I've been craving dumplings. If you follow me on twitter, I'm sure you have already heard. I'm not sure why, but I could have eaten dumplings every day this month. That's right- could have, not have. Therein lies the problem, which I must admit would have created other problems (hello ever expanding arse), but still a problem in itself.
It's funny that I can easily find good dumpling stashes in Melbourne and Sydney, yet when it comes to finding dumpling here, I am very lost. Good yum cha places do exist, but where in Brisbane does one go to get a good serve of dumplings after dark?
I started by asking my ever resourceful resource, twitter. Again the results were inconclusive. A few people mentioned a couple of names, Bamboo Basket at South Bank being one of them, but aside from that, there was a real lack of suggestion an the suggestions were mainly vague- 'I'm sure there is a dumpling place at Sunnybank - somewhere' ... When I tried to follow up the lead of Yong He Dumpling Restaurant, I came to a dead end as their phone had been disconnected and there was little written about them online, except another restaurant being listed with the same address. Kay, one of my friends who is usually in the know, suggested that Yong He still exists, but under another name. In any event, I wasn't planning on driving to Sunnybank in the rather nippy weather to find out otherwise.
So, I went with the suggestion of Bamboo Basket in South Bank, where I have dined before, but only ordered one serve of dumplings, so thought I would give it a go.
As my search for dumplings would suggest, good Chinese fare is particularly hard to come by in Brisbane. Bamboo Basket specialise in Shanghainese food, but there are a smattering of menu items that are more mainstream. Being located in South Bank, Bamboo Basket is a bit of a spiffy joint, much more glam than the average Chinese restaurant. The glassed open kitchen which overlooks the street provides much interest for passers by who can look in to see the chefs stretching pulling noodles or folding dumplings.
On the Saturday night that we visit, we arrive early, about 6:30 p.m. and the place is packed. They don't take bookings for 2 people, but C and I wrongly thought we would be fine at such an early timeslot. The manager takes our number and tells us he will give us a call when there is a table free, 'shouldn't be long,' he assures us. True to his word, the phone rings about ten minutes later and we head back to the waiting table.
There was no need to muck around perusing the menu, C and I knew what we were there for- the dumplings, we just had to decide which versions we would be having.
Xiao Long Bao (4 for $7.9) were an obvious starting point. When done properly, I would vote that Xiao Long Bao are the ultimate dumpling- flavoursome meat and soupy insides. Bamboo Basket's version was solid- thick skin encasing the soupy inside, which burst into my mouth when popped, but I would note that they were a little large to fit in my mouth all at once. I was SOUPer happy (sorry) that ALL of the dumplings remained completely sealed until we ate them- it's so disappointing to find that half are busted before you get to them.
Next obvious choice was the pan fried pork dumpling (6 for $11.9), which are also an old favourite. Having to break through the 'pan' of dumplings makes for impressive presentation, however, I was less excited about the base of the dumplings which were still quite doughy.
I love when the base is a little crunchier- it just perfects the dumpling. That being said, the filling for these dumplings was pleasantly plump although not as packed with flavour as I'd have liked.
Chicken water dumplings (8 for $11.9) had good texture. The outside skin was aldente and the fillings were plain and simple, but nice. I'm a bit of a fan of boiled dumplings, they aren't as flavoursome as their fried or steamed cousins, but I like them all the same.
Steamed pork and prawn dumplings caught C's eye, so we ordered a serve of those which were 4 for $7.9. These dumplings lacked distinction and the frozen prawns that went into the mixture added unwanted liquid. I really couldn't place any of the other flavours and these really didn't tickle anyone's fancy.
Steamed seafood dumplings (3 for $7.9) are also a fave of C's- he orders them almost everywhere we go, even though there are very few that live up to his standards. Unfortunately, these didn't. The skin was quite good - a nice texture, but the insides tasted a little bit odd, like there was something missing. They weren't overly offensive or anything, but really weren't a stand out, and honestly, I would expect them to be considering they are more than $2.5 a piece.
Even though we were on a dumpling binge, we were able to find space for some shallot pancake ($7.9). These shallot pancakes were more similar to a fried shallot doughnut, and were rounded instead of the usual flat pancake style. There were crunchy on the outside, and were filled to the brim with shallot filling. Although a little different to any other shallot pancake I've tried, these were not unpleasant and filled us to the brim.
Service at Bamboo Basket was friendly but patchy. After waiting a long time for our orders to be taken, we eventually got the attention of the drinks Waiter and he wrote down our orders. Although the staff were pleasant, when you miss out on things like water, despite asking a couple of times then giving up, it signifies that things need to run a little more smoothly than they do. In fairness to Bamboo Basket, they were extremely busy, but I noted that it was not just our table that missed out or had orders mixed up.
Something else worth mentioning is the tourist tax Bamboo Basket have slapped onto their prices. Whilst they are not outrageous, they are significantly more expensive than you would expect to pay at any usual dumpling place. I'd imagine that being located at South Bank would come with a hefty price tag, so obviously the diners have to cover that through the prices. If you are prepared to go suburban, you will get more bang for your buck.
Whilst some elements of Bamboo Basket weren't great, we did have an overall pleasant evening, and most elements were good. It is the best Chinese place I have come across close to the city. I would go back to Bamboo Basket and see if the problems we encountered were a result of being overly busy or just standard. I have tried a larger section of the menu on previous visits but wanted to keep this post dumpling specific. Bamboo Basket are a nice restaurant, located centrally and have some good dumplings on offer with the Xiao Long Bao, Chicken water dumplings and the pan fried pork being the highlights.
When to go: If you are in Bris City or close by and are craving dumplings.
Tell me readers - Where do you go for a dumpling fix?
189 Grey St
South Brisbane QLD 4101
07 3844 0088