When I think of dumpling bars, chipped teapots spring to mind. I think of wobbly tables and watery soy, a plate of salt and pepper squid that was never ordered (but they won't take back), and finally the bill, so absurdly cheap, how can this possibly be right? Then there's Lotus Dumpling Bar, a glamorous 270-seater dining room with pretty blue day lounges and brasserie chairs, attentive wait staff and bathrooms so lovely you'll make the effort to go twice. Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Chinatown anymore.
It's easy to start the evening a little sceptical when you notice that eight dumplings are going to set you back $25. I mean that's a banquet for two in Ashfield right there. Thankfully they're good, and by good, I mean some of the best I've ever had, in a long and illustrious career of dumpling eating. Gather round Mr Wong, Din Tai Fung and Tim Ho Wan, you've got lots to learn.
Start your evening with the mixed dumpling plate ($25), a pretty array of siu mai, crystal clear gow gee and silky dumpling purses in blemish-free skins that look like perfect little jellyfish. While the squirty soup-bellied xiao long bao ($9) reach new levels of perfection, it's the jade dumplings that steal the show; their gossamer skins stained green with spinach, and from inside spills a tumble of ingredients, thickly cut shiitake stems, scallops, prawns and vegetables that will take you completely by surprise. For the perfect accompaniment, try the Asian soup-inspired Tom Yum Yum cocktail ($18) which features a mix of Wyborowa vodka, Havana three-year-old rum, lemongrass, fresh chilli, kaffir lime leaves, coconut and palm sugar; it's every bit as delicious as it is clever.
From here, we make the move over to the food menu, starting with a knockout wok-fried pork with fermented chilli and black bean ($27) or change it up for the wok-fried wallaby rump if you're feeling game. On the restaurant's recommendation, we try the crispy eggplant ($16) coated in a thick, crunchy batter, drizzled in honey and sprinkled in sesame seeds, although it's a little too sweet for my taste. Instead, save room for the lemon myrtle creme caramel ($12) which puts us in absolute raptures with its golden disc of syrup and the hints of warm Asian flavours such as lemongrass and ginger.
You've heard of high tea; well from 3-5pm Lotus serve their own brand of Lo Tea, an afternoon tea ceremony which includes a pot from their signature range of teas, handmade dumplings, artisan chocolates and Asian-inspired sweets such as sticky rice balls with sesame and chocolate and purple sweet potato and yam cake. You can keep your crumby cucumber sandwiches QVB. How I'll ever go back to Chinese lunch specials after this I'll never know.