Dumplings are a fantastic fast food. In Melbourne at least, they are probably now on the same level as pizza or burgers: a cheap, satisfying option that goes down well with a large group of people and plenty of beer.
As much as I love scoffing down cheap, greasy parcels of meat by the dozen every now and then, sometimes it’s nice to have dumplings in a more refined setting. Frustrated with Hu Tong constantly being booked out I decided to look elsewhere.
I have been meaning to stop in at the Chapel st Oriental Teahouse for quite some time, but I ended up finding myself at the one on Collins st instead.
The menu was reasonably extensive but I didn’t really take any of the non-dumpling options into serious consideration (I was just in one of those crazy dumpling craving moods). There was quite a good variety of dumplings which were still reasonably traditional, but slightly more gourmet than the usual ‘fried pork, steamed pork, fried pork and prawn…’. I ended up going with the ‘Big dumpling lover’ set ($21) so that I got a good selection. The set included a seafood basket, a variety basket and a choice of either pan fried pork or Peking chilli dumplings.
I chose the Peking chilli, which are apparently the same as the claypot chilli dumplings on the a la carte menu. The chilli broth was quite tasty and the dumplings were a nice change from just plain steamed or fried dumplings.
The seafood basket consisted of four prawn-based dumplings. They were slightly different in content: one had chives, one had bamboo shoots, and so on. Overall they were quite similar tasting. Not a bad thing though, as they were delicious. The translucent wrappers were just the right thickness and not at all doughy. Each dumpling was delicate and perfectly formed. I liked that the prawns were left whole: these gave the dumplings a nice, firm bite in contrast to the standard mince meat fillings I am used to.
The variety basket also consisted of four dumplings. There was a chicken one, roast duck with a beetroot wrapper, pork shu mai (pork and prawn) and another one which was labelled on the menu as ‘shark fin’. This was not on the regular menu so there was no description to tell me what was in it. I’m fairly certain there was no actual shark fin in it, but I still wish I knew what it was. It just kind of tasted meaty.
The dumplings were all juicy, flavourful and perfectly cooked. I especially liked the roast duck one. Being such a fan of both dumplings and duck, I am quite surprised that I had made it through life thus far without eating a dumpling filled with duck. What a fantastic idea!
Now of course, as soon I saw that they had chocolate dumplings on the menu I was intrigued. I was kind of expecting them to be similar to the savoury dumplings, with a flour and water-based skin. As it turns out, they were basically that Chinese snack of deep-fried glutinous rice flour dough covered in sesame seeds which is popular in a number of Asian countries. In Indonesia these are typically filled with mung bean paste; in Japan it is red bean paste. Here it was chocolate, of course. The dumplings were drizzled in extra chocolate sauce and served with ice cream.
They were ok but impossible to eat. Anyone who has eaten these before (or anything made with glutinous rice flour, for that matter) will attest to its extreme chewiness. It was incredible difficult to cut, especially with a single utensil. I’m not sure that a solitary fork was the right thing for either this or the ice cream. They probably could have done away with the ice cream and chocolate sauce, so that the dumplings could just be eaten with your fingers. To be honest I’m not really a fan of chocolate ice cream topping out of a bottle anyway.
Overall the dumplings were tasty and actually quite filling compared to the ones that I have had at cheaper institutions. Probably because there was actual meat in them! It was also nice for a change to have dumplings in a quiet restaurant with clean tables and not have food thrown at me by flustered waiters. The ‘big dumpling lover’ set is good value for money and has a good selection.Oriental Teahouse 378 Little Collins St Melbourne