If 2012 was the year of the taco in Sydney, 2013 is shaping up to be the year of the dumpling. Whether it's dumpling restaurants, dumpling houses or bars serving dumplings, Sydney is awash with the little bites that disappear with one gulp, soy sauce and all.
Lotus Dumpling Bar is one of these places. Though it originally opened as a bar, people quickly started flocking here for the food. Located across from the Sydney Dance Company and near the Sydney Theatre Company, there's a mix of the theatre crowd and also locals who've come for a fix of contemporary Chinese food.
The interior is smart, modern and polished. Chinese writing adorns the walls and there are hanging pot plants from the ceiling. Diners can see staff furiously making dumplings near the bar while waiters scurry back and forth with food and drinks.
Of course, we order the xiao long bao ($9 for four), otherwise known as soup dumplings. At the table next to mine, I heard a middle-aged woman explaining the xiao long bao to her friend. "They're basically dumplings filled with soup. Isn't that odd? Soup!" Odd? Perhaps. Delicious? Definitely. They're served in a bamboo steamer, and the soup inside the dumplings is comforting and oozes warmth into your mouth. Unfortunately, the dumpling skins tear slightly on the paper inside the bamboo steamer, causing some of the soup to leak out. But we're quick to forgive when the rest of our dishes arrive.
Another Chinese favourite, duck pancakes ($19.80 for four) are next. Roasted duck and cucumber brushed in hoisin wrapped in a pancake. It's good, but the duck isn't as soft and juicy as it should've been. The stir-fried rice noodles with beef, bean sprouts and garlic chives ($16 for a small) lifted the bar slightly. Think a Thai pad see ew or a Malaysian char kwey teow. The bouncy noodles, tender beef and the vegetables sprinkled with sesame seeds were a cut above their greasy namesakes served at other restaurants.
The crispy chicken with Shandong sauce ($22) was probably the best dish of the night. Chicken left on the bone with such crispy skin resting on a bed of vinegar-infused sauce. Order some rice to spoon the sauce into. This is addictive and a knockout.
Chinese restaurants are not known for their desserts (free fruit anyone?), so Lotus has called on the help of Gelato Messina in this department. Although there's no salted caramel or dulce de leche on the list, raspberry and chocolate ($9.80 each) do us fine.
Although not polished, Lotus Dumpling Bar has plenty going for it: attentive staff, a menu that doesn't spill over onto 24 pages and ambience that doesn't scream hipster.