Hutong Dumpling Bar is a name inked indelibly into the book of Melbourne’s dumpling culture. It’s silken, delicate dumplings are the benchmark for quality around town, especially when it comes to Xiao Long Bao.
Hutong occupies a multi-level shopfront in Market Lane, right next to the raucous, incendiary Ding Dong Lounge. This affords a variety of environments within the restaurant itself – squeeze into the front downstairs for a few delicious steamers over some beers, or into a setting with a little more demure ambiance upstairs. In the countless visits I’ve had since I first discovered this stalwart, I like to think I’ve experienced and enjoyed Hutong in all its variance.
There are many schools of thought when it comes to how to indulge in the dumpling delicacy that is Hutong’s signature dish. Some say you should sprinkle with black vinegar and slivered ginger, hold the dumpling aloft in a soup spoon and suck the soupy goodness from the base of the dumpling (honestly not writing this with any double entendre intended). Others go all in with a dangerous mouthful in one fell swoop, a serious move only for the advanced and adventurous eater. Whatever the case, I assert that the only thing you need to worry about is enjoying the experience – as you’re never going to look like the picture of grace when you’re face deep in this particular borough of Delicious Town.
I’ve heard people say the service at Hutong can be a little abrupt. Personally, I disagree – at least with the negative connotations. The staff are skilled, organised and attentive and I’m happy not to have someone hovering over me with forced pleasantness.
In addition to the obligatory and predictably delicious course of xiao long bao, Rachael and I ventured away from the standard fare for the claypot of braised beef brisket with estate dumplings. It was a hearty dish, with plump and powerful wontons in a generous serve. While the addition of fragrant spices to the broth was welcome, I feel the dish overall lacked enough complexity to really make it truly noteworthy.
As I left Hutong, feeling fat and warm once again and smoking a menthol switch like a douchebag, I couldn’t help but feel slightly unsatisfied. I’ve heard a few reviewers claim that this icon has gone downhill in recent times, though I still find it hard to point to anything blatantly wrong. Maybe the sad truth is that the magic of this experience has a limited lifespan. Whatever the case may be, I’ve gotten years of enjoyment out of this restaurant and a whole swag of memories. If you’re in Melbourne and dumplings are on your mind, Hutong should always be on your go-to list.