Sunday, November 21, 2010
Wonton abandonment – the shameless and unrestrained gluttony produced by the promise of fresh dumplings.
At the end of a long trip, there are suitcases to unpack, credit cards to resuscitate, dinners to cook, and work to return to. Just as well there’s also a lot of news to catch up on and friends to be seen, otherwise it might be enough to send a penguin hiding under the bed to escape.
Pictures: Me (before I gave up on the combination of fast-diminishing light and an iPhone. There were dumplings and chatting to pay attention to, after all!)
Given the potential for long and meandering conversations when nothing terribly much has been going on, after more than six weeks, a get together with the Stoat Appreciation Society was going to be positively epic. So, it was only appropriate that the accompanying dinner be of equally epic proportions. Bamboo Dumpling had been quietly lurking on my have-to-try-this-out list for several months, and the opportunity for fresh dumplings a relatively short pootle from work was too good to pass up.
The tricky thing when eating small-plate style with just two of you (it’s a very exclusive Society) is how to achieve a good mix of food without having to order far more than can possibly be consumed. The majority of dumplings of offer at Bamboo Dumpling come in servings of five (which can also lead to the no-you-have-it debate about the last item on each plate). To avoid being tossed on the horns of such dilemmas, banquet-style options are also available. Even better, those options don’t have the counter-intuitive requirement of a minimum number of diners. This, combined with a rare tolerance for snap-happy diners, plus the ability to actually book. For two. On a Friday night. made me wonder if Bamboo Dumpling was far too sensible to possibly exist in Surry Hills, and might disappear in a puff of prawn and lemongrass scented steam before our order arrived. Thankfully, no such horrors (or horrors of any other variety) ensued.
Two banquet options are available, one with dumplings and other little morsels as its sole focus and another, larger one, which takes in main dishes as well. Desserts (chocolate dumplings, anybody?) can be added to either menu for a little extra. Epic dinners aren’t known for their restraint, so the Sum It All Up platter was ordered, along with an extra plate of chicken sticky rice which was unable to be resisted.
The menu arrived in stages, which had the dual advantages of food staying hot until eaten, and having a hope of being able to remember what was which after the helpful explanations provided by the waiter. Crispy things came first. Light, crunchy spring rolls in both vegetarian and chilli prawn varieties, with a good wrapping-to-filling ratio and no greasy smeariness.
Hot on the heels of the crispy things were Peking duck pancakes, compact versions folded neatly into quarters. They were the perfect size to give a couple of tasty bites of juicy duck without any of the usual filling-escaping-and-sauce-running-everywhere messiness. Fun may usually be messy*, but I prefer my dinner to go from plate to mouth without also going all over the place (and definitely not all over me).
Picture: He Needs Food - Peking duck pancakes (such beautiful photos, and in such impossible lighting!)
Then, there were a pair of neat little steamed pork buns, one apiece. I’m often the lone strange person at yum cha who doesn’t find eating a pork bun a non-negotiable necessity (other varieties of strange people are, conversely, much more common), finding them a bit too stodgy, starchy and prone to expand, sponge-like, once eaten. Which takes up valuable dumpling space. These versions were light and not too doughy, and their size gave them, for me, the perfect proportion of stodge to carnivorousness. If the ones at (the usual) yum cha were like these, I’d be a definite convert.
Next came juiciness, with one each of six varieties of dumplings (I did mention it was epic). Choosing a favourite would be entirely unfair to those little parcels, each of which was fresh, beautifully formed and very tasty indeed. At (daytime) yum cha, dumplings can be apt to merge into an amorphous enjoyable-but-not-individually-memorable experience – having a platter setting out each kind and eating them in succession highlighted their differences in flavour and texture. And, much like the first time you have fresh pasta, having fresh dumplings (that don’t stick to every surface and attempt to shed their middles) is a very different experience to the other kind. In particular, this was my first encounter with a soup dumping (xiao long boa) and, while its shape and slipperiness made it an occasionally elusive morsel, it was worth waiting for, and had a lovely depth of flavour.
Finally (eep!) there were the main courses – barbecue pork, salt and pepper squid, and that chicken sticky rice. As well as some plain jasmine rice and greens. The pork was densely textured with a sticky soy dressing. While I enjoyed its meatiness and that it was less fatty than many BBQ pork dishes I’ve had before, it was perhaps a little dry. The squid was tender and had deep golden crumbing with delicious, not too intense, seasoning. Some people might prefer a stronger salt-and-pepper flavour, but taken together with the other dishes on the menu, I thought it was very enjoyable.
Picture: He Needs Food - salt and pepper squid
My favourite, though, was the chicken sticky rice. Moist and glutinous in texture, so that it could be eaten in little chunks, with morsels of richly flavoured chicken scattered throughout. It was the sort of dish I could cheerfully eat every night for a week without becoming bored with it. The sort of dish worth finishing every last vestige of, until no room remains for chocolate dumplings.
The promise of chocolate dumplings, though, gives an even greater incentive to return. Perhaps for a more targeted effort on the next visit, having greatly enjoyed the first traverse of the menu. Because more practice at capturing those soup dumplings should certainly be rewarded with chicken sticky rice, and chocolate dumplings...
140 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: 02 9281 2522
* According, at the very least, to the t-shirts at the Paddington markets