Yum cha early on a Sunday afternoon was a common occurrence for our family. Wellington may be a terribly long way from Hong Kong, but there is a Cantonese community, as well as several good yum cha restaurants. Yum cha was always a busy, bustling affair with trolleys full of steaming baskets being squeezed past packed tables. Ordering dim sum off a menu and cooking to order may ensure fresher food, but the atmosphere just can't compare.
Yum cha in Cantonese literally means "drinking tea". It's the custom of eating small servings of food, dim sum, and is a tradition on weekend mornings. By the way, dim sim, is different from dim sum! In Australia, a dim sim is a Chinese inspired dumpling style snack. Dim sum is the Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea, and yum cha is the term that is used to describe the dining session.
In the years we have been in Melbourne, we have been on the hunt for good yum cha. Gold Leaf was recommended by a friend of my Bro's, and it turned out to be a good recommendation. I booked a table for 11am, and when we rocked up around 10 minutes before this time, they hadn't started seating guests yet. We waited in the entrance with a couple of other groups, where live seafood gulped unhappily in tanks off to the side. Above us was a huge crystal chandelier suspended below the gold ceiling that Alastair contrarily said looked like the chandelier at my parents' house.
Not long after we were seated at a table, trolleys full of food started coming past and our table filled up quickly with plates of steamer baskets.
Chicken feet / fung zao
In this dish, chicken feet are fried, marinated and then stewed. The end result are feet that are puffy, rich and the sauce is generally a slightly spicy, black bean sauce. The texture is very gelatinous. There's not much meat on chicken feet and it's mostly skin and tendons. The trick to eating them is to take the foot into your mouth and slurp the skin off the numerous small bones, spitting them out as you go.
Scallops on bean curd
This looks like minced scallop meat sitting on tofu. I'm sure I ate a piece, but I don't actually recall it!
Deep-fried crescent dumplings / ham sui gok
In these dumplings, seasoned ground pork is covered in a wrapper made with sweet glutinous rice They are then deep fried, resulting in a crispy, sweet and salty morsel.
Shanghai pork buns / xiao long boa
I've spoken about Shanghai pork buns before. Traditionally the bao are eaten with ginger infused vinegar, so we received a little dish of vinegar as well. There didn't seem to be much liquid inside the bao but the filling was tasty.
Fried pork buns
The buns were pan-fried crisp on the outside with a soft layer of meat underneath. We got another little dish of vinegar to eat with these as well.
Beef rice noodle / cheong fun
These are thin rolls made from a wide strip of rice noodles, that are usually filled with shrimp, pork, beef, and occasionally, fried dough. The rice noodle sheets are made from rice flour and water, which is then steamed. Sweet soy sauce is then poured over the dish upon serving. I always order the beef version. There's also a fried version of cheong fun that I like where rice noodle sheets with shrimp are pan fried, and then covered with a thick, hoisin type sauce.
My Bro said yes to a bowl of tripe. I think we were the only ones at the table who ate it! It was flavoursome and not too chewy.
Prawn dumplings / har gow
Har gow are a very standard yum cha dish and I reckon that if a restaurant's har gow are good, then the rest will be good too. These dumplings have a thin, translucent rice-flour skin cloaking baby shrimp and some minced meat. The wrapping should be tender and silky, and the filling should taste fresh. These were good.
I didn't try any of these, so can't comment on what they were like. Like the prawn dumplings, they had a rice flour skin, but with a different filling.
Dessert tofu / dou fu fa – silky tofu
After all this food, we were starting to get full. But when the cart with the wooden bucket of dessert tofu / dou fu fa came past, I knew I could fit a bowl in! Dessert tofu is a silky tofu served with a sweet ginger flavoured syrup. Silken tofu has a high moisture content and the texture is similar to a custard. It's delicious!
Egg tart / dan tart
We waited for ages for the egg tarts and basically we weren't leaving until we got them! After waiting all that time, the tarts were just okay. The pastry was very puffy and flakey, but the egg custard wasn't as sweet and eggy as I like.
There was also other desserts on offer - a whole cart was dedicated to items like mango jelly and coconut jelly.
Unfortunately we missed out one of my most favourite dishes – lou mai gai / sticky rice and chicken wrapped in a lotus leaf. I don't recall it being on offer, but it may have come past at a time when we had a lot of dishes on our table. We kept waving stuff away so we could eat what we already had.
Prices of the dishes ranged from $4.30 for small, $5.40 for medium, and $6.40 for deluxe. Reasonable prices, along with the best dim sum we've had in Melbourne so far, might make yum cha a more regular occurence for us.
491 Ballarat Road
Phone: (03) 9311 1863