Cha Li Boi
What happens when Nahji Chu – former owner of now-defunct Vietnamese chain Miss Chu – opens a yum cha restaurant? You get the essentials (carts and dim sum) but everything else is different.
The first things to go at Cha Li Boi, which opened in May 2017, were the Chinese lanterns, bamboo baskets and all other stereotypes from previous tenant, The Oriental Jewel. With bare walls, minimal timber furniture and concrete, it looks more like a library or a collaborative working space (it’s got coffee and Wi-Fi to encourage freelancers).
The menu has the classic dishes, albeit dressed up in jokey names (Chu’s trademark). The execution is far from gimmicky though. Chu recruited Kylie Kwong’s right-hand dumpling aficionado John Leong. The dumpling style is mainly Cantonese but modernised – Chu wanted farm to plate, no MSG, no corn starch and vegan options.
Some innovative versions are the black, chewy Leather Jacket dumplings with fish and curried pumpkin; crayfish and scampi-stuffed orange dumplings; and duck dumplings shaped like ducks. Soup dumplings are served with a straw; other dumplings are filled with wallaby, warrigal greens and other natives; and a line of vegan dumplings are served with a piece of battered sweet potato cut to look like Pac-Man.
The most novelty aspect is Cha Li Boi’s “wedding banquet”, designed to bring people together. Diners can choose to queue in a specially designated area that, once filled with 10 people, becomes a faux wedding party. At the end everyone gets a polaroid.