Something for everyone:The Potsticker will encourage debate about everyone’s favourite dishes.
There’s a dogmatic debate at our table over the merits of the potsticker dumpling that lends this suburban restaurant its name. I’m on the anti-compliment side – but I’m outvoted by three. It’s a personal preference, I know.
Said dumpling is of excellent quality and the trio love its dense, chewy texture, the firmness of its beef filling and the herbaceous burst of ginger and black-rice vinegar.
It’s plump and prettily presented on a glass tray, with a swirl of fine-leafed parsley, its base carefully caramelised and its outer casing steamed to a lustrous pearl.
My family takes its dumplings seriously and insists the potsticker is a winner.
There are nine dumplings on The Potsticker’s menu and, because there are so many experts at our table, we’ve also ordered steamed Shanghai juicy pork dumpling, the laksa juicy pork dumpling and the nyonya fried-prawn dumpling.
The prawn dumpling is my pick, its golden outer casing the perfect foil for the tender, sweet filling and its rich, savoury sauce of lemongrass, ginger and orange peel.
The juicy pork dumpling gets a nod of consensus. It appeals from its arrival in the bamboo steamer, its fine, translucent casing gathering gently to a plump, rounded peak. The meat is as juicy as promised, but the joy is in its perfectly portioned dash of full-flavoured broth floating beneath the skin.
Nyonya fried-prawn dumpling
At The Potsticker, the glitz of the surroundings harks back to remembered Asian childhood experiences. In one sense, it’s every Chinese restaurant that staked its claim through our suburbs in the 1970s, but its linen-covered tables, quality crockery and glassware step things up a notch or two and the variety of the pan-Asian menu is more sophisticated.
In the same vein as its predecessors though, the service is thorough, efficient and charmingly eager to please.
Much of the finesse at this six-month-old diner comes from the fastidiousness of its owner, Eric Wong (ex-Cina and Sung’s Kitchen), who has been travelling and planning – and working at the Spanish and Portuguese-themed Bouzy Rouge – since he sold his successful High Street, Armadale, restaurant Cina two years ago.
Cina was bought by an investor and Wong was contractually obliged to wait for two years before opening a new venue within two kilometres.
With chef Paul Chan at the helm, Wong has expanded the offering from the mostly Malaysian and Cantonese cuisine at Cina, adding a little more Japanese and Western influence to the vast menu.
His years of passionate wine and tea collecting are in evidence in the extensive, impressive wine list, which includes a generous by-the-glass assembly, and the quality of the tea he imports himself.
After the dumpling frenzy (the hungry teenager insisted on a second round of the juicy pork dumplings), a quality rendition of the classic crab claw and thorough approval of the spicy Indonesian prawn crackers, the debate over the huge list of mains is animated.
Pan-fried potsticker beef dumpling
The less adventurous opt to share a Cantonese beef, the Cina expert requests the previously admired Asian basil chicken; there’s a request for a shredded duck salad; and I’ve got my eye on a previously untried Malaysian dish, a combination of string beans, belacan (shrimp paste) and minced chicken.
The Cantonese beef was presented a little like it might have been in the 1970s (sans butterflies carved from carrot).
The flat, white plate held an arc of sliced tomatoes on one side, a neat line of snow peas on the other, and a pile of glossy, saucy beef. The meat was tender and of delicate texture, the sauce vividly coloured and richly flavoured. It was a good, safe bet.
The Asian basil chicken, served in a dark earthen dish, was fragrant with its primary herb and the ginger, spring onion, sweet soy sauce and mild nip of chilli in pleasing harmony.
The shredded duck salad was an inspired choice and a simple combination in which East met West rather amiably. Finely torn pieces of superbly roasted duck and toasted pinenuts were tossed across a nest of mixed leaves and draped in a creamy soy-enhanced dressing.
The Malaysian string-bean dish wasn’t particularly pretty looking, but its intense flavours and contrasting textures were a pleasant surprise: slightly oily beans scattered with a heady shrimp-flavoured tumble of minced chicken.
The Potsticker is an excellent place for a family debate over food preferences. Just make sure you’re tucked away in a quiet, screened corner and not at the main table under the bright mauve lights of the central blossom tree.
Roasted shredded duck salad
58 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield North
Cuisine \ Asian Head chef \ Paul Chan
Prices \ Entrees $5.80-$12.90; mains $16.80-$32
Open \ Daily noon-3pm; 5.30-10pm
Phone \ 9500 8819
The Verdict \ Worth a look
A neon-lit blossom tree sits in the centre of a shimmering tabletop fountain that serves as a large communal table, seating about two dozen diners around its border. It casts a gentle mauve pallor over the room and its sparkling lights are reflected in a wall of endless mirrors. Timber
screens and beaded curtains portion up the space, adding to the mood of oriental elegance and the sense of occasion. Along the rear wall there’s an ornate timber bar and, tucked behind it, a mysterious and elaborate temperature-controlled wine storage room and an impressive display of tea paraphernalia that hint at the owner’s passions.