If there’s a better way to spend your Sundays than attempting to break the land speed dumpling eating record, well frankly, we don’t want to know what it is. And the good thing about Melbourne’s many yum cha establishments is that they’re not just about one strand of Chinese cuisine. You can experience everything from the traditional Cantonese suburban yum cha and venues focusing on regional cuisines, to chefs experimenting with classic recipes to offer dumplings with a twist. Everyone has their preferred yum cha experience. See if you can meet yours at one of the following establishments.
Recently re-spruced, the stalwart that is David’s is looking a little more flash these days, but you can still experience the same wonderful yum cha experience. Describing their particular focus as “country Shanghai”, you can expect dumplings ranging from pan-fried beef to prawn and bamboo, spicy duck wings with cinnamon and soy, the more unusual spiced oolong tea quail eggs with bean curd and wolf berries, or for chilli fiends, the intimidating 50/50 chicken and chillies. Whatever you end up ordering, we absolutely insist that you get the salt and pepper tofu with chilli and garlic – it’s divine.
Born out of an idea that occurred during a trip to northern China, yet characterised by a southern Cantonese touch that comes from having a yum cha master from Guangdong in the kitchen, Red Door’s yum cha is a stately yet intimate affair. With the restaurant opulently dressed with antique Chinese art and furniture, it’s a beautiful space that is less about group dining and more suited to bringing your beau on a cosy date. Make sure they love a wonton though, as Red Door is a dumpling lover’s delight, with countless varieties to choose from including prawn har gow, beef, pork, prawn and scallop sui mai, and vegetarian jiao zi potstickers.
Neil Perry’s Spice Temple makes an example of eschewing most standard Cantonese fare and instead presents a menu filled with broad, modern interpretations of Sichuan, Yunnan and many other regional Chinese dishes. What’s more, familiar sounding yum cha staples are subtly transformed with the addition of less familiar ingredients. Therefore you have century egg congee alongside flathead and spinach dumplings, while chicken and crab xiao long bao and northern Chinese lamb dumplings can be followed by a black sesame pannacotta. And for those unafraid of braving offal, there are the chicken feet in a braised black bean sauce.
Out in Box Hill, Vegie Hut is somewhat of a mecca for vegetarians and vegans, considering that on Sundays they offer an entirely meat-free yum cha experience. There are veg versions of dumplings, satay skewers, barbecue pork buns, curry puffs, sesame prawns, mock ribs, even a shark-fin soup facsimile called, appropriately, ‘vegie-fin soup’. But don’t think that omnivores won’t have any interest in such a mock-meat heavy experience – half the fun is hearing the incredulous cries of “Are you sure this isn’t real chicken?”
Routinely in the top names whenever anyone is arguing as to what the best outer suburban yum cha is, Doncaster’s Tai Pan is all about traditional yum cha, featuring Cantonese dishes with a Beijing inflection. Here you’ll find all the old favourites like garlic prawns, san choy bow, short and combination soups, spring rolls, shanghai dumplings and, of course, special fried rice. A huge restaurant that is always filled to bursting with chattering families and serious yum cha goers, you’ll feel like you’re in bustling Hong Kong as the countless trolleys zoom around the room.
With locations in Burwood, Preston, Sunshine, Springvale and two Docklands restaurants, Gold Leaf is steadily becoming a favourite with dumpling chasers. Like Tai Pan, you’ll find many traditional dishes such as honey chicken and sui mai dumplings, but depending on the location you can also give some more unusual dishes a try, like soft spring rolls made of flat rice noodles, dishes involving pigeon and crocodile, finishing up with jellies and a delightfully old-school serving of fried ice cream for dessert.