Saturday, August 8, 2009

Din Tai Fung
World Square Shopping Centre
644 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 6010
Open 7 days 11am – 2.30pm, 5 – 10pm

Din Tai Fung has just been declared as a Runner Up for Time Out Magazine’s “Best Cheap Eat” category for 2009. There are aspects of DTF that I enjoy, and there is no doubting that the skin of the Xiao Long Bao there is of high quality for example, but there is no way that I would consider $10.80 for 8 XLB as “cheap”. The various Shanghainese restaurants in Ashfield are cheap, DTF is not.

I would also say that thought they may not be as attractive and the skin as thin, I have had better XLB broth in Ashfield than that at DTF, but that’s a very personal thing.

The dishes came out in a haphazard fashion and in fact one dish came out incorrectly. We had ordered the Garlic Shoots with Chinese Ham ($14.80) but got the Garlic Shoots with Prawns.

Rather stupidly, I then promptly forgot to take a photo of the correct one as well. Having had this dish at DTF before, this was one of the lesser versions, with some of the Garlic Shoots old and stringy.

The only cold dish that was ordered was the Silken Tofu with Pork Floss and Century Egg ($6.80). This is one of the cheaper items on the menu. I am not a big Century (or Thousand Year) Egg fan and never have been so I let the others have their fill. This dish ended up being a disappointment because the tofu was literally refrigerator cold, when it should have been more at room temperature. It made eating it a less pleasant experience than it should have been.

Next up was the inevitable Xiao Long Bao ($10.80 for 8). They do the skin of the buns very well here, and these were reliably tasty, but it still hard for me to reconcile myself with the price you pay. I am lead to believe that in Taiwan DTF is comparatively cheaper than it is here, and I wonder how much of this is due to high overheads in the World Square location, plus the staff costs, since they seem to have a large army of employees.

The dumpling dish was the Vegetarian Jiao Zi ($8.80 for 6).

One thing you have to acknowledge about DTF is their quality control and consistency. Each one of the jiaoxi was perfectly formed.

Next up was the “Choice of 2 Buns” ($4.80), which in this case constituted two Pork & Vegetable Buns. I didn’t eat these so I can’t really comment on them.

It was a bit of a noodle lunch; we ordered three of them.

First up was the Braised Beef Noodle Soup ($15.80). I have had this on a previous occasion and whilst enjoyable, I do think that it is overpriced.

The second noodle dish was the Cha Jiang Noodle ($11.80), aka “Jia Jiang Noodles”/ “Jia Jiang Mien”.

I find JJ Noodles a curious dish, as it seems to differ from restaurant to restaurant, even country to country. In this sense it can be a challenge to keep on searching for the “killer JJM”, or occasionally frustrating when you’re just looking for some consistency of taste. I will admit at this point that one of the ones that I like to eat (though it has also changed slightly over the years due to changes in the kitchen etc) is from the Luk Yu Tea House in Hong Kong.

Here is a photo of a small bowl of the Luk Yu version :

As a child, when my family visited Hong Kong there would be repeated visits to Luk Yu. I don’t know that they necessarily have the best Yum Cha in Hong Kong, but it’s a kind of family tradition to eat there. My paternal grandfather spent a lot of time there, my father virtually grew up there, and my siblings and I visited it as children, and then as adults. My nephew and niece, who are 6 and 4 respectively, have been there a number of times already when visiting the city. As I write they are actually in Hong Kong on a brief stopover back to England, and though I have not asked, I am certain that they have already eaten there.

There are old timers there who have been dining at the same table for decades, and who have grown old along with the staff. Some of the waiters there started working at the tea house when only 15 or so, and are still going strong half a century later. It is a quaint old place and I am happy to keep up the tradition, for their Jia Jiang noodles if nothing else!

Okay - enough already with the nostalgia trip.

The third noodle dish was the Dan Dan Noodles ($10.80) which is another noodle dish which which some members of my family have a lifetime’s fixation. If it’s on the menu then at least one member will order it, for comparative purposes.

DTF’s iteration, which I have eaten previously, is fairly strong on the sesame/ peanut front. If you prefer your Dan Dan Noodles with less of this then you probably shouldn’t order this one. Again it’s one of those noodle dishes which seem to have more versions than I can count. My understanding is that there is no “original” version per se, but I am certain that the increased use of a pronounced sesame/ peanut flavour is relatively modern in appearance.

The final noodle dish was ordered by the 6yo, the Prawn and Pork Wonton Noodle ($12.80). DTF basically serves glammed up street food and wonton noodles are arguably the most basic of the basics in this regard.

The DTF one is not cheap at all. The soup was flavoursome, the noodles well cooked and the wonton skin silky and the filling tasty, but for all of this, I still do not believe that it should cost $12.80.

It was an enjoyable meal and I am quite happy to eat there but as I commented at the beginning, I would disagree with Time Out that Din Tai Fung is cheap. $114.20 for Shanghainese food for three adults and 2 young children is not cheap. 

You'll notice something interesting - the Xiao Long Bao are listed as "1 Pork Dumpling [8]". 'Bao' are buns, and it seems that it is only outside Chinese speaking places that they are deemed 'soup dumplings', yet in this Taiwanese chain, perhaps in a concession to an English speaking audience, calls them 'dumplings.




Simon Food Favourites said...

i think you won't be alone in your assessment of DTF. i've been there twice but pretty much find the food too bland in taste and overpriced compared to other dumpling places in Sydney including Ashfield. It's a franchise which I think caters more to entice the anglo market in creating an Asian eating experience that they'll feel more comfortable in rather than a cheap and cheerful dodgy looking dumpling place. i find a similar experience with The Malaya which was packed with non- Asian business people where prices are expensive for dishes that cost far less in other places.also perhaps timeout didn't want to promote a place like shanghai night in ashfield because they got a health warning notice. that's my 2 cents worth anyway.

The Sydney Tarts said...

Thanks. I have been there 3x now and I just find it hard to spend that much money on dumplings and noodles. It's a Taiwanese chain and I don't know how many of its customers in Syd are Taiwanese expats. There have been a mix of East Asian and non each time I have visited. Went there this time bec when my sister left Sydney it hadn't opened yet, and she was interested.

I think that Time Out prob likes some of the Ashfield places but that there is an element of the whole "appearance" thing playing a part.

Have only been to the Malaya once, yrs ago. Found it way too expensive.

I would be interested in knowing how similar the DTF is here to the original in Taiwan. And let's not forget that XLB are Shanghainese, not Taiwanese!


stickyfingers said...

No that is not cheap. At Hutong in Melbourne recently we paid $30 per head for 6 adults which seemed fair for the generous amount of food we ordered.

Oh memmories of HK. My grandfather had a table at Luk Yu on week days at lunchtime from the 1930's until the late '90s. Part of the furniture he was.

As an early riser, he also often had a second breakfast of yum cha at smaller seedier places, in addition to whatever the servants made him first thing in the morning. Naturally he needed a kip in the afternoon before a snack, a hit of tennis and then dinner, mah jong or racing and then supper. The man could eat!

The Sydney Tarts said...

I wonder whether your grandfather was on Luk Yu nodding terms with my grandfather? It's fab to find someone else with a Luk Yu connection!

I don't think that my grandfather ate out much and I know that when my father was growing up because with the large family that they had, they couldn't really afford to do so, but Luk Yu was definitely a fixture in their lives. Love the thought of your grandfather basically eating himself through the day :)

Mr. Taste said...

Mmm love the look of those Dan Dan noodles. I love the sesame/peanutty/chilli flavours.

Totally agree that DTF is definitely not a cheap eat, especially compared with all the other great Shanghainese restaurants all over Sydney

The Sydney Tarts said...

I also love the peanuty/ sesame/ chilli flavours. One of the great noodles dishes :) The day DTF is cheap is the day I eat my hat.

Zapjelly said...

I totally agree with you!