HuTong. From the beginning it was the Melbourne byword for xiao long bao. The competition is running hot now, but this place is still dear to our collective heart
Three words: People’s Choice Award. That’s right, folks: the citizens of Time Out have spoken in the 2015 Food Awards and decreed this buzzing dumpling house their favourite spot to nosh. It’s a heavy burden, but one we reckon HuTong can handle.
For one thing, it’s not like they’re ever really begged for our love. The service covers the gamut from indifferent to icy. The triple-tiered space on Market Lane, where it set up shop in 2010, boldly eyeballing the august Flower Drum, is kind of eclectic. But that’s all irrelevant. All you really need to know about the place is front and center when you walk through the door. It’s the bunch of chefs behind glass, madly engaged in a virtuosic display of dumplings as performance art.
Start with the xiao long bao – or shao long bao, as the HuTong menu phonetically insists on calling them. The Shanghainese soup dumplings with their pork and soup filling deserve their reputation: saddle up your spoon with threads of ginger and a slosh of black vinegar, nibble a hole and slurp away while trying to keep any spillage from ruining your own threads (here’s a handy hint for eating at HuTong: don’t wear white). The XLB are excellent, although the wontons with chilli sauce are breathing down their neck for line honours. Something to do with the trademark Szechuan sizzle and a nutty scattering of sesame seeds picking up on the rich slick of sesame oil. They’re the bomb, in every sense of the word.
There’s more dumpling madness. You can go vego (the vivid green boiled spinach dumplings) or the dumpling answer to the luxe spring roll, stuffed with crab and prawn, corn, bamboo shoot, spinach and carrot. There are pan-fried pork dumplings embedded in a fine mesh of pastry. Sluice `em with vinegar and chilli sauce and die happy.
There’s plenty more. Oh, so much more, the menu helpfully stamped here and there with the house specialty symbol (the scallop and eggplant claypot in Sizhuan chilli sauce is all soft-textured richness; the ma po tofu a fine example of the classic), and do beware any dish carrying the three chilli legend because it is liable to blow your head right off.
Prices are fair (and you can BYO, too). Turnover is fast. So here’s what you’ve got to do. Order like there’s no tomorrow. Eat like no one’s watching.