The fast paced rhythm of a drum beats away, setting the pace as a throng of spectators builds around the square. The distinctive twoing of a small handheld gong accents the movement of a white lion; one that prances and postures with a youthful exuberance.
The lion proceeds up a shaky incline of stilts, first cautiously and then later with a degree of bravado as it bounds between the platforms with the grace & agility of its feline brethren. The performance reaches its dramatic conclusion with a red banner unfurling from the mouth of the lion wishing everyone a happy new year as a rainbow of streamers explode into the sky.
It’s a Chinese New Year celebration at World Square, Sydney, heralding in the Year of the Rabbit. A celebration with not only with a fair amount of fanfare but a little food as well.
The Jin Wu Koon lion dance troupe are the artists behind this spectacular performance consisting of two sets of lion dancers, the percussion group providing the instrumentals, as well as some miscellaneous ground crew.
The troupe gather for obligatory photos ops for traditional media outlets, as well as new media outlets such that we, as food and lifestyle bloggers, are.
Whilst most lion dance performances are a rather impressive sight to behold, this one is more so. Not only by the virtue of increased difficulty and agility required to perform the lion dance on a progressive incline of stilt platforms but more specifically by the personification of the lion by the dancers within.
The dancers do a great job of suspending disbelief, breathing life into their two-man puppet imbuing it with the innocence, curiosity and playfulness of a lion cub.
At the end of the performance, both lions parade around the World Centre complex with their musical procession in tow, making stops at predesignated stores (all Chinese) to perform a traditional blessing of consuming and then expelling a head of cabbage from its mouth, known as cai ching.
The lion dance parade comes to a conclusion at Din Tai Fung, where the lion dances around the restaurant, affectionately nibbling on the heads of unsuspecting patrons.
We take out seats at a large communal table with our hosts, starting off with a few drinks. Most opt for the Lychee Mint Juice ($6), a safe option of lychees and mint blended together with ice. I on the other hand go with the Avocado Juice ($6.50). It’s served with a thick shake consistency that, whilst on its own was rather good with its rich avocado flavour and a subtle sweetness, the swirl of cheap chocolate sauce ruined the taste for me. If I ever get this again, it’ll definitely be sans swirl.
We have a brief opportunity to meet with the proprietor of the restaurant, who is keen to indicate at one point during our conversation that they are the only Din Tai Fung in Australia. It’s a statement that is clearly indicated with the signage by the restaurant’s entrance and one that is also echoed on their website.
It seems that they take their non-affiliation with other similar restaurants in Australia seriously; ones that claim, or at least imply, a false association to this branch of a worldwide restaurant brand.
Din Tai Fung are primarily known for their dumplings, described as the “world’s tastiest dumplings” by celebrity chef Ken Hom, if the marketing on Din Tai Fung’s website is anything to go by. Scratch the surface a little and you’ll find the Financial Times source article that this quote was likely derived from, where it’s actually Ken Hom’s late friend and apparently Chinese cooking legend Fu Pei Mei who’d made that assertion. More accurately speaking, Ken Hom referred to the ones that he had at the Din Tai Fung restaurant in Taipei as “superb”.
The dumplings are made and served to exacting standards. To paraphrase the marketing literature, their dumpling pastry are delicately hand made to weigh between 4.8g – 5.2g and to be exactly 6cm in diameter. They’re stuffed with filling to weigh 20.6g – 21.4g, cooked within three minutes and served to your tables in seconds.
Then 10 – 60 seconds are spent composing and taking photographs per dish by food bloggers at an angle of 20 to 90 degrees below the horizontal, relative to the camera. Occasionally a smartphone is employed with the dominant hand for a further 10 – 60 seconds to tweet a comment and possibly a photo about the meal.
There are a variety of dumplings that are served during our first course.
- Pork Dumpling Xiao Long Bao ($10.80 for 8) – delicate dumplings with a luscious, gelatin-rich soup as well as their Crab Meat, Crab Roe & Pork variant ($17.80 for 8).
- Vegetarian Jiao Zi ($8.80 for 6) – spinach & mushroom dumplings with a subtle flavour.
- Prawn & Pork Shao Mai ($9.80 for 4) – another soup dumpling with the appearance of a sea anemone.
- Prawn & Pork Wonton in Spicy Sauce ($8.80 for 6) – delicious steamed wantons wading in a pool of a spicy and slightly acidic sauce.
Overall the dumplings are quite nice. My favourite is the pork xiao long bao with its tender pork mince filling, rich soup & delicate pastry that tears open easily if a degree of care is not exercised when removing them from the bamboo steamer baskets.
A selection of the other dishes of the day:
- Hot & Sour Soup with Shredded Pork ($7.80) – Hot in this case must refer to the temperature it was served at as I didn’t find it at all spicy. Sour on the otherhand, now that it had in spades!
- Crumbed Chicken Fillet ($7.80) – It’s deep fried crumbed meat. Need I say more?
- Jumbo Prawns with Pineapple ($22.80) – I’m fine with sweet & creamy, prawn & creamy, and prawn & sweet. Not all three together though. I found the combination too weird for my tastes.
- Silken Tofu with Pork Floss & Century Egg ($6.80) – This looks far more intimidating than it actually tastes, with soy sauce being the predominant flavour. If cold, soft & silky are your thing, then you’ll probably like this dish.
For dessert, there was the Golden Red Bean Bread & its equivalent with a taro filling ($5.80 for 2, per dish). Both of these were pretty nice with its crisp & chewy deep fried exterior, capped on either end with toasted sesame seeds, and a pasty filling with its subtle sweetness.
We were also offered a Scoop of Ice-cream ($3.80 per scoop), with a number of Asian flavours. I’d opted for the Black Sesame ice-cream, which tastes much like the one from Passionflower if you’ve had it before. Simon from Simon Food Favourites squeezes out an extra scoop from our obliging hosts & ops for Green Tea & Cookies & Cream.
All in all, the lion dance performance and the meal at Din Tai Fung made for a nice way to celebrate Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year for you non-denominational types.
the heart of food dined at Din Tai Fung courtesy of PPR.
Din Tai Fung
World Square Shopping Centre
Level 1, Shop 11.04 , 644 Geogre St, Sydney (up the stairs in the open courtyard)
(02) 9264 6010