Finding ourselves in the city on a Sunday night before a music gig, The Boy, his friend Jan and myself were aimlessly wandering Swanston Street looking for a place to eat. Bereft of my handy dandy list of good food places, I was struggling to remember if I was in the vicinity of anything truly fabulous (I am dead useless without that list, I truly am).
Jan came to a shuffling stop at the corner of Lonsdale. “Are we heading anywhere in particular?” he asked.
I looked about, and my eye caught the frontage of Dumplings Plus. Something stirred in my mind. “Ooh, someone said that there is good!”
“Who?” asked The Boy.
I shrugged. “Someone on the internet.” I couldn’t remember who, still can’t.
Dumplings Plus is yet another of those cheap yet cheerful dumpling bars that proliferate the CBD (and I for one am terribly grateful for such proliferance). I was terribly keen on feeding my raving dumpling addiction, though was quite disappointed to note that there was only one veggie dumpling variety on offer, the chive dumplings. My disappointment was swiftly countered by the discovery of a dish called pan-tossed black fungus. Oh, black fungus, my most decadent fungi love, how I love to encounter you on menus. Our love affair is sadly infrequent and peppered with long absences, but when we come together, it is DYNAMITE.
When the waiter came to the table to take our order, I was extremely taken aback when, upon hearing me request the chive dumplings, he flatly said “Don’t get those, nobody likes those.” In a fluster (I’m not used to having my menu choices roundly trounced before I even get to try them), I quickly scanned the menu for something else vegetarian, opting for the hot and sour tofu as that was the first thing that caught my eye.
The boys ordered a veritable cornucopia of food between them: pork buns, Sichuan beef, a lamb soup with flat noodles, and a hefty serving of dumplings that The Boy later recalled as being “steamed and ambiguous”.
My hastily ordered hot and sour tofu, as it transpired, turned out to be a bowl of chilli-slicked soup crowned with a mountainous nest of crispy fried noodles. Underneath the noodles crowded a sea of silken tofu, chilli flecks and some crunchy little brown beans that I failed to be able to identify.
The broth was indeed both hot and sour; the crispy fried noodles provided me with much enjoyment, at least while they remained above the broth. The tofu was at that gorgeous mouth-melty consistency that I adore silken tofu for, and the little beans, well, they were entertaining in terms of texture. Unfortunately, the dish kind of soured (oh ho ho, Hayley, you are rolling in the funnies today) as I continued to eat it: once the noodles came in contact with the broth they un-crisped and became unpleasantly soggy very quickly. Soggy noodles got in the way of capturing more tofu, which was disintegrating in the broth by the time I started feeling ambivalent with the dish. In short, I got bored with it, and put it aside half-finished.
The tossed black fungus, however, held my attention as soon as it was placed in front of me. I was at first a little wary to discover it was actually a cold dish, as I’d only had cooked black fungus before, but the gorgeous things won me over, of course. It was essentially a black fungus salad, with the fungi mingling on the plate with curling sprigs of coriander, long slices of spring onions and diced chillies, all tossed with a dressing that I’m guessing was a mixture of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Light, simple, and for someone who enjoys the rubbery little darlings, a great use of black fungus.
I didn’t interrogate the boys as to how they enjoyed their meal until after we’d left and were meandering to the gig. Their responses were brief yet illuminating. Jan enjoyed his Sichuan beef, and that was pretty much the only real positive either of them came out with. The Boy found his soup to be, like mine, full of disparate elements that ended up disappointing. The dumplings were deemed “okay”, the buns “average” (I’d figured this, having noticed that both ended up fleecing the buns of their meaty centres while leaving behind the very thick dough). The funny thing was, the more we discussed the experience, the lower our verdicts became. As The Boy summerised, “if mild contemplation can lessen one’s sentiment, then it probably wasn’t that good to begin with.”
So, Dumplings Plus, a resounding “meh” from the three of us. Probably worth popping into if you’re a fan of black fungus, but otherwise I’m not that fussed with returning.
269 Swanston Street, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9663 8181