It's no secret that Melbourne's dumpling game is strong. So if you're going to use the word in your restaurant name, you'd better be bringing the goods. As the latest addition to the buzzing Smith Street stretch south of the Grace Darling, Bowl Bowl Dumpling has made that very call, and passed the test.
Inside, the double storefront space has a hipster-friendly, modern zen feel, with earthy tones and verdant foliage interspersed with pops of colour. The exposed brick walls, pendant lights and elegant Japanese clay tableware all show signs of effort. While it doesn't always feel cohesive, it's certainly one of the more comfortable dumpling dining experiences you can expect at this price range, with not a plastic table in sight.
Those plump little pillows are, of course, the stars of the menu, but you can kick things off with a few Pan-Asian starters — perhaps some nicely battered salt and pepper calamari ($8.50), or a serve of vegetarian spring rolls ($6.50).
With seven dumpling dishes on offer, there's an option to satisfy most, and all but one come with a share-friendly 10 to a serve. Take a few friends and a bit of an appetite and you can walk away having sampled the lot.
Dumpling fans will know that xiao long bao are something of a technical yardstick, and Bowl Bowl's version of the soup-filled buns definitely don't disappoint. Touted here as 'Water Bomb' dumplings, they're delicate and juicy, ready to burst with fragrant, gingery pork broth ($14.50 for eight). In terms of technique, the gluten-free, Italian-style chicken dumplings ($13.50 for 10 pieces) don't quite hit the same mark, with skins a little on the thick side, but the fennel filling is tasty and fresh and the combo is a refreshing change from the norm. Then, those really in the mood for some feasting can get stuck into a handful of bigger dishes, like the Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce ($18) or fried rice ($18.50).
The drinks list is a step up from the usual dumpling dinner offering — beers are basic, but there's a handful of Australian wines, all hovering around $9 for a glass and $35 for a bottle. Service, too, trumps that at the flourescent-lit set, with attentive, friendly staff showing off some practised moves. This is hardly the dumpling experience you're used to, but a meal at Bowl Bowl is sure to convert you.