We Love Dumpling

Xiao long bao (Shanghai steamed pork mini bun).
Xiao long bao (Shanghai steamed pork mini bun). Photo: Arsineh Houspian

320 Clayton Rd Clayton, VIC 3168

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Opening hours Daily 11am-9.30pm
Features Cheap Eats
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9548 8695

It's hard to get past item No.1: Shanghai steamed pork mini bun, aka xiao long bao. Quite apart from their steaming, soupy, porky plumpness, they're generally so adored that to glide past them would be like a 10-year-old girl ignoring One Direction on the footpath. It's not going to happen.

The xiao long bao here are as good as any I've had at big-name dumpling bars in town. Nibble a hole in the thin pastry to release the rich, oil-beaded broth onto your soup spoon, slurp and savour the slightly peppery pork meatball. A serve of those puts the dumpling count at eight, and the dollar count at $7.80. That is worth squealing with delight over.

So, to item No.2 on the 120-dish menu: pork and crabmeat xiao long bao. Though similar, the sweetness of the crabmeat, infused in the broth, distinguishes them from the straight pork ones enough to order those as well. They're $9.30 a serve. Dumpling tally: 16.

Heads down: Diners at We Love Dumpling.
Heads down: Diners at We Love Dumpling. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

There's a path from the kitchen at the back of the restaurant to the dumpling-making station in the window. Cooks wearing showercap-hairnets might trickle out of the kitchen carrying empty bamboo baskets, then head back with a fresh load.

Other dumplings that might be ferried to the kitchen include vegetable dumplings. There's a slight green tinge to the thick pastry, which is made with the Chinese spinach cooking water ("Healthier"). Inside is the finely shredded spinach, vermicelli and mushroom. They come steamed or fried, 15 to a serve ($8.50) and are best with a squirt of vinegar or soy.

The sauce basket and tea flask are on every table, and every table is communal when it's busy (particularly at lunch). You might be offered seats next to or opposite strangers at this humble little 40-seater. There's nothing look-at-me about We Love Dumpling (they didn't even want to be profiled here). The white-tile floors and high-backed black vinyl chairs are neat and functional, yet the place stands out for its good food and service (tablet ordering and personalised service from Paul, the owner, who visits each table).

If you manage to show some restraint, and not have three kinds and 31 dumplings on the table, it's worth exploring the rest of the menu – the majority of it $10 or less. A fragrant noodle soup is chock-full with large fillets of fried white fish. There's ma-po tofu on rice, spicy-hot gong-bao chicken, and glistening green Chinese broccoli stir-fried with garlic. 

On a street with heaps of good, cheap restaurants, it's hard to go past this one.

Do ... Try to venture beyond the bounds of the bao. Or not.
Dish ... 
Xiao long bao (Shanghai steamed pork mini bun).
Vibe ...
 Head down, slurp up.

goodfoodunder30@theage.com.au