Monday, March 09, 2015

Din Tai Fung, Sydney

"The World's Tastiest Dumplings".  That is Din Tai Fung's claim to fame, and quite the claim.  They serve a large variety of dumplings, although the xiao long bao are their signature item.

I somehow hadn't heard of Din Tai Fung until my recent visit to Sydney.  Din Tai Fung is a chain, started in Taiwan, with locations worldwide, including China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and the US, amongst others.  Two of their locations in Hong Kong even have received Michelin stars.

They have 3 locations in Sydney alone, one is a full service restaurant, and the other two are part of food courts, one at the Star casino, and the other at the Westfield mall.  I visited the Westfield mall location, which, while part of a food court, isn't your normal style establishment.  They still make all dumplings by hand, to order, although the menu is reduced.

The location was crazy, crazy busy.  The line was long, but that provided ample time to fill out the paper ordering form provided.  Once we reached the head of the line, we handed over the form, the cashier confirmed each item one by one as she keyed it in.  It didn't seem any more efficient than just ordering directly.

Unfortunately, we really didn't like anything we tried.  Some of the food was hot, some lukewarm.  I'm assuming the quality issues were due to the location we picked, rather than being a chain-wide issue, because, how else would they possibly have Michelin stars?  I'm open to trying another, non-food court, location sometime, but I won't go rushing back.
Open Kitchen.
Even in the food court setting, the  kitchen is open, so you can watch food being prepared.  After ordering, you are given a buzzer.  It took us less than 10 minutes to receive our order, which was longer that I expected for a food court, fast-casual establishment, but, they do make everything to order, so, that matters.
Setup.
The self-serve condiment station had plates, spoons, chopsticks, packets of ginger, soy sauce, chili sauce, and vinegar.

While Ojan waited with a buzzer for the food, I set up a table in the open food court, and set about mixing up my perfect dipping sauce.  I appreciated these components.
Lychee Mint Freeze.  $5.80.
Reviews I read recommended the Lychee Mint Freeze as a perfect drink to go along with the food.  Not something I'd ever normally order, but I went for it.

I really didn't like it.  It was just a sweet syrup, with some mint flavor, in an icy slush.  The slush was nice, but it was just far too sweet.  There was a prize lychee in the bottom that I enjoyed.

$5.80 was a high price for a drink.
Crab Meat and Roe with Pork Dumpling. $9.80.
We started with the item Din Tai Fung is most known for: Xiao Long Bao, available in many styles.

I had my eye on a special crab version, available only on the menu for the larger, full service restaurant in Haymarket, but not on the online menu for the Westfield location.  I didn't think we'd be able to order them, and would have to settle for classic xiao long bao.  I was thrilled to see them on the menu at the mall, because crab is one of my most favorite ingredients.

But ... these weren't very good.  First, they were lukewarm.  Second, they didn't actually have any soup inside.  What is a soup dumpling without the soup?  And third, I didn't taste any crab.  Sigh.  How could they go so wrong with a signature item?

Things were not looking good.  The price was also a bit high, although they are double (!!) the price at the Haymarket location, so I guess this was reasonable comparatively.
Steamed Vegetarian Jiao Ze.  $5.80.
We wanted more dumplings, and there were very few choices, so we selected the regular vegetarian ones.  We weren't sure what was going to be inside of them exactly, since the menu just said "vegetarian", but I do tend to love vegetarian dumplings, particularly snow pea or mushroom, so I was hopeful.

The dumplings were hot and fresh, the skins nice enough.  Much better than the lukewarm xiao long bao.  But, I hated the taste of the filling.  It was a mix of assorted veggies and tofu.  It was bitter and mushy and just not flavors I enjoyed at all.

The price seemed a bit high compared to other items, $5.80 for the four.
Vegetarian Bun. $2.80. Mini Sweet Bun (Black Sesame). $1.90.
The final savory item we picked was a bun.  Since the prices were low, I was skeptical of the pork option, so we went for veggie, the only other choice.

I really didn't like it.  The dough was just ... doughy.  It wasn't slightly sweet, it wasn't ... anything.  Just there.  The filling was the same as in the dumplings, and I again disliked it, although this time it was even worse, as it was in greater quantity.  The $2.80 price was fine for a large item, but I didn't even want to swallow a second bite of this.

Of course, I was also really excited for the desserts.  I wanted everything taro.  I love taro, and Sydney is filled with it.  I quickly picked the fried taro dessert for one of our options, and then decided to mix it up with a sweet bun, and pick something else for the filling.  My options were taro, red bean, and black sesame.  Black sesame sounded the most unique, so I went with it.

The bun seemed exactly the same as the vegetable bun, not sweet, which I really wanted for a dessert bun, and again not very good.  The black sesame filling was slightly sweet, and good enough, and it was probably the best item we got, but it still wasn't great.  $1.90 for a small bun was fine.
Golden Taro Bread, 2 pieces. $2.90.
As I said, I love taro.  I was thrilled to see a number of dessert choices featuring taro, including the "golden taro bread", which I wasn't entirely sure what it was going to be, but it sounded great.

Except, it wasn't great.  The dough was way too oily, and just tasted like oil.  The creamy taro inside was nice enough.  But ... meh.

$2.90 for the pair was reasonable, and they were hot and fresh, just, too oily.
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