I am still struggling to find decent dim sum or a good place for yumcha in Melbourne despite my efforts over the last decade. On the occasion that I have a positive experience, inconsistencies on subsequent return visits lead to disappointment.
I kept being told to give Tao Tao House a go, with several friends arguing over its position in the Top Three dim sum joints in Melbourne. So finally, I drove down early on a Sunday to check out what the fuss was about. In fact, I was a little too enthusiastic and arrived early at 10.30am only to find that the doors stay shut till 11am. A brief detour for coffee was necessary just to get out of the winds, but by the time I returned at 11.10am, the place was already 3/4 packed out. So my early-bird plan wasn’t so unusual after all. My mistake was not to make a prior booking so my party was shown to the table right by the entrance and I was copping wind gusts each time a customer walked through the door.
Still, I was pleasantly surprised that the food trolleys did make their way to my table constantly, and not when they were down to the last plates. This is an indicator of good service, unlike some other restaurants in which lazy service staff tend to serve outwards from their pick-up point . But then again, you’re in a Chinese restaurant, you expect good service – are you serious?
So let’s quickly jump onto the food trolley.
First on my plate were the siewmai, har gow and braised chicken feet. The siew mai was of a nice texture, firm to bite into but with a bit of responsive bounce. The use of diced pork instead of a blended mix that cheap restaurants resort to gives it a slightly chunky structure. The prawn meat was fresh, and it was steamed well enough to preserve the overall juiciness. The har gow skin I found too thick and more of a distraction to the use of the sweet prawn meat. The chicken feet was braised nicely, good flavours, but wasn’t tender enough for my own personal liking.
This was actually nice, although I don’t know what it’s actually called. Still I can tell you what’s in it. It’s got fish and prawn meat layers on top of a piece of green pepper, then topped with a black bean sauce. As a combination, it worked VERY well. My dad thought the green pepper was undercooked, but I like the slight taste of the raw green and think it adds a welcome twist of freshness.
The carrot cake was nice, rather run of the mill sort. No complaint. At this point, would have been good it we were provided more chilli sauce instead of the measly single that lasted us for the entire meal despite requests for more.
I love ox tripe, and it didn’t matter that I thought this was under-flavoured or under-garnish, I still finished this order. Needed more chilli or dark soy flavourings I thought.
The pork bun is one of THE key dishes that dictate the level of pleasure you derive from a yumcha session. At Tao Tao House, the filling is prepared very nicely. The interplay of sweet and savoury flavours stemming from the sticky sauce that envelopes the BBQ’d pork chunks. But the bun is also about the bun. The bun was too thick, which wouldn’t have been a major down-side except that the bun had the tendency to cling to your teeth. This is a major NO-NO in the circles of bun making. I might not be a full-time bun connossieur, but I do take this aspect of buns seriously. Hey, if the Emperor would call for the chef’s head due to a displeasing bun, that’s no laughing matter!
The best offering of the meal was undoubtedly the custard tarts, and I now wish I had ordered extra portions. Firstly, the pastry was crumbly and flakey, but still had the strength to keep together when you picked it up. The custard was of a tender texture, and close to melting in your mouth. Bravo!
On the other hand, the custard bun was a huge let down. Same issue regarding the bun layer, but the custard within was dry and sugary sweet. Do note that I rank all custard buns against the lofty standard which is served at Singapore’s Shangri-La Shang Palace.
Overall, Tao Tao House is one of the better yumcha restaurants in Melbourne where you can expect that fresh ingrediants were used in the preparation of the dim sum. It is relatively cheap for small – moderate eaters. Remember to make your reservation! It’s a relaxing place that isn’t over-crowded, perfect for a group catch-up without having to wreck your brains about the food