4/13/2009 11:22:00 PM

Hu Tong. I have been craving dumplings like crazy lately, and after reading glowing reviews on Tummy Rumbles and I Eat Therefore I Am, I was really keen to go. We were meeting up with some uni friends in Chinatown on Thursday night, so I suggested we try it. It ended up being pretty bad. To my uni friends - I'm really, really sorry.

14-16 Market Lane
Melbourne 3000
Ph: (03) 9650 8128

We rocked up at about 7:50pm, and without a reservation, we were told by the captain we'd have to wait until about 8:30. As we weren't super-starving, and were still waiting for more of our friends, I didn't think this would be a problem. We put our names and my mobile phone number down and started waiting. Of course, we already had waited 10 minutes just to get the captain's attention. He seemed to spend lots of time running up and down the stairs with a clipboard, and generally avoiding eye contact with the growing crowds in the little foyer.

By 8:30, our whole group of 6 had arrived, and when we managed to get the captain's attention to ask how much longer it would be, he said "4 minutes - I've got to push 2 tables together for you", and ran off. 4 minutes later and still nothing. He was still running up and down and not even looking at us. (Obviously it's not his fault if the previous table is taking their time, but an update, or some small acknowledgement that he was aware of our presence would have been nice).

At this point we decided to give up and go across the street to reliable ol' Shanghai Village. As we were walking down Market Lane, I got a rather peeved-sounding call on my mobile from the captain - "Hey! Where are you? Your table is ready!" So we came straight back, only to find that our table still wasn't ready!! We headed upstairs and saw 2 people still sitting at our table, finishing up their meals. We just stood awkwardly in the corner and waited some more. To their credit, as soon as the previous customers left, it took the waiters 3 nanoseconds to clear the table and set it for us.

Anyhoo, by about 8:45 we were seated, and then ordered. For 6 of us, we ordered 2 serves of dumplings, some veggo spring rolls (for the 2 vegetarians), a few dishes, a plate of vegetarian fried rice, and some steamed rice.

The first thing that came out was that massive bowl of red soupy meaty goodness that you see at the top of the post. I can't remember exactly what it was called, but it was full of different types of offal, including tripe and (I think) liver, and coagulated pigs blood. There were also peanuts and many other herbs and spices. Not exactly the type of thing I would order myself, but I was happy to try some!

Boiled pork dumplings. Tasty. Not earth-shattering, but still very good. The filling had a nice flavour, and the skin wasn't too thick or doughy.

Spring Rolls - we asked for vegetarian, but meat ones were brought out. I don't blame the waiters though; it was incredibly loud in there. Big crowds and wooden floors = headache-inducing cacophony. We just took them and asked for vego ones as well, which came out in a reasonable amount of time.

Then the noodles topped with lobster. I think it was $18.80, which was decent value. The noodles had a pleasant sauce, but again, the dish wasn't anything to write home about.

String beans with minced pork. This one was very garlicky (which I liked!) and had great flavour, but they came out at room temperature. You could tell they'd been sitting around for a while before being brought out to us.

Seafood hotpot. Or as we referred to it, "MSG hot pot". It was ridiculously salty. Our friend Sam said it was as if someone tried to shake a bit of MSG in there, but the lid fell off and flooded the dish with MSG. Very unpleasant.

Finally out came the Xiao Long Bao. I really enjoyed them. The skin was great, the meat had a good texture, and the soup inside was gingery and delicious.

We also got a plate of stir-fried vegetables (for the vegetarians), but I didn't manage to get a picture of it. Our poor vego friends were so starving by this time that they descended on the veggies with gay abandon. And they never got their fried rice.

All the dishes came out at random times, some weren't hot, and the waiters seemed to forget totally about our rice. We'd ordered 3 bowls of steamed rice, and a serve of vegetarian fried rice, neither of which ever came out. Eventually, we asked for the steamed rices, and they brought 2 bowls of dry, lukewarm, obviously microwaved rice. When we asked about the fried rice, our waiter said he'd go check.... and never came back. However, by this stage, the rest of the food had been eaten, so we just asked for the bill, and our vegos decided to go to a fastfood joint for chips. When we got the bill, we noticed they'd actually charged us for the vego fried rice and the 3 steamed rices! Cheeky. We got them to remove the fried rice and 1 x steamed rice from our bill.

Whilst the dumplings were pretty good, the rest of the food was average at best, and there really is no excuse for such shoddy service and feral rice. (No seriously, how can a Chinese restaurant mess up steamed rice????) The atmosphere was really noisy and unpleasant. Definitely won't be coming back here.

***EDIT: Forgot to mention that on the night we went there, the pan-fried pork dumplings were also unavailable. From blog comments and other friends I've spoken too, the unavailability of certain dumpling types seems to be a common problem. Pah!***

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

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  1. I have to agree too Sarah.

    We went there at around 7pm and wanted to order the fried dumplings (sold out) and the prawn dumplings (also sold out) - so early in the night! The xiao long bao, fortunately not sold out, were pretty good. We ordered some veg (not bad, but nothing special) and sweet and sour pork, which turned out to be salty more than sweet and sour. We had the same issue with the rice.

  2. Oh dear!! My Bro went there a few weeks ago with friends and he said that service was terrible too. They had issues with rice too - the rice that they had ordered didn't come out until everyone had pretty much finished eating (they sent it back!).

  3. From my four visits there, I think I can safely say that when they are quiet, obviously the service is better, but also the food is better.

    The review I wrote was the first time there and it was still early in the night and quiet so the food came out hot and fast.

    Second time there they were busy and food took forever. Same issue with getting table, they just told me to sit there and wait with no indication of how long.

    Third time, on a Sunday was extremely quiet. Best service of all the days. Food ultra fast and tasty.

    Fourth time, busy again. They lost my order I think because just as I was about to complain after 30 minutes, they came and double checked if I had ordered the xiao long baos. Food took a good 50 minutes to arrive. They had also sold out of all the items 2, 3, 4 and 6, basically all the dumplings. That's not good for a dumpling house.

    So in summary, it's a bit hit and miss at HuTong, but I love the xiao long baos so much that I would still endure the service to eat those baos.

  4. Anonymous6:05 PM

    I concur with Thanh's thoughts as well (..and if you read the comments on my post, so do most of my readers!)

    I think you need to go out of "peak" times. I find that midday (on the knocker) is pretty good for weekdays, as long as you get the order in straight away. I've also been for an early dinner on a Wednesday and Sunday (fairly quiet both days), although by the time we left, it was getting full.

    A shame you didn't get to try the rice - it's one of the better ones in town. They use the freshest eggs...very similar to Din Tai Fung.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips guys! I won't be going back (way too many other Chinese restaurants in Melbourne to try first!!), but definitely great advice for anyone else who's thinking of trying it out. :)

    @Mellie - lol I never actually eat fried rice at restaurants, but maybe I should start... people keep recommending it to me :D

    xox Sarah

  6. In Szchuan they serve the rice at the very end of the don't get it with your mains. So although the service sounds terrible, I suspect the rice is a cultural and not a service miscommunication!

  7. Hi Gena,

    In this instance, I highly doubt that the lack of rice was a cultural miscommunication - it wasn't just brought out after the meals, it was totally forgotten about until we asked about it. If late rice was a Szechuan custom, surely the waiters would have explained that when we asked where our rice was!

    And that certainly wouldn't explain why they only brought out 2 bowls of rice (when we had ordered 3), and worse, why the rice was cold and obviously reheated/microwaved.

    xox Sarah



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