The great baseball legend and philosopher Yogi Berra once famously said of a St. Louis restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” That’s about the same way I feel about the food hall up on the fifth floor of the Westfield in Sydney’s CBD. I was thrilled when it opened (especially because I could get a proper American hotdog – albeit at very Australian prices – at Snag Stand) but now, well, fugghedaboudit.
Take Din Tai Fung. For weeks after it had opened, I had stopped in at their Westfield outpost for lunch at least every few days: My standard order was some Shanghai soup dumplings and a bowl of noodles with spicy sauce. Great stuff, and despite all the carbs I always felt light as a feather afterwards. Then things started to change. The food hall never got any less busy. Din Tai Fung, meanwhile, went the opposite direction: Instead of opening a bit shambolically and improving, the crew became more chaotic as the weeks passed, as if they were experiencing a delayed-onset shakedown cruise. The offerings of condiments became more iffy – a bad thing when DIY dollops of vinegar and ginger and soy and chili are an integral part of the experience. Eventually, I stopped going.
Today, I went back. Sadly, it was the same old shambles, and this despite it being only noon. I had to wait fifteen minutes for my order, and I wasn’t the only one. There would have been a dozen of us cooling our heels, at least, waiting for our “fast food”. The dumplings came out early and were left on the counter while the noodles were still back clearing customs, and the condiments have been placed right by the registers, leaving diners to eddy and swirl with trays of steaming broth. Not great fun in a suit.
And the food? Fine, but not as great as it used to be. The dumpling guys and gals are still there behind the glass, silently folding, rolling and stuffing. But the fillings don’t sing, and the noodles were, well, gluggly.
Has success, a captured market, and an until-now good reputation created the slack for things to slide at this venerable noodle institution? Let’s hope not, and check back again in three months or so.