Shop 5/64 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 9899
Regular readers of this blog will know that I, as a child of Chinese migrants, and as a thoroughly modern Melburnian, love yum cha. This Chinese version of brunch/lunch/morning tea is partly so awesome because you usually end up eating as much as you would if you were to combine all three meals. But also, it’s a great experience socially, with the ebb and flow of food punctuating the tea-lubricated gossiping that inevitable happens when you get together with old friends.
While I’ve heard lukewarm things about Master Restaurant and Golden Harvest’s yum cha services, and I’ve sampled Yummie Yum Cha’s moderately over-priced fare, until now, I haven’t really considered anywhere in Footscray as a decent yum cha destination. I would always either head in to the city, or out to Gold Leaf in Sunshine. But that might be about to change, as Dai Duong offers a close-by, lazy alternative.Dai Duong has been in in the shadow of the iconic Franco Cozzo store at the city end of Hopkins St for years, and I think it has intermittently been offering yum cha. @jeroxie and I tried to go earlier in the year, only to find that they didn’t actually serve yum cha! But since March this year, they’ve started serving it. Daily, as you can see from the rather loud signage. Don’t be deceived by the address, either. Despite sharing a street number with a number of other shops, this is a pretty large restaurant, replete with dance floor (for countless Chinese/Vietnamese wedding banquets no doubt) and karaoke! I’m yet to find out if the karaoke is in private dining rooms – like they had in Sai Gon – or if you’re expected to sing for the entire restaurant… but I digress.
The place was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon when we wandered in. It was probably a little after the traditional late Sunday morning family crowd, but there were still a few large groups enjoying themselves into the afternoon. Some rather friendly waitresses with steaming trolleys wandered past a couple of times, offering us their wares, while we waited for Ms D to arrive. Then the eating – and the gossip – began in earnest. We started off with some char siu buns, but not the steamed ones, the baked ones.These were a little sweet, and thoroughly disappointing after having tried the ‘pineapple bun’ version of them at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. That’s not to say they were bad per se, they just weren’t great.
Next up, some tripe and a prawn-stuffed tofu topped with scallops. The tripe was nicely braised, though the flavour was a little boring. The tofu was wonderfully soft, and the twin seafood pleasures of prawn and scallop were both strong, and yet remained distinct from one another.The loh baak gao (daikon cake) was a touch on the soft side, and I would’ve preferred a little more daikon in the mix. Still, it had a nice crust, and wasn’t too oily.Of course, we had to have the fried taro dumplings. I tried making a version of these on the weekend, and though they tasted pretty good, they were an utter failure in terms of getting the taro to puff and feather like these. I have new-found respect for yum cha fry chefs. The ones at Dai Duong clearly know what they’re doing. These were great, but it’s not often that fried taro dumplings are not, really.Steamed crab dumplings came next, and they were a little disappointing. I couldn’t really taste the crab. It was more like prawn, which is to say, it was more like a lot of other versions of a prawn dumpling that you’ll often see at yum cha. Not bad, just not what it should have been. The skins were nice and light, though.One of my favourite dumplings at yum cha is the chive dumpling. Chives are such a perfect flavour match to prawns. A winner, every time. Then we had the classic siu mai. Probably the modern Aussie dim sim’s closes ancestor, the siu mai is the porkiest of yum cha dumplings. The siu mai at Dai Duong were big, plump and succulent.Il coinquilino hadn’t tried cheong fun (steamed rice paper/noodle) before, so I decided to order the zha leong, which is a Chinese donut and some Chinese broccoli wrapped in steamed rice paper. When it’s done well, like here in Macau, it’s pretty amazing. Unfortunately, Dai Duong’s version didn’t quite live up to that. The rice paper was a little thick, and therefore felt a bit claggy in the mouth. A good cheong fun should be light and ribbon-like. The donut was also a little cold, which made the dish even less pleasant. A bit of a miss there.Finally, for dessert, we had the egg custard buns. A perennial favourite, it’s a good option if you want to skip the cold dessert cart.The steamed bread portion of this was excellent: light, fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. The custard, however, was a bit of a miss. It was rather grainy, and definitely over-cooked for my liking, being a bit crumbly, instead of like a thick jam.All in all, I wouldn’t say yum cha at Dai Duong is great, but it’s definitely passable, and a good option for Footscray locals. And at around $15 a head between three of us, it’s excellent value. They’ve also got some pretty cheap crab specials on at the moment; it being crab season and all!