Prahran 3181, VIC
Ph: (03) 9098 1188
When HuTong Dumpling Bar opened in the city location next to Flower Drum in Market Lane, it quickly caused a splash in the dining scene. Bloggers and food writers all had an opinion about it and it was one of the most discussed and writte about places, with disagreement about all aspects of it. Some, like myself, loved it and thought the Xiao Long Bao were the best in town, having good experiences on each visit. Many agreed with the view that the Xiao Long Bao were good, but the service definitely left a lot to be desired. Some didn't have such a good experience. Whatever people did think about it, the city restaurant was never short of patrons, being almost impossible to get a table at during the night. It was inevitable that HuTong would open another restaurant somewhere to cater for the huge crowds.
The second restaurant that has opened is HuTong Dumpling Bar Prahran. It's a much larger affair, and decorated in nice furnishings. The menu is the same, but obviously with different chefs making the food, there is room for differences in taste. A group of my friends and I decided to go there for an informal meal. Coincidentally, fellow food blogger Gem was also there that night. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to catch up, but from her post, it looks like we both had a good time.
With a large group of 11, we decided to go for the Peking Duck, which the chef rolled out to the restaurant and started expertly carving. The Peking Duck was good, but nothing special. I think I will stick to eating Peking Duck at home now, it's so much cheaper and about the same quality as at restaurants. It means that I can eat 15 pieces of it and get full on it instead of eating 2 pieces, such as at HuTong, and then crave more.
Obviously, it would be silly to go to HuTong and not eat the Xiao Long Baos. We got a massive 5 servings of this and happily sucked out all the soup and chomped on our dumplings with a hint of vinegar. The other must order as usual is the Shanghai Fried Noodles. I actually think this is the best Shanghai fried noodle in terms of texture and second in taste that I have tried in Melbourne. The best in terms of flavour I would give to Aunty's Dumplings in Carnegie.
A Scallop and Eggplant Claypot is a bit salty, but otherwise very good, with plump scallops and soft eggplant. I really like their Fried Dumplings with the pot stickers. I found the Pork Dumplings and Chicken and Prawn Dumplings very tasty indeed.
As some of us really like spicy food, we got the Won Ton in Spicy Chilli Oil. I loved this dish, with the massive chilli kick from the oil really giving the won tons a zing. The Braised Pork Belly was unctuous indeed, but strangely didn't fly off the table as fast as everything else. I think due to it's heaviness and also that we had eaten so much else, it wasn't as well received as it normally would.
I'm not a fan of most Asian vegetables, but was pleasantly surprised when the Snow Pea Shoots were actually really good. The flavour was excellent and I even put up with the chewy texture of stringy vegetables that I hate. Finally, the Wine Chicken, a must order for me at any dumpling restaurant, was my biggest diasppointment of the night. Instead of having a strong wine infused flavour, this chicken tasted more like boiled chicken.
So, to the service. There is always a tonne of opinions on the service at HuTong. On this occasion, despite a couple of misunderstandings, the service on a whole was very good. We ordered multiples of every dish and there was a lot of plates, cups, cutlery and items that the service staff had to bring and clear in quick time. They managed to do this and bring us more drinks and tea when requested. As Gem also noted, we too got "booted" out at 8pm too. However, we knew that on arrival and they didn't rush us too much. We got a hint when they asked if we wanted desserts but by that time we were almost finished anyway.
The ambience in the Prahran restaurant is more relaxed I think. It's still got an excellent vibe and bustle of a full restaurant, but due to having a bit more space and tables being separated into different areas, it means you don't have to shuffle around people to get to the toilet or shout over other patrons.
From this experience, I would enthusiastically go to this HuTong as the food is as good as the city one, is easier to find parking, a bit more relaxed and you can actually get a table on short notice. The food is still excellent value and worked out to be about $28 each, which included a few bottles of wine. My only small complaint is charging for tea by the pot. Surely tea should be free, or at most a small fee per person per night, not by the pot. Otherwise, a great restaurant for small or large groups and the best Xiao Long Bao this side of the Indian Ocean.
Overall Rating: 16/20, Fantastic dumplings at excellent value and good service.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.