Monday, March 9, 2009

Review: Din Tai Fung, Sydney CBD

If you haven't discovered the sheer mouth heaven that is Din Tai Fung then I bid you go straight to dumplings, do not pass go, make sure to grab that $200, spend it all and clutch your stomach. Being honest it's a little bit trendy and the prices are quite high for the kind of food, but honestly I'm willing to pay for quality and the convenience of location.

Started from a small backstreet Taiwan family business Din Tai Fung has expanded into a delicious worldwide phenomena and now Australia has one tucked into the upper floor of World Square in downtown Sydney.

Din Tai Fung make high quality dumplings day round that are so good you'll squeal a little when you eat them. Fear not if you're one of these people that can't eat prawns and ergo goes starving at Yum Cha, there's a range of noodles, soups and meat based dishes that are almost as good as the heavenly dumplings.

Lychee Mint Frappe $3.90

This mocktail is so good that not only does the boy drool just talking about it but has even gone to the lengths of making me emulate the recipe at home. The mint is fresh and set off by the sweetness of the lychee, improved only I think by a shot of vodka that doesn't seem to be available.

Tofu and Pork floss with Century Egg (not pictured) $11.90

I might be a dedicated Egg (yellow on the inside, white on the outside) but I draw the line at eating century egg, and so I order this dish without. The tofu is fresh and sweet but not as good as some other restaurants in the area, I don't think they make it themselves or if they do they don't use high quality soya. The pork floss and soy though is so good that I gleefully swallow mouthfuls.

Won ton with 'tangy' sauce $8.80

The sauce that comes with this dish appears to be just the condiments on the table (vinegar, chilli oil, soy) however it is some magic ratio of each that I cannot determine and is so good that I drink the leftover sauce when the wontons are gone. The wontons themselves are slippery and light with fresh scallions and tasty pork filling. I could easily order another bowl if I didn't know we'd ordered other dishes.

Beef and spinach soup $8.90

This is the perfect dish for the unadventurous eater in any party; the soup is a rich beef broth which tastes like a thin gravy. In it are large lumps of tender broiled beef and fresh baby spinach leaves that are perfectly wilted and fresh in the mouth.

Pork and prawn shao mai $9.80

When you think that many Australians refer to the thick cheap "dim sims" sold in corner stores and supermarket freezers are these delicate items it makes you weep. These shao mai are of the Jiangnan style, the thick chewy dumpling skin houses a perfect tiny prawn, the pork and vegetable filling disintegrates and forms extra 'sauce' on the inside. These are the best shao mai I've eaten to date and if someone can find me better I may just marry them. I like to eat the prawn and then stuff the space with vinegar and ginger before eating.

What Din Tai Fung is famous for are their Xiao Long Bao (Soup dumplings) with paper thin skins that explode with delight into your mouth; here are instructions on how to eat them for the rare Westerners dotted around the room.

8 Xiao long bao $11.80

The xiao long bao here manage to have the thinnest skins I've ever seen and are each perfectly formed 18 fold dumplings. They appear fresh as a daisy and steaming hot, it is best to blow on them carefully after releasing the liquid filling. Excellent with vinegar and chilli the boy says of them that their only fault is that they are so good that they "somehow manage to make the shao mai seem boring." They've started selling them in a steamer of 8 which is good because 6 isn't enough but 12 is really too many.

Zhi ma bao $2.90

We are 'saving' ourselves for ice cream next door but we can't pass up at least one black sesame zhi ma bao, the soft white bread is fresh light and fluffy but it is the inescapable texture of the recently ground black sesame seeds that win us over every time, the pre-frozen variety do this dish no justice. For those who are unsure black sesame is somewhat like a rich nutty paste making this rather like a warm smokey peanut butter sandwich.

At $67 for two it's not the cheapest Asian restaurant but it's certainly the one that we make fond noises about and vow to come back to every time we drop by; and really we've ordered food we can't finish as we abandon the soup and the tofu in favour of dumplings. It's a bit trendy these days, and given that you can't book as with many Asian city restaurants my advice is that you get there before 7. You can order food while you wait in the line and the turnover in the restaurant is fast, you can come after the rush closer to 9pm but doing so will generally mean that things you want to eat are sold out. Being willing to share a table will definitely get you in the door faster and most groups are speaking in different languages (our table had Japanese, Malay and us honkies) so you don't feel like the conversation is being overhead/don't get distracted by the other diners.

The service is fairly prompt but somewhat impersonal, but it's a rare Chinese restaurant that I can say differently to. They greet you at the door and they whip away your empty plates, the food is hot and fast and the order is always correct. Besides the food is so good I could be served by automatons and still be happy.

Din Tai Fung Sydney
Shop 11. 04 Level 1
World Square Shopping Centre
644 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 6010

Bookings not taken

Lunch: 11:00am-2.30pm
Dinner: 17:00pm-22:00pm (last order 9.15pm)


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