It is really difficult for the branch of an original to hit the same mark. While there are many good examples in recent times of how to get it right (or very close) with the likes of Messina, Belle’s Hot Chicken, and Fonda for a few, it becomes more difficult where the process is especially skilled.
HuTong presents an intriguing case, because the original is exceptional, and because the art of imitation seems more difficult in relation to dumplings than other less exacting dishes. The bonus for the Prahran branch of HuTong is not needing to drive into the city, relatively easy (and free) parking along Commercial Road, and a larger restaurant meaning there’s no need to wait for a table.
Casting my eye around the ground floor Cullen Hotel lodgings of HuTong Prahran it appears this venue is at least twice as large as the one on Market Lane in the City. There is a large range of dishes available, and specific inclusion of “Peking Duck” in the name, but we are here to compare the dumplings.
We order some of the usual suspects such as shao long bao (soup dumplings), pan fried pork dumplings, the prawn/scallop/pork dumplings, and in addition we try the Peking duck dumplings. It is difficult to put my finger on it, and it could be purely being in a different location, but the shao long bao wrapper is just that touch firmer in this serve. The soup and pork filling is still wonderful.
The pan fried pork dumplings are served in their usual HuTong way, connected by the pancake like base that has lightly covered the pan. It is novel, but I also like the crunch. In saying that, the dumplings themselves could have been fried for that bit longer, as some are still a touch soft.
The combination dumplings of prawn, scallop and pork are generously filled with excellent quality base ingredients, and the dumpling wrapper in this case is perfect. However, the Peking duck dumplings are too glutinous, providing an unsatisfying mouthfeel, and the duck itself is not as juicy and gamey as you would expect. Catherine doesn’t even bother with her second one, but I give mine another go and it is slightly better, but we would not order this dish again.
The Thursday night crowd has now pretty much filled HuTong with a combination of couples, small and large groups. We notice that many tables are ordering from the main menu and leaving aside the dumplings which would be sacrilege at the original restaurant. The crowd alone is a good indication that the locals are appreciating having this city institution available closer to home.
While there is a tightrope to walk when expanding a brand known for its skill and quality, I think HuTong has done a good job with its foray into Prahran. The relative ease of dining here as opposed to the city makes it a real option for everyday dining, but it is unlikely to ever have the same place in my heart that its city sister does.