Towers made from bamboo baskets teeter over steamers. Waiters are dressed in crisp black and white, their audio earpieces firmly in-ear. JT is on the speakers and Take That’s ready to go. A line of ravenous diners snakes down the hall. Din Tai Fung Melbourne is open.
After opening its first Australian store in 2008, the Taiwanese dumpling chain has opened a total of seven Sydney locations, all of which adhere to its exacting standards. The cooks who make DTF’s hallowed, soup-filled xiaolongbao (literally: “little-basket steamed bun”) train for three months at just one aspect of the dumpling-making process. Kneading the dough, rolling it into cylinders, filling, folding and plucking – each step in the dumpling-chain is an individual branch of knowledge. “The way we do this business is very labour intensive. Anything that can be handmade, we try to do that ourselves,” says Dendy Harjanto, head of Din Tai Fung Australia. “It takes a lot of discipline, weighing things one-by-one, to get consistency. It’s all handmade – and everyone’s hands, everyone’s fingers are different.”
And now, almost eight years later, Din Tai Fung has finally crossed the border, adding to Emporium Melbourne's growing reputation as a serious dining destination. The restaurant occupies an entire upper floor – 235 seats with private dining rooms and a dedicated waiting area. Diners in the main space look out over Little Bourke, while others watch the dumpling masters at work.
Along with the benchmark-setting XLB, Din Tai Fung serves plenty of good gear from Taiwan and the mainland. Silken tofu arrives covered in pork-floss and accompanied by a jet-black egg; Taiwanese Fried Chicken (and pork chop) comes with a side of freshly made noodles; and a luminescent Triple Mango Crushed Ice always seems to be passing by.
Dumplings – and not just xiaolongbao – are the main affair: try a limited-edition black-truffle pork dumpling; a wildly good spicy vegetable wonton covered in Sichuan pepper; or bite the shrimpy top off a shao mai, leaving the porky bun below.
Booze is better than you’d expect: beers range from cans of VB to a $24 Garage Project microbrew, with Tsingtao and Pikes Pilsner between. The wine list is mainstream with highlights, such as the Jamsheed Roussanne. We, however, selected the Yuzu Peach Freeze, a neon concoction that pairs nicely with having tastebuds.
Judging from everywhere else, the queue is here to stay. There is, however, a small act of mercy: a radio-controlled beeper that means you can leave the waiting area and pick through Uniqlo while you hang out for a table. It’s worth the wait.
Din Tai Fung
Level 4, Tenancy M002
287 Londsdale Street Melbourne
(Lift on Corner Little Bourke Street and Caledonian Lane)