As someone with limited calories in a day I suffer immensely from food-related indecision. One of my partner’s worst daily bugbears is my inability to decide where we’re going to eat, as I have both extremely high standards and a lack of willingness to cede control. Though Tianjin Shi Tang has been on my radar for a couple of years as a Tianjin-food devotee, multiple trips to the restaurant have been abandoned close to the mark after seeing negative reviews about them on Google. There have been several times where we have parked down the road, and I have made a last minute decision to go somewhere else.
Tian Jin Shi Tang is testament to the fact that Google reviewers don’t always know good food, and that sometimes risking it all on a 3.1 star restaurant with more 1-star reviews than 5-star reviews is worth it. Common complaints about food safety and worker ethic were not issues that we experienced, and in fact we had a very positive overall experience.
The thing I was most keen for was this jianbing guozi (chinese egg pancake) with smoked pork ($12.80). I think that jianbing is one of the key regional dishes of Tianjin that you have to try at any restaurant that offers it, and while I don’t remember the specific taste of any specific jianbing guozi that I had in China, what I can say is that every single one I’ve had in Sydney has been quite enjoyable, this one included. The base jianbing guozi at Tian Jin Shi Tang is $8.80, and though I’d never had it with a meaty filling before, the smoked meat filling (a $4 supplement) as recommended by one guy on Google who will be remembered as being on the right side of history was tasty, umami, and well worth it to put a spin on this classic dish. The lady serving us asked if I wanted chilli on it, and I must have said yes with just little enough conviction that she gave us only a little bit (stated as “less spicy” on our tax invoice). Overall this was not the traditional 煎饼馃子 that I’m used to, with the addition of smoked pork and with chilli sauce rather than sweet bean sauce (甜面酱), but still a delicious play on the concept.
The Tian Jin Wonton Soup ($8.80), pictured above in two almost identical photos chosen to put on show both wonton and soup facets of the dish, was a cheap and hearty breakfast bowl. Presented as a claypot filled with peppery soup, a crackled and slightly scrambled egg, seaweed, coriander, and small-type wontons, this is a dish that could easily form the staple of some late teen to early twenties Burwood high-rise dwelling international student. The meat filling, though relatively small compared to that of a dumpling, made up for its small size with its high density of meat and flavour, and numbered sufficiently to avoid sadness at the end of the meal (Danny Katz of the Sydney Morning Herald makes reference to the appropriate number of wontons in a bowl of wonton soup in the linked article, though this is not the Confucian wonton parable that I remember from my childhood). My only comment would be that this soup was far more peppery than I had anticipated – not overpoweringly so, it’s just that I didn’t expect white pepper to be the main flavour of the soup.
The pork and chive potstickers (12 for $14.80) were again very good. The dumplings and buns at Tian Jin Shi Tang are made fresh to order, and so we had no problems with the short 20 minute wait which we were pre-warned of whilst ordering, during which time we were eating the rest of our meal anyway. Though other online reviewers have complained about twenty minute waits for their food, we understand that fresh handmade food is something that takes time to get right, and I was actually quite impressed by the precision of the dumpling making process, watching the chef weigh out the filling for each individual dumpling, adding and subtracting as necessary as she made them in order to achieve the target ratios and weights. Though I would’ve preferred boiled dumplings (also available on the menu – a sign of self-confidence in a dumpling restaurant’s art) and any sort of order of pan-fried dumplings is usually the doing of my partner, I really did enjoy the freshly fried crispiness of the wrapper, as well as the juiciness of the filling within. These pork and chive dumplings had a bit more of a soy flavour and a stronger taste than I’m used to, but good all the same.
Online reviews of Tian Jin Shi Tang are pretty well divided into lovers and haters of the place. Our experience was overwhelmingly positive, and I suspect that some of the difference in experience might be due to the fact that we went in the morning at 9:30AM but they’re open up until 1-2AM, which is a long time to keep up quality. We would not hesitate to go back.
Big respect also to a venue that gives a tax invoice for a cash purchase without being asked. It’s sad that operating a company that doesn’t steal from the rest of society is something to be praised, but where so many in the hospitality industry don’t do the right thing, it’s important to pay homage to the ones who do.