Taiwanese dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung arrives in Dubai and executes a rather rare combination of very little pre-hype and advertisement, yet queues of genuine, hungry, cash-holding diners waiting for a table to become free.
DTF has over one hundred locations around the world with a few even boasting a few Michelin stars to their name. They are the new kid in Dubai, yet come armed with some serious accolades and substance. Of course with that, comes a certain amount of expectation and there will be inevitable cries of “it’s not the same as Singapore!” and “Service is better in LA!” across the interweb. Every restaurant brand will and has faced this, and it’s because dining experiences are so subjective and personal. Plus it is an excellent way for bloggers to boast about how well travelled they are whilst simultaneously coming across as pompous and egocentric. I am guilty of it in almost every review.
Recently opened in the brand new Mall Of The Emirates expansion, DTF are the experts in soups, dumplings and noodles. They are next to the VOX cinemas and a few shops down from Tom and Serg’s new, yet remarkably familiar Common Grounds gastro café.
(By the way, congratulations to MOE for the expansion and for securing the new Apple retail store – huge scoop against the competitors)
Din Tai Fung is easily the busiest restaurant in MOE at the moment. There is consistently a queue of dumpling-hungry diners salivating impatiently over their table pagers. And what is even more impressive is the nationality of clientele – majority are Asian, which always says a lot about the authenticity of their menu. You don’t see hordes of Italians gesticulating madly outside Al Forno or baguette wielding Frenchmen protesting outside La Petite Maison.
This was a business dinner, so one of the rare reviews where the Serb’s input has not been available and therefore profound insights will be lacking.
Anyway, Din Tai Fung is a no-frills restaurant experience. Fill in the menu card, hand it to one of the many members of staff buzzing around and sit back and wait, because it’s worth it. Within minutes, little morsels of heaven will appear at your table all freshly made by the “Nike style” production factory of dumpling makers in the back. I am sure you could put iPhone component parts in their hands instead of gyoza skins and fillings, and they would be just as efficient at producing the new iPhone 7. Maybe that’s why Apple opened their store in MOE?
When it comes to the food, please understand that Asian cuisine without pork is a little like Wimbledon without Roger Federer – still totally watchable, but not nearly as good. Obviously, TDF in MOE doesn’t do pork, which will make it very different to the international branches.
The key when ordering at TDF is to order lots of different things until you know what exactly you like. The prices are not too bad, so feel free to go a little wild. My colleague and I ordered the chicken and shrimp fried rice which was deliciously greasy, yet surprisingly light. The bok choi was a replacement for the sold out spinach and was crunchy, fresh and quite spectacular in its simplicity.
The mutton pot stickers were great. The best way to describe them is like fried gyoza dumplings in a blister pack – you simply break them off the strip and pop them into your mouth.
Waitresses arrived from the kitchen with trays and trays of steam baskets, and a supervisor dispatched them with military precision to various tables in the busy restaurant. Rumour has it that the Dabbawala were flown in and exclusively trained the staff. OK, I just made that up – but they were pretty efficient. The décor is really nothing to get excited about, but this is a trait across all their locations, and the leasing team at MOE probably conceded to the fact that they were lucky to get tables that matched and didn’t wobble.
Our perfectly tender, fluffy buns arrived steaming hot, and they had all the characteristics of a great bun. The skin had that slight stretch; that subtle resistance, before giving way and revealing the piping hot filling within. The lamb filling was fatty and flavourful, and for me, they instantly justified the wait for a table. The red bean curd has always been a favourite of mine from when I spent time in Korea (see what I did there?!), and it was just as good in the middle of the desert as it was in Gangnam square.
The shrimp and chicken shumai were slight question marks for me. The skin was sticky and chewy, and the stuffing was good but nothing more. They were difficult to hate, but equally difficult to get excited about as well.
Din Tai Fung exploded in popularity due to one of those freak cult following phenomena that occasionally happen to restaurants. However, with over one hundred locations worldwide now, it is difficult to maintain that status and appeal to the mainstream at the same time. Not impossible, mind, and if the lines out the doors in MOE are anything to go by, they seem to have managed it rather well.
Try not to get caught up in the hype of DTF – if you have never been before, lower your expectations and go with a open mind. They perhaps won’t fulfil the promise of the greatest soup dumplings you’ll ever have, but Dai Tin Fung is definitely no ordinary dumpling house.