Din Tai Fung Melbourne Emporium has opened, and is the world famous dumpling chain’s first foray into the Melbourne market. We were invited to the launch and weren’t going to say no, given our love for dumplings.
Ever since Dendy Harjanto opened Australia’s first Din Tai Fung in Sydney in 2008, awareness of the brand in this country has increase massively and, after opening 7 stores in Sydney, Dendy felt that the time was right to bring Din Tai Fung to Melbourne.
Din Tai Fung Melbourne Emporium occupies the top level of Emporium Melbourne, and with a capacity of 235 people, it’s the largest branch in Australia. Anticipation for Din Tai Fung in Melbourne has been high – when we arrived there was a wait of over an hour. When you put your name down for a table you are given a buzzer so you can do some shopping while you wait and head back when the buzzer starts vibrating.
Originating in Taiwan in 1972 (it was a cooking oil shop prior to that), Din Tai Fung is one of the world’s best known dumpling brands – we’ve personally eaten at their branches in Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore and have never been disappointed. It’s a franchised chain that’s managed to maintain a good level of quality despite expansion. Talking to Dendy and his wife Shin at the launch of Din Tai Fung Melbourne Emporium, we got some insight as to why this might be the case.
Firstly, there is a minimum standard that all of the kitchen staff are required to adhere to when making dumplings. Each one is hand made from start to end, and weighed twice during the process to ensure it falls within an acceptable range. The famous Xi Long Bao are required to contain exactly 18 folds, and each chef has to complete 3 months of training before they are allowed to make them.
Moving on to the menu, we were impressed to see that there was a focus on local produce. Dendy told us that as a franchisee, he is given a certain amount of leeway as to what he can do with the menu at each of his Din Tai Fung branches. For the Melbourne Emporium branch, the wine list is exclusively Victorian and, where possible, the ingredients used are also Victorian. On the menu, there are things that are consistent across all branches, such as the Xiao Long Bao but there are also some dishes that are catered to local and seasonal tastes – for example the black truffle pork dumpling currently on the menu won’t be found on the menu at Dendy’s Indonesian Din Tai Fung stores.
Drinks wise, there are a range of beers, wines and spirits on offer, along with juices and soft drinks. Along with the aforementioned Victorian wine list, we were also impressed with the beer selection. Yes, Victoria Bitter is on the menu but move down the list and you’ll see beers from craft breweries such as Wellington’s Garage Project on offer. Oh and there’s the option to add a shot of alcohol to any of the juices if you want.
Spicy Shrimp & Pork Wonton
These wontons had a good kick to them and were very tasty. They weren’t as delicate as some of the other dumplings that we ate during the night, but that’s by design.
Mango Shrimp Roll
These were one of our favourite appetisers of the night. Crumbed and fried mango and shrimp rolls. The mangoes come from Queensland, so are available fresh all year ’round and balanced well with the shrimp. Proper comfort food.
Steamed Pork Dumpling (Xiao Long Bao)
The famous Xiao Long Bao didn’t disappoint. The dumpling skins were delicate and light and held in the delicious broth and pork inside.
There’s a guide on each table that helps newbies learn how to eat Xiao Long Bao properly – it’s a 2 step process.
Mint & Lychee Freeze
The mint & lychee freeze was our favourite drink of the night and made us wish for the return of summer. Fresh mint, big lychees and finely crushed ice – perfect.
Green Bean with Minced Pork
These beans were the surprise hit of the night. The general consensus on the table was that these were one of the highlights. They crunch of the beans was offset by the softness of the pork, and there was a nice sweetness to the dish. Beans as a highlight, who would have thought?
Shrimp & Pork Shao Mai
We were big fans of the shrimp & pork shao mai, which was akin to getting 2 dumplings in one. The key is to hold these at the bottom, and bite off the top bit containing the shrimp first. You’re then left with a pork dumpling below, which you can add some more soy and/or vinegar to before finishing it off.
Crispy Fried Chicken with Chilli
These morsels of deep fried chicken were delicious, and not greasy at all. Think popcorn chicken with a Chinese twist – you really can’t go wrong.
Egg Fried Rice with Fried Pork Chop
The egg fried rice with fried pork chop reminded us of a dish we had in Malaysia. The rice was light and fluggy and the pork was very tender with a crisp coating. Another dish that falls well and truly into the comfort food basket.
Vegetarian Jiao Zi
These were created in order to satisfy the increasing demand for vegetarian options in Australia. They were very tasty, but couldn’t really compete with the pork and shrimp options.
Cha Jiang Noodle with Minced Pork
These noodles were quite thin – akin to number 4 spaghetti and were topped with a dollop of minced pork. The first thing we thought when this came out was “spaghetti bolognaise” and indeed, that’s exactly what this tasted like, with a Chinese rather than Italian twist.
Peach & Yuzu Freeze
The second “freeze” that we enjoyed was Japanese inspired. This was also tasty, but wasn’t quite as good as the mint and lychee one we tried earlier.
Black Truffle Dumplings
These were new to the Australian menu, as Dendy and Shin wanted to do something a bit non-traditional and use black truffles which are now in season. No truffle oil here – each dumpling contained a piece of proper truffle, with the smell oozing out of the dumpling as soon as the skin was pierced. Very tasty and indulgent, one of these is definitely enough.
The mango pudding is Din Tai Fung Australia’s signature dessert, and is a very light, surprisingly not overly sweet pudding. Simple and tasty.
Large Triple Mango & Triple Strawberry Crushed Ice
Another thing that we tried on the night that made us long for warmer weather were these crushed ice towers. Another example of simplicity, these were both quite sweet but good fun, with everyone on the table trying to attack the towers without causing any accidents as they became less structurally sound.
Taro Gelato & Golden Taro Bread
The surprise package of the night on the dessert front was this dessert. We’re big fans of taro however several on the table had not tried taro before. The ice cream was soft and creamy and the deep friend golden taro filled bread was utterly moreish. Combined, this dessert was really a level above the others that we had. If you only have one dessert at Din Tai Fung, make it this.
We had big expectations for Din Tai Fung Emporium Melbourne and are happy to say that they were met. The food was very tasty and the quality was at the level that we’ve experienced at other branches around the world. Well worth your time, just keep those long lines in mind.
Din Tai Fung
Level 4, Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street
Telephone: (03) 9654 1876
Mon: 8:00am to 4:00pm
Tue – Fri: 8:00am to 11:00pm
Sat: 11:00am to 11:00pm