The beginning of the yum cha odyssey
While I have never been a smoker and experienced the shakes and agitation of withdrawal, I get what I can only imagine must be a similar deep sense of need when I haven't had yum cha for a while! Fortunately I have some friends who are also yum cha aficionados (or should that be "addicts") , and together we have commenced an exploration of Melbourne's yum cha scene. I hope you'll come along for the ride... just be sure to keep a tight hold on your chopsticks and keep the lazy-Susan a-spinning!
Gold Leaf Chinese Restaurant
Address: 155 Burwood Highway, Burwood East
Phone: 9802 3788
Yum Cha daily, open 7 days
With six dining companions - including one hardcore vegetarian - we take our place at the 11am yum cha sitting. The large room is already buzzing with yum cha trolleys and the happy hum of diners taking their first bites.
Almost before we've had a moment to settle at the table, the trolleys descend upon us en masse and the battle of the yum cha begins. The "pushers" reel off what they have on offer: "You want prawn dumpling, prawn and chive dumpling, prawn and pork dumpling, steamed bun, steamed vegetables..." and a string of other things my ear doesn't quite capture. But these are not so much questions as assertions. In a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty. In this yum cha restaurant you are assumed to be wanting one of everything on the trolley unless you manage to shake your head or say no in time!
Needless to say we have soon assembled a wealth of steamer baskets and plates on our table. The dumplings are delightful - the steamed pastry thin but toothsome and the seafood, meat and vegetable fillings succulent and fresh.
A pan fried tofu-like skin encasing a vegetable filling is enjoyed by the vegetable and meat-lovers alike, as is a white latice-like pastry encasing a crunchy filling of vegetables, and squares of fried tofu dressed in a soy and chilli sauce. And while the pork buns are not of the typical white and fluffy variety, their denser bready texture and glazed top are a pleasant change.
A heaving plate of chinese brocolli provides a refreshing break in proceedings. But before long we are tucking into a plate of little whitebait encased in a crispy batter that is a little on the heavy side but lifted with the addition of thinly sliced chilli, garlic and spring onion.
And what looks like crumbed cutlets with a bone sticking out turns out to be a minced meat mixture encasing part of an egg, with a celery stick masquerading as the bone. In yum cha things are often not what they seem - but that is half the fun.
Unfortunately chinese desserts are often a bit of a disappointment. The one consistent exception I have found is the custard tart. Gold Leaf does not disappoint - the tart comes with a delightfully flaky pastry (that I am convinced travels straight to my hips - but to hell with it) and a still-warm filling of eggy custard. Divine.
Two other intriguing desserts capture our interest enough to liberate them from their trolleys. The first is a plate of balls - a little smaller than a tennis ball, encrusted in sesame seeds and deep fried. But once a chopstick is poked into it, it rapidly deflates and all that remains is a sticky paste with the dominant taste being the deep fried sesame seeds.
The other dessert of interest presents as three small pastries shaped and coloured to resemble cobbs of corn, still in their husks. But as one of our party observed after tasting these, they look a lot more interesting on the outside than they taste on the inside (which for the record, turned out to be some sort of sweetened bean paste filling). Ah well - you can't win them all.
While Gold Leaf restaurant may be out in the 'burbs, it is well worth a trip for a fun lunch with friends and lots of great taste sensations, including enough for vegetarians. Just be sure to bring a sense of curiosity and a good balance of assertiveness to fend off the trolley pusher advances lest you end up like one of the sesame encrusted balls!
Cost: Approx $20 pp for a stomach full of yum cha
The experience in a sentence:
Mouthfuls of delectable steamed and fried delights amongst the frenetic pace of yum cha trolleys jostling for attention.