With distinctive flavours from provincial Sichuan, Xinjiang and Yunnan, Mandarin Dumpling and Bar is where you can have authentic Chinese food in a sophisticated dining atmosphere. Located inside a basement in Fort Lane, this stylish eatery is easy to miss and is unlike most Chinese restaurants in Auckland where good Chinese food tends to be combined with not so good service. We arrived just before the dinner rush, so we managed to get the last available table. Similar to most Chinese food, the menu is designed for sharing and is split into categories such as dumplings, small dishes, large dishes and vegetables. Between the four of us, we order a total of ten plates to share.
The first dish, Taiwanese pork sausages, so happen to be the most surprising dish of the night. Slices of sweet and savory sausages flavoured with five spice and topped with Kombu seaweed and white seasome, this dish was my favourite. Unlike the typical Chinese sausages (lap chong) which is salty and hard, these slices of sausage were moist and soft. Easy to devour in seconds. The Shanghai style braised chicken wings, cooked in sweet soy sauce and five spice, were tender and flavourful. A little hard to eat with chopsticks, so I ended up using my hands, which is much more satisfying!
Dumplings is their selling point, so we decided to try one of everything (unfortunately they were sold out of the beef variety). The consensus around the table was that our favourite was the vegetarian dumplings which had egg, cabbage and vermicelli, wrapped in a spinach flavoured skin. The other two (prawn and scallop with squid ink and pork with shiitake mushroom) both had wonderful flavours and I enjoyed dipping them in black vinegar which brought out the aromas of the ingredients. I must say, I’ve had their steamed dumplings at Taste of Auckland last month and I wasn’t a huge fan as it was too moist and lacked the desirable texture. However, the pan-fried version is a completely different ball game. The crispy exterior not only gives texture but it adds flavour and keeps the dumpling intact and not soggy.
The fried home-made tofu came highly recommended and this did not disappoint. Crispy on the outside and silky on the inside, these golden cubes of tofu coated in a fish fragrant sauce was absolutely divine. This is topped off with strips of Daikon and diced capsicum. The blanched spinach with wasabi oil, served cold had a nice spicy kick and the coldness was a refreshing break.
The braised beef cheek with daikon were cooked so that the meat easily broke apart and was very tender. There were ample pieces to share amongst the table. The wok-fried cloudy bay clams with slices of ginger and spring onion was a tad too spicy for my taste but the clams were fresh and meaty and there were ample sauce to cover the clams. These two dishes was happily devour.
To say that Mandarin Dumpling and Bar has exceeded my expectation is an understatement. I went in thinking that the food will be fusion and will lack the distinctive aroma and flavours that Chinese food is so famous for. Instead, Mandarin offered us rather authentic Chinese food in a beautiful dining environment that has wonderful atmosphere and is customer friendly. However, it has a price tag to match. For the amount of money we spent, at any typical Chinese restaurants, it could have fed my family of nine and we would have gone home with boxes of leftovers, good for dinner for the coming week. Mandarin Dumpling, by comparison, is an expensive affair. With that being said, it is still worth trying, expecially if you’re uncomfortable with the rushed meal at most Chinese restaurant. It may not be a staple in my dining scene, but for great Chinese food in a posh venue, you can’t beat it!
Date: Friday 29 November | Location: 5 Fort Lane, Auckland CBD | Food: Chinese