Dumplings have taken over Auckland, and with the success of the dumpling eateries on Dominion Road, it was a matter of time before dumplings gains sophistication and are elevated onto fine dining tables.
Mandarin Dumpling + Bar is the latest modern Chinese restaurant to burst onto the Auckland scene. It is located on Fort Lane, down the stairs into a moodily lit, industrial space. It’s trendily decorated with traditional Chinese furnishings (abacus, wood and wicker chairs and antique-looking painted cabinets), a very stylish hideout. Think Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. They just need a couple of tiffin carriers and vintage floral thermos to complete the look.
While there were 4 chefs in the kitchen, the main issue we found was the lack of servers. There was only 2 wait staff for the evening, who also had to bartend. One of the staff was obviously quite stressed by it all; he was terse, dumping drinks on the table and barely engaged with the diners. Fortunately, he did improve as the evening progressed.
The menu is divided into dumplings (4 offered, in both steamed and pan-fried options), small sharing plate, large sharing plates and vegetables. We decided on the pan-fried prawn and crab dumplings in squid ink wrapper ($8) and steamed beef, onion and beetroot dumplings ($6) as starters. The server forgot our soy sauce, and we had to wait a while to hail someone, and then wait for what seemed like a long time for some to arrive. Both the dumplings had nice flavours, not spectacular, but I enjoyed them.
For our mains, we got 2 large dishes and a vegetable dish. It was actually too much food for both of us, and could have easily fed 3 people. The roasted eggplant ($12) served cold, was absolutely delicious. The sweet-sour-salt balance was perfect, and had the slight chilli kick with the herbal taste of the coriander garnish.
I enjoyed the chicken nuggets with (intriguingly named) dried facing heaven chillies and spring onion ($22). The name comes from the growth pattern of the medium-hot, thin-skinned chillies, which grows pointing upwards. They provided a glorious burst of colour and a mild heat to the crumbed tender pieces of chicken thigh meat.
I order fried homemade tofu at every single Chinese restaurants, I’m addicted to it. Mandarin’s version is sautéed with capsicum and topped with baby daikon matchsticks & fish fragrant sauce ($18). The sticky sauce lends a savoury foil to the deep-fried tofu, which has a lovely crispy skin and soft eggy/soybean custard inside.
They don’t take bookings, but there is a private dining area around the back which can be booked for groups (though I hear the seats can be uncomfortable). Mandarin Dumpling & Bar is very civilised, intimate surroundings to indulge in carefully considered and prepared Western Chinese (Sichuan, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Hunan) cuisine.
Mandarin Dumpling & Bar
The basement, 5 Fort Lane, Auckland
Mon – Fri: 12pm – late
Sat/Sun: 5pm – late