Yum Cha at Dai Duong

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.imageDai 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.imageThese 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.imageThe 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.imageOf 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.imageSteamed 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.imageOne of my favourite dumplings at yum cha is the chive dumpling. Chives are such a perfect flavour match to prawns. A winner, every time. imageThen 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.imageIl 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.imageFinally, 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.imageThe 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.imageAll 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!

Dai Duong Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tim Ho Wan

Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon.
Phone: +852 2332 2896

This was probably the most hyped and most greatly anticipated destination on the Hong Kong #fatty map. The world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. There are apparently two outlets of Tim Ho Wan now – a second one opened up in Sham Shui Po – but we went to the original in Mong Kok.

We’d heard about the wait for a table, so we arrived early. Tim ho Wan (the Mong Kok one, anyway) opens at 10am. We arrived at around 9:30, to find there was already a queue! When they started letting people in, it was clear that we weren’t all going to fit in the tiny restaurant, but thankfully we got ticket number 5, so it wasn’t going to be too long a wait.

We wandered around the block, and stopped in at a herbal tea shop for something to cool our qi, after witnessing a rather heated altercation between two locals over some parking. They needed something to cool their qi too. Why the hell would people bother having a car in Hong Kong? Public transport is excellent, and cabs are dirt cheap.

We arrived back at Tim Ho Wan, and they were up to ticket number three. Another five minutes later, and we were seated. All up, about a 25 minute wait. Not too bad! Oh, in case you’re wondering, if we had’ve missed our number being called, we would’ve just been given the next available table. A pretty great system, no?

Thankfully, the place mats at Tim Ho Wan have lots of pictures of their specialties. We ticked off the items we wanted to try, after being chastised for not doing so while we were waiting outside – you can get an order form from a little box by the door – and the brusque but not unfriendly lady went off with our form. I must say, I do love a trolley service yum cha experience, but the ordering system does tend to be more efficient.

We were seated up the back near the kitchen, which was at once painful – to see all of that food in such close proximity but not on our table – and cool – too see all that food in such close proximity. But that all didn’t matter so much once the food started arriving.

First up was one of Tim Ho Wan’s signature dishes. Char siu bao (roast pork buns) with a difference. These are baked, with a crumbly cookie topping, like a smaller, filled baw law bao (pineapple buns) or Japanese melonpan.

These were AWESOME! Crunchy and crisp on the outside, and choc-ful of sugar, with a wonderfully sweet-and-salty char siu filling. @eatnik and I split the third one, because neither of us was graceful – or stupid – enough to concede it to the other.
Next up, the cheong fun with pork liver. @eatnik was a little apprehensive about this one, as she’s not the hugest fan of liver, but seeing as it was the only cheong fun on the menu, we pretty much had to order it.
It was pretty good, though I must say the cheong fun we had in Macau was slightly more delicate, and therefore better. Still, check out how translucent these puppies were. Either that’s some expert noodle making, or someone’s cheating and adding tapioca starch to their rice flour mixture!

Next up came the dumplings. First, a Qiuzhou (aka Teochew) style dumpling, with dried shrimp, peanuts and water chestnuts. I love these texturally, but I always find myself needing to dip them in soy, which I think is unnecessary when you have a good dumpling going on.

The next one was the spinach dumpling. Now I was expecting a predominantly prawn-filled dumpling, with some diced spinach. This was the other way around: mostly spinach, with bits of something (was it garlic, lardons, or prawn? I don’t remember!) to add some extra flavour. Unexpected, but kind of genius. These dumplings are full of #WIN.
Then the classic har gow, the standard b which all yum cha joints should be judged. Ant Tim Ho Wan’s were pretty bang on the money. Slightly smaller than the other dumplings, so you get four, these were delicate and yet full of flavour. I applaud the inclusion of bamboo shoot, which provides a nice textural addition to the already firm and toothsome prawn meat. I’m not sure these are the best I’ve ever eaten, but they’re pretty darned good!
Then there was the loh baak gao. I know how to make this, and therefore am unusually critical of every one I come across. Not to say that I won’t scoff them all down without prejudice.
Tim Ho Wan’s version had a nice crispy sear on it, but was a tad on the crumbly side. Which is in some ways a negative, but it’s also a positive, because the crumbling texture was due to the abundance of parsnip in the mix. Hence the flavour was overwhelmingly present, which is a nice change from most loh baak gao, where you can’t taste the parsnip because it’s barely there amongst the glutinous rice flour cement. I could have done with a little more Chinese sausage in this, but overall, it was pretty good.

Then, the chicken’s feet. A yum cha staple, which challenges novices, and some people never get the hang/point of, chicken’s feet – or more properly foong jao (phoenix’s talons) – are another means by which I like to judge a yum cha experience. The skin – it’s all about the skin, people – should be soft and slightly saggy, and have soaked up all of the flavour in which the chicken’s feet have been braised.

Tim Ho Wan’s were a little on the solid side, the collagen not having broken down enough, and the skin still sticking to the bones too much. The flavour of the braising liquid was great, but it could have done with some more time cooking. Perhaps coming for breakfast wasn’t such a great idea, as no doubt the batch of chicken’s feet would improve throughout the day.

Stuffed eggplant came out next (yong ke qie). Not to be too harsh, but I wish we’d ordered something else. There wasn’t enough oil in this dish to make the eggplant soften, and while it wasn’t bitter, the eggplant had a rather off-putting taste. The filling wasn’t much to write about either, so I won’t.

When the Haam sui gok (literally salty water dumplings, but better known as football dumplings here in Australia) arrived, I was excited, even though I was already starting to feel full. These were for a long time my favourite item at yum cha, because of the crispy shell, the yielding, gooey, sweet dough casing, and the classic salty minced pork and mushroom filling.
I was a little let down by Tim Ho Wan’s haam sui gok. The dough wasn’t that chewy, and there wasn’t much filling inside. Still, by that stage, it didn’t really matter, and neither did the pork and peanut congee we also ordered, which needed salt and wasn’t very amazing.

So yeah, overall, it’s well worth visiting, and at around $140HKD ($20AUD at the prevailing exchange rate) for two to stuff yourself stupid, you’d have to be another kind of stupid to pass it up.

Plume (Maribynong)

200 Rosamond Rd, Maribynong
Phone: 9318 6833

Whenever people ask me for yum cha recommendations, Plume in Doncaster always gets a mention. It’s a bit of a trek, but over the years, it has remained reliably good. So when Penny suggested impromptu yum cha at Plume over in Maribynong, I immediately said yes. Even though I was over the other side of town on an(other) Ikea mission.

Expectations were high, which in fairness, probably wasn’t fair.

The one thing Plume Maribynong has over its Doncastrian sister is ample parking. It backs on to the Knifepoint shopping centre car park, so it’s easy even on a Sunday afternoon to find a park. We arrived at around 2pm, which is towards the end of the yum cha session. I’m hoping that somewhat explains the lacklustre fare with which we were assaulted.

First up was my favourite – deep fried taro dumplings.

The flavour of the filling wasn’t bad, but the entire experience was somewhat let down by the fact they were lukewarm. Lukewarm fried dumplings? That would be strike one.

Henry was keen on the fried calamari tentacles, which I’m not a huge fan of, mostly because they always come in a huge serve, and everybody only ever wants one or two, so the rest sit there getting cold, until there’s a lull in the service, and then I fall into the trap of having another one while we wait for more dumplings, and am disappointed when I find their only characteristics are rubbery and oily.

So this would be ball one. Not Plume’s fault, I’m just not a fan.

Chicken’s feet. What I love about going to yum cha with seasoned tea drinkers is I don’t need to worry when ordering weird stuff that I’m going to end up eating it all myself.

These chickens feet were flavoured quite well, though felt like they could have done with more time cooking. The skin was soft, but nothing was falling off the bones. First base, just.

The others ordered some congee, but it being a morning-after-drinking, I had no time for that ‘healthy’ stuff. The fat content quite plainly wasn’t high enough. So I won’t comment on its quality.

Apparently Penry go to Plume primarily for the sui gao (prawn soup dumplings – like big won tons). They’re not a part of the regular yum cha fare circulating the restaurant in carts; you have to order them specially.
One bite, and I could see why they keep going back. The dumplings are plump and springy, with huge chunks of prawn meat. Second base.

The bao cart rolled around, and since we were only a table of three, I had to choose between the char siu and the egg custard buns. I went for the char siu, because we weren’t ready for the sweet stuff yet.

What we got was the sweet stuff anyhow. While bao dough is supposed to be sweet, this is usually offset by a savoury char siu filling, which has an elemnt of sweetness to it, but also a hefty amount of salt. The char siu at Plume was too sweet for my liking. A bit disappointing, as the surrounding bun was reasonably soft and pillowy.

Then came the dumpling parade.We went for the classics: siu mai, haar gao and one of my favourites, the prawn and chive dumplings.

The siu mai were a little odd, with chunks of pork instead of a smooth texture formed by finer mincing – we all know I approve of mincing, right? – and Penny and I agreed that the skins on the haar gao were far to thick. The chive and prawn dumplings, however, were great! With more tapioca starch in the skins, they had a more delicate, glassy appearance, though upon biting into them, I found this was also due in part to the fact the skins were thinner as well. The filling was super tasty, and still stickily moist. In fact, I think the gloriousness of these dumplings outweighs the disappointment of the other two, so Plume just managed to sneak third.

We had to order the haar cheong fun (steamed rice noodle), which you would think would be a good thing – it’s made to order, it must be better, right? Wrong. The noodles were thick and claggy, and just a general fail. Strike two.

Rather unimpressed by the mixed results, we thought we’d just move onto dessert. I ordered the yum cha classic maanguo bou-ding (mango pudding).
OK, three strikes, and you’re out! The pudding was far too firm – too much agar? – and generally a bit bland. There were a couple of chunks of mango in it, but overall there wasn’t enough mango flavour.

Similarly, Penny’s doufu faa (tofu dessert) was disappointing. The tofu wasn’t smooth enough, and in a dessert which is pretty much about the quality of the tofu, there’s pretty much no redemption after that.

Henry did promise to make some homemade tofu sometime though, so it wasn’t all bad.

It’s a shame that the food was so sub-par, because Plume is such a convenient place to head for yum cha. As I said, I hope this might have something to do with the fact we came towards the end of the service. I’ll be back, but next time I’ll be sure to go earlier. Hopefully they might get a home run next time.

Plume on Urbanspoon

Gold Leaf Preston

419 High St, 1st Floor Shop 7, Preston
Phone: 9470 2882

Recently, my friends Mr J and Miss C left our little metropolis for the big city lights of London. Over the past few years, we’d learned that while he would often be a no-show for drinks and weekend parties, Mr J was always present for yum cha. So it was apt that our send-off for him and Miss C was just such a dumpling extravaganza.

We headed to the suburban wilds of Preston, where covertly above an unglamourous little shopping arcade, lay one of the Northern suburbs’ hidden gems – Gold Leaf Preston.

The interior was distinctively more ‘glamourous’, with its recessed ceilings and mechanical rotating faux crystal chandeliers.

But let’s get to the food! Despite being relatively new, Gold Leaf Preston is one of those oldskool yum cha joints, with an army of waiters – the footsoldiers who refill your teapots, and handle special orders – and a strong artillery of cart ladies, who bombard each table with dumplings, buns, congee and offal. And then dessert. It’s a battle you just won’t win, but it’s a sweet, sweet surrender.

We were waiting for a few people who were running late that morning, but we started off with a cold dish of jellyfish and marinated baby octopus. It sounds a little confronting for brunch, I guess, but I love the texture of jellyfish!

Once the majority of our yum cha contingent had arrived, we tucked into the hot stuff.

My childhood favourite, haam sui gok, also known as ‘football dumplings’. Pork and mushroom inside a deep fried chewy, slightly sweet dough wrapping. These were a little on the lukewarm side of warm, and a little disappointing.

Steamed rice noodle with prawn. A yum cha standard, these were pretty good – not too pasty, and super slippery between your chopsticks.

Steamed dumplings with prawn and snow pea shoot. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I love snow pea shoots, in any form.

Seafood parcels, and prawn and chive dumplings. The dumplings at Gold Leaf were consistently good, though I was a little put off by how many variations they had on offer before being presented with the classic har gao and siu mai.

Fried taro dumplings. These took over as my favourite after the haam sui gok got the boot. Filled with pretty much the same filling (pork and mushroom), the ‘wrapping’ is essentially mashed taro, which flares up into these crispy, feathery puffs when deep fried. These ones were pretty good, though I think the taro might have been cut with some potato, as it was a little too smooth on the inside.

Here comes the offal. Tripe on the left, and pork spare ribs on the right. The ribs at Gold Leaf are distinctive, as they don’t use the traditional black bean in the braising sauce, but rather another type of soya bean paste. Still very good, and a little more homestyle – my dad braises pork and pickled radish in this bean paste quite often.

Steamed shiitake and enoki mushrooms with tofu. This dish was a little bland – I ordered it because we had a vegaquarian on the table, but in the end she didn’t have any of it. I don’t really blame her – it wasn’t very good.

Whole prawns wrapped in beancurd skin and deep fried. I was starting to hit the wall by this stage, so I didn’t try any of these, but usually prawn + deep fry = WIN.

Ubiquitous chicken’s feet. Again, in a break from tradition, these chicken’s feet are prepared with soy and black bean, as opposed to the more commonly found bright red variety. They were quite good, though the skin wasn’t as loose or melty as I’ve had at other restaurants.

Prawn and ginger dumplings. I love these dumplings, even though the wrappers aren’t as delicate as the pearlescent har gao wrappers. It’s always a struggle to resist slurping up the juices in that little dish after the dumplings are gone.

Scallop dumplings. I usually like these, but Gold Leaf’s rendition had scallops which had obviously been treated with bi-carb to soften them, and had lost the meaty texture of a good scallop, as well as some of the scallop’s natural sweetness. A shame.

The classic siu mai. A pretty good dumpling, but not a standout, here.

The classic har gao. The skins were a bit too thick for my liking, but the filling was a good texture, and overwhelmingly prawny. That’s a good thing, in case you’re wondering.

Pan-fried dumplings. The skins on these were too thick, I felt.

Steamed roast pork buns. The buns were fluffy and sweet, and reasonably light, though the filling was a little on the bland side, for roast pork. Not bad, but I’ve definitely had better.

For dessert, there were the obligatory egg tarts, but for once I opted out. They looked pretty good, though, hey?

Gold Leaf is a pretty sure bet for competent and consistent yum cha. It’s not stellar, but if you get that craving every couple of months like I do, it will definitely satisfy. It’s probably mid-range in terms of price; about $20-25 per head to stuff yourself silly.

Gold Leaf on Urbanspoon