I was born in Hong Kong and I moved to Melbourne when I was eight years old. I don’t speak much Cantonese but I’m fluent in yum cha. When it comes to choosing a yum cha restaurant, this is what I look for:
Dumplings must be pushed around in a trolley, table service is not ok. Besides the standard prawn dumping and the BBQ pork bun offering, they must serve more ‘adventurous’ dishes like chicken feet and ginger tripe. If these are part of the off-trolley menu that only fluent yum cha speakers (me) can order, that would be fine.
Good places should not serve ridiculous dishes like green tea or black sesame ice-cream. That’s not yum cha. If you must order spring rolls, they must have more filling than pastry. It should never have been frozen.
I don’t pay much attention to the customer service aspect unless they start swearing at you. The rushed feeling is part of yum cha (just ignore it), as is the loudness and rowdiness of a busy yum cha restaurant. Quieter, gourmet places are out.
Don’t be offended if the staff don’t particularly care about your dietary requirements. Choose another cuisine, that’s not what yum cha is about. I don’t ask what I’m eating, I just eat – everyone is happy.
Here is my list of good and bad yum cha in Melbourne (with one pick in Sydney):
Yum yum cha
- Gold Leaf (419 High Street, Preston); I can ride there along the bike path on St Georges Road. The garlic chives dumpling is my favourite.
- Tai Pan (239 Blackburn Road, Doncaster East); this one has been around for over twenty years. I’ve been a bazillion times and it’s consistently good.
- Golden Dragon Palace (363 Manningham Road, Lower Templestowe); my dad’s Tai Chi class goes there once a month and nobody complaints.
- Tao Tao House (815 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn); my Hong Kong friend from that side of town says it’s just as good as Gold Leaf. Read her review here.
- Minh Tan 2 (192 Victoria Street, Richmond); tasty enough but not all staff speak Cantonese and know the yum cha menu.
- Fook Yuen Seafood (7 Help Street, Chatswood); this one is in Sydney and it’s my favourite yum cha in Australia. I’m sorry Melbourne. It’s as closely matched to Hong Kong yum cha as it gets.
Disastrous yum cha
- East Imperial Chinese (323 Rathdowne Street, Carlton); that’s the one that serves green tea and black sesame ice cream. This is NOT yum cha. Dumplings and everything else was underwhelming.
- Wealth Garden (866 Doncaster Road, Doncaster East), the savoury items were too savoury and the sweet items were too sweet. It was a disaster.