Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mr Huang Jin, Melbourne CBD by private invitation, by Bureaucrat

Recently, we were invited to try out a new-ish (one year-old) Taiwanese restaurant, Mr Huang Jin.  Big Fil was interested in the invitation as he’s a dumpling fan, while I was keen to learn more about Taiwanese cuisine.  My experience with Taiwanese food to date has been limited to these fried pork strips served in a sweet bun with lots of mayo.  I used to buy and eat quite a few of them from a Taiwanese eatery located near Glen Waverley station. 

Located at the base of Rialto Towers on Collins Street, this wasn’t usually a part of town that we venture much into. 

Inside, it’s light with lots of natural light and is smartly decorated in a semi-futuristic style.  The restaurant is over two floors.  

We both really liked the funky Lego-style chairs.  Bright red and black plastic/rubber nubbly bits which were suspended by rope.  They make a statement and were very comfortable to sit in.

For our dinner, we were well looked after by friendly and knowledgeable staff. For drinks, we were offered double roasted green tea, served in these pretty teapot and cups.  Despite being double roasted, the flavour wasn't as strong as I thought it'd be (I'd say regular Chinese black tea would still be stronger in flavour).  However, it had a very smooth flavour that I'd normally don't find other green teas.

To whet the appetite, some lightly picked root vegs.  

The first dish that come out were a selection of dumplings, which was served with finely sliced ginger.  We were very much looking forward to them, and they didn't disappoint.  We were told that the chef used to work at Din Tai Fun (the renowned dumpling restaurant). Unfortunately, we didn't ask whether the chef hailed from the Sydney restaurant or the original one in Taiwan (we're assuming the latter) (also, I've reviewed the DTF in Sydney and Big Fil has reviewed the DTF in Hong Kong).  

Made daily onsite, we had the delicate and delicious xiao long baos (top left corner).  I don't often order XLB because they're never as good as I want them to be - either the skin is thick and the filling is 'meh' or the delicate baos burst upon being picked up by my chopsticks (or even worse, they've already burst in the steamer which defeats the point of eating them).  These were perfect.  Incredibly thin pastry that housed the delicate broth inside which didn't split until I bit into them.  Yummy.

The prawn and pork dumplings were equally nice (bottom).  Nice nuggets of prawn inside.  Although Big Fil thought the dumplings were juicy to the extent of almost being soupy. Finally, the vivid shark meat and chestnut dumpling with beetroot pastry.  These were also juicy and had a nice texture although I couldn't discern any chestnuts in the filling.  

While each of the three dumplings were very tasty, I did detect a hint of MSG.  Nothing overt but there was something - a slight tingling on my tongue.  The dumplings are smaller than at most places, but eating dumplings at Mr Huang Jin's is more about appreciating the skill of the chef rather than wolfing down a plate of doughy dumplings that you'd get at a cheap and cheerful eatery.

Next was the wontons w the housemade secret chilli oil.  I've seen this dish at other dumpling houses and I never understood what was so special about it.  Up until now, all I've seen is a bowl of wontons or dumplings with plain chilli oil added on top... big whoop.  However, the wonton chilli oil here was a revelation and was a big hit with Big Fil!  

Compared to the dumplings, the wontons were bigger in size.  Inside, juicy pork filling.  But it was the garnishes that took this dish above and beyond its peers - the chilli oil.  Despite its name, it wasn't overly hot - just a mild warmth.  It's a bit hard to describe the oil, it's deep, it's mellow, complex and slightly syrupy.  I loved the dark red colour of the oil.  It's the sort of thing that you'd try (vainly) at home to emulate the recipe but you'll never quite achieve the same taste and texture.  Big Fil loved it so much that he actually drank a few spoonfuls of it.  I told him that the staff probably wouldn't mind it if he asked for a bowl of rice to finish off the oil! 

Spicy squid w spring onions and chilli mayo.  The squid was very plump and tender.  I've had a lot of squid before and these were some of the plumpest ones I've eaten. A very light batter and not at all oily.

The Taiwanese popcorn chicken w tomato mayo is one of Mr Huang Jin's popular dishes, and I can see why.  The staff explained that they don't use chicken breast meat here as it can result in being a bit dry.  As with the squid, the chicken was juicy and tender, and not a speck of excess oil.  The chicken was definitely one of the better versions of popcorn chicken that we've had around town.  I also really liked the deep fried garnish - I think it was basil and parsley. While Big Fil liked the spicy coating on the chicken.

At this dinner, we also got to try some of the dishes that aren't on the regular menu.  The first was crumbed salmon fillets w asparagus pancakes served with mayo and tomato ginger sauce.  This was different.  While there was nothing wrong with the dish, it just didn't win us over on the combination.  For us, the salmon just didn't 'fit' with the pancakes.  I would like to try this with a flaky white fish instead of the heavier salmon and also less mayo; and Big Fil would have preferred a thinner pancake.  I liked the perfectly crisp al dente stalk of asparagus and the ginger tomato sauce added a nice fresh zing to the dish.  However, propz to the chef for trying something new.  

Another special was the soft shell crab w aromatic rice.  I loved the presentation of this dish, as it came out with a lid. The crab was ever so lightly crumbed.  I liked the deep, aromatic rice, and I noted that it had a really nice drizzle of sesame oil.

The last tapas-style dish was the chicken satay.  Tender chunks of chicken served with an unctuous peanut sauce and pineapple and cucumber.

For desserts, we got to try two things.  The first was another special menu item - caramel dumplings.  Four cute dumplings that had a molten caramel center.  Big Fil and I had different views on this.  I thought it was so fun and yummy!  Big and small kids alike will enjoy this.  The caramel was warm, and I think it was made with condensed milk as it had that syrupy and milky texture. Petite in size so that you don't feel too guilty eating them.  However, Big Fil thought the bun was a bit thick given the size of it and wasn't as keen on it.  

The pan fried walnut and brown sugar buns were also pretty tasty; and was Big Fil's favourite of the two desserts.  The buns are steamed and then pan fried gently to get that lovely colour on the outside.  Inside, a nubbly filling of ground walnuts and brown sugar.  I'd say this is more of a dessert for grown-ups as it's not overly sweet and has that lovely walnut aroma.  Even a person who doesn't like sweet things would like this.

Food – 9
Service – 8*
Ambience – 7.5
Price – 7*

*Scores are notional as we were guests of Mr Huang Jin.

First thing we'd note is that the whole premise of Mr Huang Jin is very different to your normal dumpling place.  Dumplings are normally a tasty and cheapish way of filling an empty tummy.  The food here is much more about grazing while drinking, hence serves are smaller and the quality is much higher - namely, the reference to Taiwanese ‘tapas’, which are small bites of food served to be consumed while drinking (most of the dishes come with wine matching).  

The prices are on the higher side of the medium price range.  However, you're definitley getting that back in quality of the food, service and the overall dining experience.  As what we had was a tasting menu, the portions that we tried were smaller than what is offered when you dine there.  Having said that, we were quite full by the end of our meal.

The food was executed perfectly (to a lesser extent, the salmon pancake) and the staff are friendly and attentive.  

While on the night we went, it wasn't full but there were people coming in for dinner.  We were told that Mr Huang Jin gets most of its business from the lunchtime crowd (which we're assuming to be relatively upmarket office workers), which could believe given its location and set-up. 
The only suggestions I'd make is that the music is a wee loud and it made it hard to carry a conversation.

A varied menu offering a cuisine that you don't find around town as much, perfectly executed dishes, professional staff and a savvy location, Mr Huang Jin's going to be here for quite some time.

Mr Huang Jin
Ground floor, Rialto Tower
525 Collins Street 
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 9077 7937

Mr Huang Jin on Urbanspoon

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