Review: Dumpling World, Melbourne

Good pre-travel food in airports and train stations is hard to find. Speedy is what most people look for – fast service, so you can eat a full meal in under half an hour. Too often when travelling around Europe, we found ourselves eating soggy sandwiches from uninspiring grab-and-go stores to ensure we could make it onto the plane or train on time. The real exceptions I can think of are Jamie’s Italian in Gatwick Airport, and more locally, MoVida in Sydney Airport.

I’m happy to announce to Melbournians that there’s a restaurant close to Southern Cross station that can have you fed and out the door in half an hour, ensuring that you can catch your regional V-line train, or Skybus to the airport.

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K and I recently had a quick meal at Dumpling World on Collins St, mere steps away from Southern Cross station. We walked into the restaurant at 6.30pm, and were on the train platform by 7pm in time to catch our evening train to Bendigo for the weekend.

It’s not a fancy restaurant – it’s pretty cheap and no-nonsense and the staff don’t give out friendly smiles readily. However, it is worthy of note given that it’s quite a distance from Chinatown where you would normally find cheap and satisfying Chinese food.

Pork and cabbage dumplings, $10.50
Pork and cabbage dumplings, $10.50

We started off with the Pork and Cabbage Dumplings, a pretty standard Chinese dumpling dish. I found the wrappings on these dumplings quite thick, making it more akin to a thick skinned jiao zi than a thinner skinned Shanghainese xiao long bao or Cantonese har gow. A simple dumpling with quite a soft and fatty pork filling, but quite delicious when dipped in a vinegar and chilli sauce (mix your own in your bowl!).

Northern east cold noodles, $15.80
Northern east cold noodles, $15.80

It was quite a warm day, so we also ordered the Northern East Cold Noodles to share. I loved each individual element of these cold noodles, and would probably have liked them even more if we’d been more able to mix it all together as you’re supposed to. As it was, the cold rice noodles had so clumped together that it became impossible to mix the dish together, meaning that you were left with mouthfuls of just salty savouring mince meat sauce, or mouthfuls of dry un-seasoned noodles. Not ideal. 

Spring Onion Pancake, $5.80
Spring Onion Pancake, $5.80

We finished our meal by over-ordering (naturally) a Spring Onion Pancake to share as well. I found it rather over-doughy inside, as the pancake was a bit thicker than what I would normally prefer. There was also a distinct lack of spring onions in the pancake. A little bit disappointing, though at least the exterior was nice and crispy and crunchy.

Dumpling World isn’t the best Chinese restaurant in town – not by far. What it does offer though is reasonable dishes, cooked quickly and sent to your table in time for you to catch a train. Make sure to order the dumplings rather than other dishes for a guaranteed good meal at a cheap price. It certainly beats a soggy sandwich from Woolworths any day!

Dumpling World is located at 608 Collins St, Melbourne.

Review: The Rice Bowl, Manchester England

If there’s one truth about finding good Chinese food, it’s this – never trust online reviews, and follow the local crowds instead. When we arrived in Manchester from Cardiff, we decided to quickly look up places where we could have dinner that night. Knowing that there was a large Chinese population in Manchester and predicting that the Chinese food would be of a similarly high standard as Australia with its large Chinese population, we decided that we wanted to go out for Chinese food.

After consulting a few different blog entries from Mancunians and a half dozen or so publications listing their “Top Five” Chinese restaurants in Manchester, I settled on The Rice Bowl as the restaurant most likely to provide a decent dining experience for us. How wrong I was – as soon as we walked downstairs into their subterranean dining room we knew we had made a mistake. Instead of being filled with fellow Cantonese speakers as we were at New Fortune Cookie in London, we found ourselves seated amongst pairs of older English people in a near-empty restaurant.

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Too polite to backtrack out of the restaurant to go in search for something more genuine, we settled ourselves in to make the most of the evening. A basket of complimentary Prawn Crackers to start helped to brighten the evening as it put me in mind of the days of my childhood when my cousins and I would sneak down to my parents takeaway shop to steal a bag of prawn crackers as a treat.

Basket of Steamed Dim Sum (10.95 GBP), including prawn and meat dumpling, king prawn dumpling, beef dumpling with ginger and spring onion, chicken and vegetables and chive dumpling, shittake mushroom stuffed with prawn meat, sushi roll with crab meat
Basket of Steamed Dim Sum (10.95 GBP), including prawn and meat dumpling, king prawn dumpling, beef dumpling with ginger and spring onion, chicken and vegetables and chive dumpling, shittake mushroom stuffed with prawn meat, sushi roll with crab meat

In the mood for some dim sum after a disappointing experience in Zagreb, we ordered the Basket of Steamed Dim Sum – they also offered a range of grilled and fried dim sum as well, but as any yum cha connoisseur would know, steamed is the way to go! The siu mai was the best of the lot with a thick meaty filling that was highlighted nicely with some crunchy mushrooms.

Unfortunately the other dim sum were more disappointing, ranging from overcooked and soggy skins to an unexplainable presence in the bamboo steamer basket. I’m not sure under what circumstances sushi rolls should be steamed! I think the mistake made here was that all the dim sum were placed in the basket and steamed for the same amount of time – which worked well for the siu mai, but resulted in overcooking on the other items. The kitchen really should have taken the time to steam each item individually before placing them all in a collective basket, to ensure that each item is steamed the right amount.

Chicken Sweet Corn Soup (3.95 GBP)
Chicken Sweet Corn Soup (3.95 GBP)

The Chicken Sweet Corn Soup was adequate, though it lacked the body that my homemade soup tends to have. It’s very important to get the egg to soup ratio just right – I tend to average the use of three eggs per two serves of soup, whereas this really only had one egg in it at most.

Hot Pot of roasted duck with vegetables and shittake mushrooms in hoisin sauce (10.95 GBP)
Hot Pot of roasted duck with vegetables and shittake mushrooms in hoisin sauce (10.95 GBP)

In the mood for some duck, we ordered the Hot Pot of Roasted Duck with Vegetables and Shittake Mushrooms in Hoisin Sauce, served on top of a little gas burner. The duck was quite well done with a nice crispy skin – if only they had been a little less liberal with the hoisin sauce. At least it didn’t affect the vegetables which remained nice and fresh and crispy.

Hot Pot of glass noodles, deep fried tofu, mixed vegetables with satay sauce (7.95 GBP)
Hot Pot of glass noodles, deep fried tofu, mixed vegetables with satay sauce (7.95 GBP)

We ordered another Hot Pot with Glass Noodles, Deep Fried Tofu and Vegetables with Satay Sauce. Again served on a gas burner, we would have been better off ordering something a bit plainer – perhaps a simple mixed vegetable dish with garlic and spring onion. As it was, having two dishes both with a heavy-handed use of sauce (hoisin and satay) made for a meal that clung unpleasantly to ones palate, pleading for a breath mint.

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Unfortunately The Rice Bowl didn’t quite live up to the standard of Chinese food that we’re used to and were hoping for. The kitchen is particularly heavy-handed in their use of sauces, lacking that delicate touch which helps to characterise a particularly good Chinese dish. They also seem to cut corners in a detrimental way – the steaming of dumplings for example, deserves more thoughtful timekeeping to ensure that each different dumpling is perfectly turned out.

I can’t recommend The Rice Bowl as a Chinese restaurant of note in Manchester I’m afraid…and I fear that our negative experience actually put us off trying any other Chinese establishments in Chinatown! Any Mancunians want to suggest somewhere more authentic for us to try on our next visit?

The Rice Bowl is located at 33a Cross St in Manchester, England.

Review: Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe, Bentleigh

Growing up, I always felt like an ‘other’, like someone who didn’t belong at the local primary school in her wealthy predominantly Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood. The only reason I was there after all, was because my parents ran a takeaway shop in the area, and we lived in a apartment above the shop…a far cry from my schoolmates who went home to sprawling four bedroom houses with three bathrooms, two living areas, large gardens and a pool in the backyard.

It’s only as I’ve gotten older and started seeking out stories from other migrant children that I’ve realised I wasn’t so special after all. Reading the work of authors like Benjamin Law and Alice Pung and watching shows like The Family Law and Fresh Off The Boat has made it clear that my experience and all the associated feelings of inadequacy are very common to the experience of Growing Up Asian in Australia (which coincidentally, is a fantastic book).

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I’m starting to learn to embrace my Chinese heritage. I learnt Mandarin in university, I seek out books about Chinese history, I read articles about modern China. I’ve told K that I intend on giving our children Chinese names, and of course, they’ll also have to attend Chinese school on the weekends no matter how much they protest.

The most immediately rewarding aspect is of course, embracing all that’s to love about Chinese food in all its different varieties! Our whole family recently met up with my aunt and uncle in one of their new local favourites – Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe in Bentleigh.

Bentleigh may not be the first suburb you think of when you think of Chinese BBQ meats. Other suburbs like Glen Waverley, Box Hill or Springvale might pop into mind instead. However, don’t let its location f0ol you, there’s a reason this little BBQ shop is a new favourite for my very picky and discerning extended family.

Crispy Roast Pork and Roast Spiced Sausage ($30 AUD per kg)
Crispy Roast Pork and Roast Spiced Sausage ($30 AUD per kg)

My family are greeted by name as we enter the cafe, and my father promptly orders some serves of different roast meats for the whole table to share. The Crispy Roast Pork has a wonderfully salty and crunchy crackling, though I find the meat itself a bit too fatty. The standout here is the house-made Roast Spiced Sausage which is equal parts savoury, sweet and spicy, and the perfect weekend indulgence.

Roast Duck (Whole), $30 AUD
Roast Duck (Whole), $30 AUD

Forget the pork and the sausage for a moment. If you’re dining alone or as a couple and can only justify ordering one serve of roast meat, the Roast Duck is the way to go. We started off with a half serve as shown in the above photo, before quickly demolishing the plate and ordering another half a duck. My family rhapsodises lyrical about its virtues – the glistening succulent skin, the tender and juicy meat, the sweetness of the paired sauce. My aunt claimed that it was as good if not better than any roast duck she’s had in Hong Kong, so that’s pretty high praise indeed!

Dry Beef Ho Fun, Approx $10 AUD
Dry Beef Ho Fun, Approx $10 AUD

While we would normally a number of main meals and share them, the whole family was coming down with a cold and so we decided to order individual meals so as not to share the germs around. Dad chose the Dry Beef Ho Fun, complete with plenty of wok hei, fresh crunchy bean shoots, and smoky slippery rice noodles. A very simple dish that wasn’t particularly generous with its serving of beef, so it is worth ordering the roast meats on the side.

Beef brisket and wonton noodle soup, $10.80 AUD
Beef brisket and wonton noodle soup, $10.80 AUD

K ordered the Beef Brisket and Wonton Noodle Soup. The braised and slow-cooked brisket was particularly tender and tasty, clear evidence of the restaurant using a better quality of beef than you would normally find in a neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. The wonton too were nice and plump, with a hearty pork and prawn mix.

Vegetable and bean curd noodle soup, $9.80 AUD
Vegetable and bean curd noodle soup, $9.80 AUD

Recognising that I’d had more than enough meat with the roast duck, pork and sausage, I chose to have a vegetarian main – Vegetable and Bean Curd Noodle Soup. This proved to also be a good choice as I was nursing the start of what would end up being a cold that lasted a fortnight – the extra nutrients offered by the green veggies, mushrooms and carrots hopefully helped to give my immune system a boost! A simple noodle soup that was very satisfying.

BBQ Sweet Pork on Rice, $9.80 AUD
BBQ Sweet Pork on Rice, $9.80 AUD

My brother decided that he needed more roast meat, so he chose the BBQ Sweet Pork on Rice. The quality of this BBQ pork was just as high as the other roast meats, and I do have to give a special shout-out to the chef whose knife skills created these sliver-thin slices of BBQ pork. As my family debated at length, the thickness of BBQ pork slices does impact its overall quality. It’s rare to find BBQ pork sliced as thinly as this, and it really does make a difference.

Stir fried rice noodle with beef, $10.80 AUD
Stir fried rice noodle with beef, $10.80 AUD

My aunt chose the Stir Fried Rice Noodle with Beef…or more accurately, she had originally chosen the noodles with beef brisket, but it came out with simple beef slices instead. She was a bit disappointed that she didn’t get the tender beef brisket she originally wanted, but the thick and flavourful gravy of this beef noodle dish soon soothed any disappointment she may have had.

As I mentioned earlier, Bentleigh is not a suburb I would normally venture to for good Chinese BBQ. Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe is certainly strangely located in the Aldi shopping complex in a blink-and-miss-it location right at the end of the long Centre Road shopping strip. Do yourself a favour though – don’t blink and miss it, and instead, make a specific point of seeking it out the next time you’re in the neighbourhood. You’ll have some of the best Chinese roast duck you’ll ever have in your life!

Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe is located within the shopping centre at 285-305 Centre Road, Bentleigh.