Saturday, 15 November 2014

Casual Dining - Dumpling Republic

I've always been a fan of Japanese dumplings, often called gyoza, with one Harajuku Gyoza being one of my favourite dumpling restaurants in Brisbane (see post here).  It was only recently that I started to see the benefit of other dumpling styles, most notably visiting Din Tai Fung in Singapore earlier this year. For those of you who don't know, Din Tai Fung originated out of Taiwan and specialises in xiaolongbao or soup dumplings....  Oh, Din Tai Fung also has a couple of outlets in Hong Kong that have been awarded Michelin Stars, so they're good!

While I was in Singapore, I developed a bit of a fixation on the xiaolongbao and found myself regularly dining at the Sentosa Island outlet of Din Tai Fung - I just couldn't get enough of those delicious soup dumplings.  They were exquisite, beautifully made and filled with the most amazing soup and highest quality pork.  Most amazing with the dumpling pastry, so thin yet so intricately put together, each one was perfection personified!

I was wandering around the re-developed Wintergarden recently and spied that a new dumpling restaurant had opened up right next to the now closed Wagamama.  Making a mental note to check it out, I decided that a lunchtime excursion would be required and it ended up being the week before Brisbane (essentially) shut down for the G20.  Making my way up the escalators that lead to Grill'd, I made a sharp right and found myself at the entrance to Dumpling Republic.  It was only 11:30am and the restaurant was pretty quiet, so quiet that there was no one at the front desk, so I had to stand around for a bit to try and catch someone's attention.

It didn't take too long before I was spotted and lead to the surprisingly large dining room, which was fitted out in very modern style with hints of Asian influences.  You'd never know how big the restaurant was from the entrance, I initially thought it would be quite small, but walking past the dumpling preparation room and kitchen area was eye opening.  I felt quite lonely at my table in the back of the restaurant with no one else around!

Ordering at Dumpling Republic was an almost exact duplicate of Din Tai Fung.  You're given a menu with lots of pictures of the options available along with an A4 sheet of paper with each item listed out. The idea is to mark off your choices, a waitress then comes along and takes the sheet with your order and then brings back a receipt ready for payment on the way out.  It's quite an efficient way of ordering.  I was quite familiar with the process, so got cracking and by the time my waitress made her way back to my table, I was ready to go.

My meal started off with something from the cold starters section of the menu, the slow poached beef with Singapore sauce.  Quite a simple dish, there was a mound of thinly sliced beef sitting on a bed of sliced cucumber, with the whole lot doused in a sweet Singapore sauce.  The beef was pretty tender and had a strong flavour, which was enhanced by the sauce, which slowly built over the meal to be quite zingy!  The cucumber made sense to me once I was about halfway through the beef, it was there to act as a cooling agent and once I got the mix of beef to cucumber right, the meal became well balanced.

The star of the show arrived next.  I'd ordered the XLB dumplings, otherwise known as Xiao Long Bao and had a bit of a chuckle with the spelling of the dish, which had been Anglicised for easier pronunciation.  Delivered in a traditional bamboo basket, I lifted the lid and let the steam drift away before focussing in on the dumplings.  Made fresh to order, the xiaolongbao looked pretty good, but I could see the differences between the Din Tai Fung and Dumpling Republic versions.  The pastry was not quite as thin and the twisting pattern that made the Din Tai Fung dumplings look so perfect were not present.  

The recommended way of eating the XLB was to place the dumpling on the spoon provided, then gently suck  out the soup before consuming the rest in one go.  I was impressed with the flavour of the soup, which was light and a little sweet with a beautiful pork flavour.  Four of my six dumplings had a wonderful pork centre and combined with the soup, made excellent xiaolongbao but two of them were a bit light on for fillings and the pork seemed a bit gristly and over cooked.  There was not much of a comparison between my Din Tai Fung dumplings, which were mind blowing, to the Dumpling Republic version.  They were good, no doubt, but once you've had the best, it's hard not to compare.

My last dumplings were the steamed pork and shrimp, which I'd had really high hopes but was quite let down.  The six dumpling pieces looked ok and they were chocked full of pork and prawns, but they didn't taste very good.  It seemed as if they had too much filling and didn't cook all the way through, which left the pork quite chewy and unpalatable.  I tried a couple of them, just to make sure it wasn't one that was not right, but the three I took a bite out of all tasted the same.

The Dumpling Republic is the creation of Mr Sim Kim Kwee, sometimes known as Master Sim. With an extensive career working in international restaurants, Master Sim has worked under some of the world's most renowned Iron Chefs.  His philosophy is to create food that is close to perfection with a view that there is room for each meal to be 1% better.   

On the day of my visit, I would say that perfection was a little way off.  That's not to say that I didn't enjoy my slow poached beef and xiaolongbao, they were pretty good, but the prawn and pork dumpling just wasn't right.  I'd definitely come back to sample the XLB again, they were well put together and while they lacked the finesse of the Din Tai Fung versions I'd had in Singapore, they were perhaps the best I'd had in Brisbane.

However, with recent news that Tim Ho Wan, the famed 'worlds cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant' soon heading to our shores, I think there could be some fierce competition in Brisbane for Chinese style dumplings.

The menu is full of pictures, so you know what to expect!
I was all along in the huge dining room
It was a modern fit out and each table had sauces and chopsticks ready to go
I had a passionfruit and mango smoothie - it was a pretty good mix
The xiaolongbao were not as delicate or precise at Dumpling Republic
My pork and prawn dumplings were filled with ingredients but they seemed undercooked
The modern fit out had some huge tables for larger groups
The dumpling prep area was at the front of the restaurant for all to see
It was starting to get busy by the time I finished

Dumpling Republic on UrbanspoonDumpling Republic Brisbane City

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