"Din Tai Fung, Din Tai Fung, Din Din Din, Din Tai Fung" JoJo melodically chanted at LiLi for a good month before they visited, wanting desperately to cross off yet another name off her hit list.
She had her mark, reservation was in place and it was time to finally go in for the kill.
Another weekday event for the girls, except it would be one of the last for a little over a month. JoJo was leaving to Perth for the Christmas period the very next day, leaving poor little LiLi all alone.
Jo likes to think that LiLi was devastated, rocking back and fourth underneath a table somewhere in the back of her apartment, but as it turns out, she was quite alright.
Din Tai Fung has piqued the interest of many across the globe with it's "world's tastiest dumpling" proclamation. Quite the bold statement for such a simple commodity.
The dumplings are made with such skill and precision that each handmade dumpling is measured down to the gram. They're steamed for precisely three minutes and placed in front of you within seconds. You've got to be able to appreciate stuff like that.
From it's humble beginnings as a cooking oil retail business in 1958, Din Tai Fung has evolved to the global franchise it is today with expanded service throughout South East Asia, reaching as far as Australia, Dubai and the USA.
With all that in mind, you might be able to imagine why we were curious to check it out.
Din Tai Fung is located in all of its glory on the fourth floor of the trendy Melbourne Emporium which is easily accessible through Melbourne Central for those of you who take public transport.
If it's busy, you may be asked to wait a short while - on a Thursday evening, we ended up waiting around ten minutes. They've even got a large menu handy, just outside the entrance to get your appetite going! As you wait, the hostess hands you an order docket that you can fill in with whatever it is your little heart desires before you are whisked away inside.
JoJo was after the most sought after menu item - the famous Dumpling Gems. Seven targets, each with their own signature colour codes, purportedly guaranteed to trump the traditional dumpling experience with that Western twist.
Imagine the disappointment on their faces when the waitress kindly informed the girls that they had sold out. Boo.
Here's the damage, sans Gems.
Cucumber Salad in Vinaegrette Dressing ($6.80)
Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wonton ($10.80)
Spicy Dan Dan Sesame Noodles ($11.80)
Steamed Pork Dumpling (Xiao Long Bao) 6/8pcs ($10.80/$12.80)
Black Truffles Pork Dumpling ($4.60 per pc)
Crab Meat and Roe wth Pork Dumpling 6/8pcs ($17.80/$19.80)
Christmas Dumplings ($12.80)
Green Tea Smoothie ($6.80)
Avocado Chocolate Swirl ($8.80)
Golden Lava Mini Buns 3pc ($7.00)
Triple Mango Crushed Ice Mini Size ($7.80)
Taro Gelato and Golden Taro Bread ($7.80)
*Prices are subject to change without prior notice. Please enquire for details on pricing and availability with Din Tai Fung directly.
Without further a do, we will hop right to it.
Avocado smoothies are a popular item on Asian drink menus and one of LiLi's go to drinks because they are typically balanced with the perfect amount of creaminess to sweetness ratio.
Even though it is a bit of an unusual choice, it's definitely worth a try if you are looking for something different and the chocolate is a nice added bonus. Think of all of the qualities of a milkshake with soft, muted flavourings.
The Green tea smoothie was exactly what you would expect - ice blended through an iced matcha. Nothing all that special about this particular version, but it's still one of Jo's favourite drinks and she would never pass it up if she saw it on a menu.
Let us move on.
Don't turn your nose up at this just because it's a tower of cucumbers.
We can almost see you rolling your eyes.
Drenched in a soy vinaigrette, it surprised the both of us with it's simple ingredients. A nice hit of chilli brightened up this dish - very nice indeed.
The Dan Dan noodles were sat down in front of us, swimming on a bed of creamy sesame broth. We tried desperately to separate the dish onto each of our plates, but as is typical with bouncy fresh noodles, there was no visible end to the noodles in sight! We ended up hacking away at it unceremoniously in the bowl.
This was, creamy, soft, nutty and rich all at once. A decadent and very filling dish.
Now by this stage, the food was being set down at an alarmingly quick pace and JoJo and LiLi exchanged worrying looks - that was to say, in the scheme of things, ordering all these dishes was probably a mistake!
Either way, the Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons were a good starter before the real fun began. The soft wonton casing housed and incredibly juicy filling - eat this while it's still hot to avoid a cold, sloppy experience.
And then all of our dumplings came.
We've got to get the basics out of the way first by introducing the world famous Xiao Long Bao or - soup dumplings!
We definitely think we have been converted, both having exclaimed that these were probably the best Xiao Long Bao we've ever had. The casings are pillowy, but not too soft. The broth inside is unpretentious - hearty and soothing. It's something you need to order if you visit.
We'd also like to point out that there is a technique to eating these dumplings. You can:
- Be a complete heathen and shove the whole dumpling in your face, but in doing so, you run the risk of scalding the ever loving f@!^ out of your mouth or;
- You can pierce the skin, let the broth ooze out onto your spoon allowing it to cool and, introduce to it a little bit of your soy vinegar ginger.
- For both techniques, be careful when lifting the dumplings off of the parchment paper, you may cause the delicate little things to rupture, losing all your broth!
With each bite, you never want this dream to end - that is of course, if you haven't completely burnt the taste buds off your tongue!
So, we also ordered the truffle dumplings. Just as well that we didn't start off with them first, because everything after this tasted pretty average.
At $4.80 a pop, you expect a lot from these little guys. One immediately noticeable difference was that they were served on a steam cloth instead of parchment paper.
Being that it was JoJo and LiLi's first ever truffle experience, we weren't all too sure what we would be in for which made it all the more exciting.
Although it doesn't look appetising, we can assure you that these were some of the tastiest pork dumplings we have ever had. It's so difficult to describe truffle as it has it's very own flavour profile - it's earthy, pungent and intensely savoury. It enhanced the pork, the broth and the casing quite profoundly.
A well executed, beautiful delicacy.
The crab dumplings are available for a very limited time - but we've just mentioned, appreciating anything after the truffle dumpling was a little difficult and we feel a little bad about the fact that we can't really do the next two rounds much justice.
These were soft but not as soupy as their predecessors, the crab filling was actually a little mild which was a bit disappointing.
The Festive dumplings were a nice treat to finish our savoury dishes with - the red contained a succulent prawn blend and the green is filled with bok choy, water chestnut, vermicelli and mushrooms. We were told that they were dyed with natural fruit and vegetable dyes, which is a plus to the health conscious.
As if we hadn't had enough already, we still had dessert to get through.
The golden lava mini buns are a yolky, custard, salty dessert and following JoJo's last encounter with a salted duck egg custard donut, she felt like she would be able to tackle this without issue, despite her utter disdain for eggs.
Unlike her recent encounter with a salted duck egg custard filling however, this version was much more yolky and unfortunately, she had to abort before the gag reflex kicked in.
Unsurprisingly, LiLi thoroughly enjoyed them!
Flashback to the start of the evening when the girls were deciding what they wanted for dessert. At the time, the description of the crushed ice claimed that it was "mini sized" which was quite appealing to Jo, given how much they had ordered already.
When the Triple Mango Crushed Ice arrived, we couldn't help by laugh out loud at how big it was - ginormous! We stopped the waitress from leaving as we queried whether this was the right size which she confirmed was correct. The other option on the menu, which one would assume is "normal" sized, is actually a sharing option for 4. LOL!
Struck with bewilderment at how she was going to eat this. Jo turned to LiLi for support. LiLi of course cackled her evil cackle, because what else can you do?
It was a great monstrosity - but there wasn't a hell of a lot more to it other than mango ice cream, crushed ice, mango fruit and mango syrup. A treat for those who are really into their mangoes.
LiLi's much more sensibly sized dessert (overshadowed above by the tower of Jo's Mango Crushed Ice), was much more manageable with a subtle, creamy taro flavour running through. Served with golden taro bread, this was a perfect way to end the night.
After Jo incessantly insisted visiting this place and showing me Youtube videos exposing the world famous Xiao Long Bao, I knew this experience would be a unique one at that. The customer service is impeccable and our waitress had a good sense of humor. The wait staff are really attentive and super friendly.
As soon as I saw Dan Dan noodles with sesame sauce, I knew it had to be mine. Drowning in sauce, the noodles were a good consistency and the nutty thickness of the sesame sauce was on point. Fair warning though - very heavy on the stomach so wouldn't recommend it if you're wanting to fit a heap of dumplings in.
Favourite dish by far was the black truffles pork dumpling. I don't remember ever trying black truffle before so definitely an exciting, new experience. I would go back just to have this dumpling alone. It can get quite expensive as you pay per piece but sooooo worth it! It's an earthy taste swimming in the Din Tai broth encapsulated dumpling. It's one to remember.
I really enjoy Taro. It's like the subtle version of sweet potatoes and prominent in Asian desserts. The golden taro bread, was a softly deep fried bread, with a hint of sweetness of taro paste through the centre. Taro gelato was indeed yummy balancing creaminess and very fine taro flavour. Also another item I'd go back for!
I now know the hype behind Din Tai Fung. It's about eating the dumplings right. With the right balance of soy and vinegar ginger sauce, piercing the skin of the dumpling to let the broth seep into this sauce and then sampling it after these steps, is how you get the most enjoyment. Also gulping the dumpling whole, with the soy and vinegar ginger sauce, is another way to get a good mouthful of flavours. This restaurant lives up to all it's reviews and perfectly captures broth packaged dumplings.
I was a little overwhelmed at the end of the night and somehow, I managed to make it home and on my flight the next day without completely expiring. That was a lot of food we consumed between the two of us!
I was besotted by the Xiao Long Bao, the Truffle Dumplings and the cucumber appetiser - all very thoughtful dishes in their own right.
The Xiao Long Bao was delicious - basics done right; whilst the Truffle Pork Dumplings are the crème de la crème. I enjoyed the contrast between the two immensely.
The Mango Crushed Ice "mini" certainly added some comedic value to the entire affair, but I'm sure that had I consumed a normal sized meal, this might have been doable!
I really appreciated the way the dishes were prepared for us and presented - with consideration, expertise and discipline. It speaks volumes about Din Tai Fung as an organisation which is only enhanced by the fact that everything, absolutely EVERYTHING, is handmade. It makes the dining experience all that much more special and I couldn't help but feel honoured for having had the privilege of tasting someone else's hard work and dedication.
It was busy when we went, which was a Thursday evening but even then, the wait staff never looked put out. I was in awe of how well the kitchen and the floor worked together, kind of like a well oiled operation.
I'd recommend this place to everyone I know, even Grumpy Mate Rich who has an aversion to this type of cuisine. I'm sure you will have no issue finding something you like here.
Food and Drink: ★★★★☆
Customer Service: ★★★★★
General Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆
Value for Money: ★★★★☆
Food and Drink: ★★★★☆
Customer Service: ★★★★★
General Atmosphere: ★★★★☆
Value for Money: ★★★★☆
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