Din Tai Fung, World Square Sydney CBD
I had been to one of the several outlets of Din Tai Fung in Singapore, but always perceived the first branch in Sydney was a larger version than most of its peers around the world. Feedback I received had been varying, depending on when the visit was made and what was served, but one constant factor was the always fully occupied tables in the midst of meal time. The business was started by a Taiwanese, but the cuisine harks back to the Chinese mainland, with a combination of central and southern Chinese inspired dian xin (or literally, "touches of the heart"). How does Din Tai Fung differ from the stereotyped Cantonese restaurant offering almost similar fare? Maybe it is the siew loong pau, that dainty dumpling which hides a soupy inside, or is it the dan dan hand made noodles, taken in a swirling mix of chili oil laden gravy? In such equivalents of China's traditional fast food business models, service was relatively fast once you have ticked off your preferences on paper soon after arrival. As for yum cha, there are no bookings taken ahead and customers come as they are and get seated. They also allow for take aways at the end of the meal. Even if we came early at 11am, by 1230pm, the place was packed and buzzing.
The day twelve of us had lunch there, the heavens had persistently produced windy and torrential rain, which we could view through the large glass partitions of Din Tai Fung. Ceilings seem to be higher than in typical Chinatown joints and Mandarin is the preferred lingua franca. There are the old favourites like piping hot steamed buns, with choices like minced pork coated with greens. There seems to be less oiliness in such food when compared with Hong Kong styled lunches. I particularly liked the condiments you can mix yourself on small side plates, with an emphasis on julienned ginger slices and Sichuan chili oil. Like Cantonese food, however, they continue the emphasis on fresh ingredients but the food is overall more light on the palate. I reckon such degustation of small and varied dishes is a safe bet for recovery after a late and long night the evening before - provided you make sure you order tea and not be pressed by the offer of alcoholic drinks.
There can be various sources of similar food all over the inner western and north-western suburbs of greater Sydney. The choices at Din Tai Fung may appear more standard and less exotic, but welcomed by mainstream demographics of Australian society. The elderly and the kids are safe with this cuisine, especially when they are steamed and come with stunningly green cuts. South-east Asians can find these possibly bland, but then there is always the chili oil on standby. Apart from World Square, there are smaller outlets at the Star Cafe Court in the casino complex at Darling Harbour and on level 5 Food Court of the Westfield at Pitt Street Mall. My top choice items to must have at Din Tai Fung are the steamed pork dumplings; mango pudding dessert; stir fried long beans; churros styled Chinese sesame seed paste snacks; and silken tofu with a garnish of dried pork floss.