Restauranter and tea merchant David Zhou has expanded his Oriental Teahouse empire to Melbourne Central. The entrance is not immediately obvious from Elizabeth Steet which is a shame as the fitout is gorgeous – warm and earthy tones beckon you inside while punches of firecracker red accentuate the concept’s Chinese origins.

I have blogged about the dumplings at David Zhou’s restaurant before and so I was excited to be invited to attend a Dumpling Masterclass with David at his new store. In my family dumpling making is a communal activity and each Chinese family has their own dumpling recipes, so I was particularly interested to see what David would be teaching about his dumplings.

The evening began with one of David’s steamed barbecue pork buns and a glass of sparkling wine. I think these pork are some of the best in Melbourne (and definitely better than Golden Dragon Palace, which I would otherwise rate as the best overall yum cha in Melbourne). The filling was recognisably pork and devoid of any flourescent red food colouring and the bun itself was pull-apart fluffy without a hint of stodge or sogginess.

The official proceedings began with quick demonstration by David of his dumpling filling – finely chopped cooked bok choy, pork mince and a succession of different condiments – light soy, dark soy, sesame oil and the secret ingredient, black Chinkiang vinegar. A small tablespoon of the filling was then twisted into a little egg wrapper pouch and every person got to fill their steamer with their creations.

As you can see, with my efforts I tried to experiment with different wrapping styles (that’s another thing my family does – everyone has a distinctive style so you can tell whose handiwork you’re eating).

The test is in the eating though and these dumplings were delicious! Juicy, with a thin silky wrapping and perfectly matched with the soy dipping sauce.

I could have had a lot more of these but fortunately Oriental Teahouse‘s expert chefs presented us with another steamer of their expertly wrapped dumplings using the very-hard-to-execute translucent crystal rice wrappers.

The final course was a small taster of one of the kitchen’s signature dishes, Szechuan Pepper Chicken – tender pieces of marinated chicken breast stir-fried in a mildly numbing velvety pepper sauce. It’s on the takeaway menu for a very reasonable $12.90 and I think it’s a healthy and tasty dinner option paired with steamed rice for those days where you’re just too tired to cook after work. You could even order ahead and pick it up on your way to the train station…

To complete the meal we were given some health-giving unfurling pearls of white tea. Oriental Teahouse has a large retail section of imported teas and tea accroutements, including these elegant hand made glass mugs. Tea tastings are offered to customers and the process is taken very seriously, as you can see with the special cup-warming procedures and drainage areas built-in into the bench.

At the end of the evening I noticed that the most popular yum cha dumplings were available frozen to take home. Over the next few nights RM and I shared the crystal prawn dumplings ($18.80 for 10), very juicy and addictive shanghai juicy pork/xiang long bao ($15.80 for 10), vegetarian dumplings ($15.80), those fantastic barbecue pork buns ($11.80 for 6) and some equally excellent egg custard buns ($8.90 for 6).

These are my favourite discovery about Oriental Teahouse! The dumplings are made fresh daily and snap frozen, so that when you take them home they are comparable to restauant quality. I was very impressed that the freezing didn’t seem to impact the taste or texture of any of the dumplings, even the ones containing fresh prawn. A whole steamer only required 6-10 minutes to cook and so they make a fantastic meal when you’re in a hurry. Honestly, I cannot recommend them enough – I’m going to keep a steady stock of them in my freezer for emergencies.

Dumpling Masterclass, Oriental Teahouse, GD 068/69 Melbourne Central +61 3 9600 4230