Dim Sum or sometimes called Yum Cha is originally a Cantonese snack which has now been raised to be a full blown meal. Dim sum was usually served as a breakfast or brunch over a leisurely pot of tea, hence the Yum Cha which is to drink tea. One would have just one small dish at a time, slowly whiling away the morning, reading the paper. Dim Sum today is a noisy hurried meal with a whole table laden with almost the entire dim sum menu of a restaurant.
In Hong Kong and parts of Asia, some larger dim sum restaurants would serve dim sum from heated carts where you can pick the dishes fresh from the kitchen as they come around your table. In London, the New World Restaurant still does this but the food is really is inedible.
As much of the original Chinese immigrants to London who opened restaurants in Chinatown were from Southern China or Hakka or Cantonese origin. They brought along some expertise in cooking and some respectable dim sum places opened up in London. Dim Sum chefs are usually quite well trained as it requires a lot of skill to make the skins and wraps thin enough to make fine dim sum. Nowadays, much of the dim sum places in Chinatown serve warmed up frozen dim sum.
Golden Dragon is one of the better ones in Chinatown for dim sum. We regularly meet here on Sundays where you see a lot of big groups of Chinese families. If you are visiting London, don’t expect dim sum to the standards of Hong Kong or Vancouver.
What to order at a Dim Sum restaurant?
Some of my non Chinese friends and some twitter friends have asked me for a list of what to order as they can never get the same things when I don’t order for them so here goes. We usually have a mixture of steamed dishes, dumplings and fried dishes.
Cheung fun is a steamed rice noodle and is sometimes filled with either prawns, roast pork, beef, scallop or a fried dough stick. All quite delicious.
I might give this a miss if you don’t like offal.
This is glutinous rice with some meat, chinese sausages and mushrooms. Just unwrap the parcel and dig in.
There are other fried dishes like prawn toast and spring rolls, or the pan fried radish cake, the varieties are endless.
There are quite a few more dishes that are on the steamed menu like beef balls, spare ribs, chicken feet, vegetarian dumplings and snails.
This is a very fragrant rice dish which I want to introduce to my Brazillian friends who recently fed me several delicious salt cod dishes. They might like the Chinese salted fish dishes too.
Sometimes instead of a rice dish, we order some fried noodles or a soup noodle like Rice Vermicelli with Shredded Duck and Snow Vegetables in Soup.
Do try the suckling pig as the skin is super crispy with a plum sauce dip.
We always order a vegetable dish as well and do ask them what veg they have on that day. This is not on the menu usually.
For pudding, most restaurants don’t have many choices but sometimes have desserts that are off the menu like red bean soup or Tau Fu Fa which is a soft soya bean jelly served sweet.
Mango pudding has a jelly like consitency and curiously served swimming in evaporated milk. Not my favourite.
If you have never tried these, you should try to order them. Make sure you tell them before the end of your meal as it takes about 20 minutes to make. These are made with glutinous rice flour and filled with a black sesame paste which oozes when you bite into it. Sometimes comes rolled in crushed peanuts of coconut (non traditional). Not many places do this but you can try it here.
Other Dim Sum Restaurants in London
Gerrards Corner – Best dish is the stir fried radish cake
Royal China Bayswater, Bake St – Very average and expensive for what it is
Plum Valley – Very expensive and not very good food, very expensive tea
Superstar – Surprisingly, not bad
Yauatcha – higher quality and much more expensive dim sum
Phoenix Palace – Busy but really not very good dim sum
Min Jiang – Totally overpriced but I guess you are paying for the view over Hyde Park
Pearl Liang – Not bad for West London, nice decor, decent service
Royal China Putney – Not part of the Royal China group, good dim sum, better than most in London and well worth the trek out there.
Places to avoid – Ping Pong, New World, Chuen Cheng Ku
Golden Dragon may not serve the most refined dim sum and the service is the typlical nonchalant Chinatown restaurant service but the dim sum is quite decent by London standards and the prices are very reasonable. Your meal should not cost more than £15 per person, (not including any drinks).