Din Tai Fung: much ado about nothing?

Din Tai Fung - Dubai restaurantsI tried the Taiwanese steamed dumpling restaurant chain Din Tai Fung for the first time in Singapore less than a year ago. Packed and popular among locals and tourists, I had a memorable and delicious meal at the posh Marina Bay Sands branch. A bustling Din Tai Fung has now opened in Dubai at Mall of the Emirates’ new extension, right next to chef Silvena Rowe’s Omnia Baharat, a Vox cinema complex and a host of new restaurants including Tom and Serg’s Common Grounds.

Founded in Taiwan in 1972, Din Tai Fung has over 100 branches in East Asia, the US and the UK including a one Michelin-starred Hong Kong restaurant, with Mall of the Emirates their first in the Middle East, and another outpost rumoured to open at Al Ghurair Centre in Deira.

After a 30-minute wait on a Wednesday night, which I am told is typical and fairly short compared to the hour-long queue on weekends, we were finally seated and started sipping on our Chinese Oolong tea – with free refills throughout the evening. Our meal started on a high note but then went downhill dashing my hopes of repeating my wonderful Singaporean experience. Our selection of dumplings included the chicken xialongbao (soup dumplings), the vegetable and mushroom dumplings, and the shrimp and chicken pot stickers. Consisting of six dumplings each served in steamed bamboo baskets, the chicken xialongbao and the pot stickers were warm and juicy with hints of onion, garlic and ginger on point. The vegetarian dim sum lacked seasoning but the vegetables were crunchy enough. I also tried the dry beef dumplings – a somewhat disappointing rendition.

Din Tai Fung - Dubai restaurantsDin Tai Fung - Dubai restaurants

We also ordered many other dishes, the majority of which were disappointing. With the exception of stir-fried morning glory, a water spinach prevalent in East Asian cuisine (described on the menu as spinach), which was delicious, garlicky and crunchy, all other dishes were mediocre at best. The sesame peanut sauce in the Majian (sesame) noodles tasted like water with only a very subtle nutty hint; the chicken in a sweet and sour dish was dry and chewy; and shrimp egg fried rice lacked seasoning. On a second visit, I was once again disheartened – a house seaweed salad (cabbage in fact) had a soapy and bitter aftertaste and the beef chow mein was very greasy. However a simple dish of vegetable egg fried rice was tasty and well seasoned with fresh veggies – but you can get excellent renditions of this dish (and morning glory) in most Chinese restaurants.

Din Tai Fung - Dubai restaurantsDin Tai Fung - Dubai restaurantsDin Tai Fung - Dubai restaurantsDin Tai Fung - Dubai restaurants

Our desserts on both occasions consisted of mini taro buns and Din Tai Fung’s famous sweet red bean sticky rice. The taro buns consisted of a purple sweet potato paste locked inside a warm bun – spongey and moreish. The red bean sticky rice dessert was a favourite – soft, subtly sweet and airy.

Din Tai Fung - Dubai restaurantsDin Tai Fung - Dubai restaurants

All in all, the savoury dumplings championed over the other dishes. Still, when compared to those we ate in Singapore, something seemed to have been lost in translation. New restaurant aside, a major difference here is pork. Din Tai Fung Dubai does not have a pork licence while its Singaporean counterpart boasts a very large selection of pork dumplings – which is what we mostly ate. Pork is a meat that marries well with the delicate aromas, spices and texture of dumplings and is a major ingredient in East Asian cooking. It’s obviously missing in Dubai, which would have been fine if the other meat dishes were better executed. Another issue is that all of Dubai’s meat is imported frozen from Taiwan in slabs (ugh!) and is then defrosted and cooked on site – another reason perhaps why our chicken and red meat dishes were not stellar.

Din Tai Fung DubaiA note on service: our waitresses were friendly and swift. We managed to order, eat and pay in an hour! As for looks, expect a canteen; Din Tai Fung is never going to win any interior design awards, which is not really an issue for a casual mall restaurant. It’s a sharing concept and food was quickly served to the table when ready. At AED285 for nine dishes and two refills of tea, Din Tai Fung is fine and reasonably priced for a quick bite before a movie or whilst shopping, but don’t bother veering off the dumplings track. Apart from two dim sum dishes, morning glory and vegetable fried rice, whatever else we ordered over TWO visits was well below average. Din Tai Fung is sadly much ado about nothing – another hyped up Dubai restaurant opening.

Tell me, have you tried Din Tai Fung abroad? How does it compare to the Dubai restaurant?

Till next time!

SJ

Who is FooDiva’s guest reviewer SJ? By day, she is a professor of political science. By night, she shares her cooking, travelling and dining out adventures on Instagram here.

  • Mall of the Emirates, Level 2 (new extension), Dubai
  • +971 4 2651288
  • Taiwanese, Chinese, Far-Eastern
  • AED 140 per person
  • Open daily 11am - 10pm
  • http://www.dintaifung.com.sg
Reserve with RoundMenu
  • Posted under
    Barsha, Chinese, Dubai, Location, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants, Taiwanese

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16 Responses to “Din Tai Fung: much ado about nothing?”

  1. Nathalie October 19, 2015 at 9:52 am

    What a shame!! Having never eaten at their outlets in Asia I was quite happy with the food at Din Tai Fung when I went. But I did fine solo and as a result could only order a few things compared to the 9 dishes you tried. Still it makes me sad as I hoped they would have managed to live up to the rigourous Taiwanese standards I’m sure are enforced through the franchise.

    The lack of pork is depressing though, I agree. But frozen meat from Taiwan! Why on earth would they do that!?!? Perhaps with time they will adjust. Am planning to do Yum Cha there in a couple of weeks with some friends so will stick to the dumplings as recommended!!!

    • SJ October 19, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Thanks for the comment! I really hope they’ll improve their standards and start sourcing their meats locally. It will make quite a difference. The chain is so famous in East Asia, it’s a shame that their first Middle Eastern branch doesn’t live up to the others’ standards. I’m glad you had a good experience, though. Some dishes were better than others so if I go back there, I’ll just order the ones that were good and won’t bother with the rest.

  2. Gail Mallo October 19, 2015 at 11:13 am

    I think the xiao long bao was spot on, however, I do agree with you that the Singapore branch was much better than the new Dubai branch. My beef noodle soup’s beef was too chewy, it needed to be tenderized some more. But the xiao long bao was spot on. My husband did like his signature chicken garlic rice though.

    I think the main difference is the pork and probably other ingredients that they are not allowed to use here.

    • SJ October 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

      I liked the xiao long bap as well. I think it was the best dumpling, along with the pot stickers and the sweet ones. The chewy beef doesn’t surprise me — our beef was also dry. I think it’s due to the frozen imported meat. I hope they’ll improve with time!

  3. Su October 19, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Hello

    I totally agree with your review! I was much anticipating a good Chinese place opening in Dubai and when I found out din tai fung was opening I was so excited.

    Comparing to my other din tai fung experiences in Sydney and Malaysia I must say the Dubai branch was a huge let down. Everything was bland and flavourless and i wasn’t sure if it was because of the pork? But still I’m sure some salt could have been added? Even the xiaolongbao had no soup coming out of it.

    Anyway your review was totally spot on! I don’t think I will go back there…maybe I’ll give it another chance in four to six months to settle in…

    See you

    • SJ October 20, 2015 at 7:34 am

      Hi there! Thanks for your comment! I agree with you about the food being bland and flavourless… Such a disappointment compared to my high expectations and my experience in Singapore. I might try it again just to check if they improve but I’m not too sure. If you do go again, please let me know what you think!

  4. expat08 October 20, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    They should have opened in a hotel to get a p@rk license. But no, just stick a name on the door and expect diners to think it is the real thing.

    • SJ October 21, 2015 at 12:20 pm

      You raise a good point there! DTF is not “fancy” enough for hotels but if it’s losing its identity and ingredients as it expands, can it be successful on the long term? We shall see…

      • expat08 October 22, 2015 at 8:58 am

        I have not been to Taiwan but the food they serve in HK is top notch and can easily beat many of the poor “Asisan-fusion” places in the hotels.

  5. Layla October 21, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Hi SJ, this post is very helpful! Should have seen it before I went… Anyways I went yesterday and ordered quite differently from yours! My friend and I had red chili oil Wonton, shrimp and chicken fried rice, sour spicy soup and fried shrimp dumplings, I would really recommend the wonton, and fried rice! You may want to try that next time when you go there, the red chilli oil sauce is not very spicy, but contains different layers of flavor. I love the fried rice too, I like how the spring onion blends in smoothly.

    Now I really want to go to a Ding Tai Fung in Taiwan or Singapore… I think you are so right… The food they offer here lacks the pork element. 🙁

    • SJ October 22, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations, Layla! I’ll try the dishes you mention the next time I go — I hope that by then, their standards will be better!

  6. SK October 22, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Finally someone mentions the obvious point which is that removing pork from xiao long bao (or any other form of dumpling or dim sum it is supposed to be in) completely changes the taste and the experience of the food! Chicken “cha siu” style, siu mai with chicken, turnip cake without the air dried sausage and xiao long bao made with chicken are never going to compare well with the originals, so I’m still not sure why Chinese restaurants here keep trying…

    I’m still looking to find out where Cantonese people here in Dubai go for proper dim sum and dinner – sadly I think the answer might be at home or in Hong Kong!

    • SJ October 22, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      The Man in the White Hat (below) has some good recommendations for good dim sum places in Dubai 🙂 To be honest, I never really bothered to look because as you said, everything changes when you omit such a key ingredient from your cooking!

  7. The Man in the White Hat October 22, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Opening a Chinese dumpling place that doesn’t serve pork is a bit like like opening a wine shop that doesn’t sell any grape-based drinks.

    As to SK’s point about where Chinese people in Dubai go to eat… The diners at Xiao Wei Yang are almost entirely Chinese (we were the only non-Chinese diners on our visits), though that’s hot pot rather than dim sum. The Chinese restaurants next to the Chinese supermarkets in International City also seem popular with Chinese diners – and of course are close to DragonMart. Those same Chinese supermarkets sell Shaoxing rice wine (for cooking) and Chinese pork products (they seem to be the only places in Dubai where you can reliably get pig’s ear), so are a godsend for anyone trying to make authentic Chinese food at home. Ignore the tiny Chinese food shop in DragonMart itself, though; it’s not up to much.

    • SJ October 22, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      I never thought that omitting pork would have such a big impact on a well-known (and loved) chain restaurant but it was a truly glaring difference which left us disappointed on both occasions… Thanks for the recommendations! I mentioned that in my reply to SK’s post. On a completely different note, we miss your reviews 🙂

    • SK October 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations! We have already been up to International City to stock up at the Chinese supermarkets there (and yes, got our hands on Shaoxing rice wine and Chinkiang black vinegar amongst other goodies)! We also dropped by one of the Chinese restaurants nearby but as it was Western Chinese and declared itself halal, it didn’t quite fit the bill of what we are looking for (which is a bowl of proper wonton noodles and Cantonese/HK food) and I worry about all the meat there coming from the PRC and the amount of MSG they use.

I’d love to receive your feedback, so feel free to comment any time.