As we enter the international rugby season, punters lucky enough to have tickets to see the game will be heading for the bright lights of Eden Park in their thousands. The restaurants at the city end of Dominion Road are in prime position to feed the hordes before a game, and I was lucky enough to discover one of the better ones near the corner of Valley Road.
Jolin is a restaurant that specialises in Shanghainese fare; to add to the already hotly contested Dominion Road dumpling wars, they offer xiao long bao, a personal favourite of mine that I have been unable to find elsewhere outside of a yum char restaurant. Literally translated as little dragon balls, these wee round pork and ginger soup dumplings contain a delicious stock within their delicate pastry jackets. The trick when eating these is to catch and slurp this prized elixir without burning yourself or splashing it all over the table.
Jolin is a bit of a sparkling gem amongst Chinese restaurants; from the brilliant lime green signage outside to the ornate, cut-out lamp shades adorning the walls to the framed glamour shots (pay a visit to see what I mean) of dishes on the wall, Jolin has set out to do and succeeded where other Chinese restaurants have failed at: looking pretty. But it isn’t all about looks here. The menus, plural, are long and cater to all budgets and dietary persuasions (as long as you fall under the categories of vegetarians or carnivores). Most mains on the dinner menu (with the exception of seafood) are less than $20 and everything is generous. Having perused the dinner menu and decided on the xiao long bao ($8), cumin lamb ($15.80) and stir-fried celery ($11.80), Nathan happened-upon the lunch menu, which had an extensive array of dim sum and noodle options. Dim sum at dinnertime? No problem said the waiter. With that our lamb and celery mains were exchanged for dry noodles with a spicy pork topping ($8.80) and wontons with a peanut topping ($9).
The wontons, large in number, came accompanied by a nutty concoction aromatic with sesame oil, black vinegar, chilli and peanuts. The wontons themselves were juicy, chock full of chives and their wrappers delicate. Our bowl of noodles was pleasingly bouncy (hinting of the hand-pulled variety) and was deceptively large; it came topped with braised pork belly, which was tasty with a good lick of heat from the chilli in a wonderfully savoury sauce we couldn’t quite get enough of. The main event, however, were the xiao long bao, which arrived in a large bamboo steamer. They were pert little things; as I gingerly picked them up with my chopsticks I could see their secret soup swishing to and fro within their springy casings. These dumplings are for the pork enthusiasts, with a soft and delicately flavoured filling; their soup was a wee bit on the sweet side, but this was counter-balanced well by the black Chinese vinegar they were dipped into. The only thing missing was the side of finely chopped matchstick ginger that they’re normally served with overseas.
As the restaurant began to quickly fill to capacity around 6pm, Nathan and I leant back in our chairs wondering why there was still so much food left and yet we felt so full; we took home lefts overs enough for one very hungry individual. Over the coming winter months Jolin will be the place to go on a cold night, where the tea is free and the food is comforting.
248 Dominion Road
This review was originally written for Cheap Eats.