has proved to be very, very, very popular.
So in a valiant (and unusual!) attempt to be pithy, here are the things you should and should not do at Hutong.
1. Make a reservation. The nice thing about HuTong is that they can take group bookings of up to 13 if you ask nicely, and you can even request the level on which you'd like to be placed (there are three altogether). Go for the gold, and ask for the top floor. As you can see, it is very lovely, and unlike many other Chinatown restaurants, does not look like it was built, painted and 'decorated' in the gaudy '80s.
2. Order the xiao long baos. Of course, of course, of COURSE order the xiao long baos; if there is only ONE reason to come here - this is it.
Light and delicate skin that doesn't break when you lift the xiao long bao. Check.
Flavourful and plentiful soup within with moist lump of meat. Check.
3. Order some of the other specials (more on this later).
This is a lovely (and very large!) Cheng Du Style Combination in Chilli ($23.80).
It came highly recommended on the menu, and was basically a hot pot of duck (if I'm not mistaken), bean shoots, broccoli and ham. The downside of this dish was that it was a bit hard to tell all the ingredients apart as they were all soaked in the chilli broth. To be fair, however, the broth is so pungent and tasty that it's not a dish you wouldn't ever order again - just maybe only when you need a chilli hit, and lots of it!
This was the other star of the evening, a very interesting Scallop with Eggplant in Claypot in Szechuan Chilli Sauce ($20.90). Think fat and fresh scallops with smooth (but not mushy) eggplant slices. Spicy, generous, tasty - it eats exactly as it looks.
Other dishes that we had (but couldn't get good pictures of, because of the low, low lighting up on third) were the Dong Po Square Soft Pork ($7.80) - you'd have to order a few of these if you wanted to share it, it's a small cube of sweet braised fatty pork, nothing unusual if you've had it at other Chinese restaurants, the Hand Tear Cabbage ($15.80) - think pieces of roughly torn cabbage in chilli, not unpleasant but nothing outstanding either, and the Won Tons in Chilli ($8.00) - certainly not as large as my benchmark in Rose Garden (eating there is obviously a very different and less luxurious type of experience), but plump enough, and very nicely made!
Which brings me to what you shouldn't do in Hutong.
DO NOT (cannot stress this enough)
Spoil your meal by ordering too many 'specials'. Or rather, be very careful not to order too many dishes that are described as cooked in chilli or boiled in chilli or containing chilli etc (which really are most of the specials) as they will all turn up cooked in identical chilli broths. Point in case - the scallop and eggplant, the won tons, the Cheng Du combination, and even the cabbage above. It really doesn't do justice to any of the dishes individually because after awhile all the flavours run together, and you lose the variety of 'tastes' you should be drawing out from your meal as an entirety - and go away feeling like you've just drunk a really huge bowl of chilli oil. This is unfair to you, and also unfair to the dishes because they really all quite good on their own - so my advice to you is to break up the chilli-fied dishes for different visits, or if you have a substantially large group, order lots of non-chilli options as well for variety! I've had the deep fried whitebait on a previous occasion, and it's fantastic!
So in short - go, go, go to HuTong and feel free to bring your friends and family as so few other places cater properly for large groups. And when you're there, order the specials - but not all of them!