A DINING EXPERIENCE REVIEW
Type: Dim Sum Food: 9/10 Service: 5/10 Value for money: 6/10
- Arrive early. Lines for this restaurant start before the restaurant opens for each sitting. With a very poor ticketing system, it results in a lot of people waiting around to get in when you can clearly see several empty tables inside.
- Ignore the fried snacks you might be inclined to order from most dim sum places, and aim straight for the steamed dumpling menu. Din Tai Fung is famous for it’s Xiao Long bao, but pretty much every steamed dumpling on the menu are so juicy and luscious, you will feel like you are in soup dumpling heaven.
- I don’t think there’s anything remotely sustainable about this chain of restaurants, but I have such fondness for their dumplings that I feel the need to share my thoughts.
The Consternation of a Dumpling
It lives inside you.
Perhaps it used to be frozen – dormant – and you thought you would never come across a flame hot enough to let it melt and become fluid, filling every crevice of your mind. But then one day you get thrown into some heat and your skin isn’t tough enough, and you’ve perfected so many aspects of your external layer that even when underneath you are drowning in darkness…
“You look so perky!”
Because you are preserved and contained within 18 perfectly tight pleats, suffocating perhaps…suffering and submerged…all of this unobserved by those who marvel at how well your exterior meet the high standards of what it means to “Be”. However, if something did tear a hole in your delicate skin – if you did let a pleat unfold – if you dare to let what’s drowning you leak out and flood the others – you are tarnished. You’re damaged goods. You are the flawed one of the bunch.
So repeat after me little dumpling: “You better keep your tight pleats shut.”
Achtung: Graphic detail of dumpling-consuming savagery ahead
MARINA BAY SANDS is a hedonistic oasis in a Metropolis of do-this-or-else-get-whipped. It’s our second last night Singapore, and we cautiously make our way to MBS’ glittering gargantuan towers in the early evening, hoping to sample a taste of what Din Tai Fung Singapore has to offer before heading up to find some rooftop views of the city. We’ve been disappointed by the Sydney outlet, but have had several friends swear by the ones in Singapore, so we decide to give it a go.
Plus we’ve had a hankering for dumplings after passing up on some at a hawker market earlier.
Our taxi pulls up beside four Ferraris parked casually outside the third tower. There is a very tall woman standing next to the bell boy with a sea of tacky LV monogrammed luggage around her, colour coordinated to her outfit that is channeling Jean Shrimpton circa the Terence Stamp era. I’m so under dressed, I think as I watch another couple exit a chauffeur driven car in Hamptons White, sporting chic male and female dinner jackets. Sooo under dressed.
Or not? As we walk into the tower in search of the dumplings, two young girls with soaking wet hair and fluffy, oversized bathrobes rush past us to catch a lift. Of course…the infamous infinity pool. Reserved for hotel guests only, which basically means its a pool with a $800++ SGD entry fee. I say this scathingly, but not-so-deep-down I’m disgustingly impressed by the amount of wealth this casino hoards.
We keep moving. To get to Din Tai Fung, Josh and I navigate through a sea of retail stores we cannot afford, strange floating popup teashops serving truffle this and truffle that, an array of water features, and lots of marble. Around the corner of a miniature indoor infinity pool we see a crowd of people, some dressed more like us. Yay! Someone else who isn’t wearing Louboutin pumps to a mall! Oh, I get even more excited because up ahead I can see restaurant logo glowing like a sign from the heavens…before realising that this crowd are all customers of Din Tai Fung waiting to get a seat inside…
As stated in my notes, get in early. I mean, this is grandpa-dinner-time and the restaurant is packed. Our wait time is approximated to be 30-40 minutes. All good, plenty of time. Then we’re told that once we are seated, its another 40 minute wait for the food.
The service here is more like a factory floor than a restaurant service, which is pretty standard in the world of Asian restaurants. There’s a strange ticketing system in place where the stroppy front of house (who looks more like a night club bouncer with a device tucked in one ear and a number instead of a name on her badge) hands you a ticket and a menu that you can tick off items from whilst waiting for your ticket to be called. The list is short and succinct, but not limited. We stick to what we know and order a number of steam dumplings to sample the flavours and quality of the filling. Josh then gets carried away and does the white people thing of ordering fried dim sum. Joking, I like ordering the fried stuff too.
But 40 minutes seem to go by like a Kuwahara KZ-1 with an extra terrestrial in a milk crate perched on top (as in flying. I’m referencing E.T by the way). Soon we are seated by another employee bearing a name tag that – again – only had numbers instead of a name printed on it. I recall him being number 1261. Where are these people from? Hawkins Laboratory?
Please tell me you get the reference.
We order some beers to brace ourselves for the 40 minute wait for food, as our stomachs begin to protest because our eyes are being subjected to sights of juicy, plump dumplings on our surrounding tables. I get food envy from a table that ordered the fried rice. Why do I always do this? Fried rice is so average, yet I always crave it when I see it come out at a restaurant. Amongst the sea of famous 18-pleat XLB’s, I spot a few other dim sum classics done right: cloud-like steamed rice cakes, powder white Liu Sha Bao (salted egg yolk buns), and bright mango pudding.
The first dish to arrive are is Shao Mai (Shumai), like a bouquet of giant savoury dumpling flowers. They are huge! About twice the height of traditional Shao Mai you find in most restaurants, and with a distinct rosebud shape. These are my favourite. The soup can fill two soup spoons and they pool at the bottom of the dumpling. So to consume: you must first bite off the prawn and create an opening, suck out the soup like a savage dumpling vampire you are, then eat the rest of the dumpling whole – savouring the explosive sweetness of the filling.
The Jiaozi that follows our dumpling bouquet are Josh’s favourite. I have to give credit to the Din Tai Fung chain for these. At every outlet I’ve been to, the skin on these dumplings are so soft and supple and nothing like any dumpling I’ve ever had anywhere. The pleats on these are so firm that the filling stays juicy after steaming, ensuring you will never get chunks of overcooked meatballs inside. Consuming these are slightly tricky. I like to tear a hole in one end and turn it upside down over the soup spoon, essentially draining the juices to drink first. Doing so allows you to savour every last drop, which would have burst out and be wasted all down your chin and the table cloth if you just take a bite into it. It also helps cool the juices down (it is scalding hot).
The signature XLB’s arrive at the same time as the Jiaozi, and to be quite honest I struggle with choosing which I enjoy eating the most. I find the XLB’s easier to eat (they are slightly more than one bite size yet sit quite nicely in a soup spoon whereas the Jiaozi are twice the size), but I’ve had my fair share of prestigious XLB’s from other restaurants and whilst the Din Tai Fung version are exceptional, the others are just as good. This is probably why I would have to say I prefer the Jiaozi over these little morsels of soupy goodness.
The fried dishes, though delicious, are nothing above the ordinary. The pan fried Jiaozi aren’t as crispy as I would have liked them to be – probably because it uses the same skin as the steamed ones and I can’t imagine them firming up and being as crispy, oily and bready as ordinary pan fried dumplings. Number 1261 promises us to come back with a dipping sauce for the fried wantons, but he never returns. Maybe the Demogorgon got to him and he’s stuck somewhere in the Upside Down.
Ok that’s enough Stranger Things references for today.
The meal set us back $97.69 SGD including drinks and Josh’s second order of Jiaozi (because it is that good). Pricy, but comparable to Din Tai Fung Australia’s prices. The only difference being that the beers are the most expensive items on our bill ha! There are dim sum places that are much, much cheaper back home but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had Jiaozi like that from anywhere else.
We may have gone back to the Raffles Plaza outlet the next day for lunch as well…
In short, I highly recommend giving the Asian outlets a shot if you’ve been disappointed by the outlets in Australia. The menu has more variety, you get more dumplings per serving, and the flavour is more intense (although sadly this could just be the copious amount of MSG that we’re probably regulated against using in Australia). If you are trying this chain for the first time in Melbourne, I would recommend the XLB’s (the crab one is also very good) and the Jiaozi.
Happy feasting, and do mind your table manners.