When dinner starts with dumplings and ends in deep fried ice cream, you know you're onto a good thing. Of course, you don't have to tell that to Hutong — they've known it all along. Their two restaurants, one in Chinatown and the other in Prahran, have found a happy place between dirt cheap and fine cuisine in Melbourne's world of Chinese dining. And their newest venture, East, is an extension of the Hutong philosophy, bringing a slightly different experience — and more dumplings — to the top eastern end of the city.
East is a little bit more fancy than the Hutong we're used to; bespoke lighting, black steel tables and wall planters complement a jade and concrete colour palette. Clever design breaks up the room, giving the 50-something diners an intimacy not usually afforded with casual Chinese dining. There's a refined wine list and lychee martinis, as well. It's definitely less Chinatown and more Little Collins, but — whether it's the fact that the restaurant sits underneath the Sheraton — there's still something that seems a little conservative about it all.
Although looks may differ, there's still very much a constant here: dumplings. Their signature wontons in chilli sauce have (thankfully) made it across to East's menu (albeit at a slightly higher price of $11.80 for eight), as have their coveted xiao long bao. But before you dive in to the tried and trusted, consider some other sharing alternatives new to East. The steamed Szechuan chicken roti rolls are Westerner-friendly with a healthy amount of spice to awaken your taste buds, and the fried potato balls are one of those deliciously bad deep fried foods you wish you never became acquainted with.
The chilli stir-fried string beans ($16.80) are technically an accompaniment, but they come out as one of the best dishes on the menu. That's not to say you should skip the big stuff though — the Shanghainese pork spare ribs come out looking like a monstrosity, but the pieces of pork are juicy, fatty, and served with super soft bao pillows for enjoyment on-high.
And enjoyment is what it's all about at East — enjoyment of space and service, as well as food and wine. So while you're at it, enjoy some deep fried ice cream without being hounded out of your seat. You can still go to Hutong, but now you can go East as well.