Friday, October 22, 2010

Yum Cha with a view

Hong Kong, arguably, has some of the best food in the world. It has, I believe, the best yum cha in the world, too, but finding the ultimate yum cha restaurant is a task harder than first thought. What I have found, though, is probably one of the better ones, with prices similar to what is being paid in Sydney (at places like Kam Fook and Marigold), but with much, much higher standards.  Not surprising, because yum cha is a popular breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch option, with at least 2 or more restaurants offering yum cha within the same shopping area--a lot of shopping centres, especially those along the MTR line, are interlinked. Competition is fierce, especially during non-peak periods (before 11am and after 2pm), and with frugal housewives and pensioners on the hunt for great deals, prices are kept low too, without too much sacrifice to quality. Come weekends, though, most families will look for quality--yum cha, in that sense, would be a family treat, and sometimes an opportunity to catch up with extended family and friends. With the economy on the rise, more and more people are now looking for higher quality, and willing to pay the premium for both food, service and ambience.

Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒), located at one of the most highly sought real estate in Hong Kong, the IFC at Central, meets this demand. With views of the Victoria Harbour, the chic interiors and smartly dressed waitstaff reflects the philosophy behind the food: traditional Cantonese food modified to suit the modern palate...and sometimes, the budget. Yum cha is no budget affair here: one of the regular dim sum offerings is abalone siu mai, where chunks of abalone is mixed in with the usual pork and shrimp filling, topped with a reconstituted, dried abalone the size of a fingernail. More regular fare is offered too, made to the same standard of excellence. 

 The seasonal menu

Once seated, tea is ordered and appetisers served. Also on the table are the chili oil and spicy soy, both house specialties. Dim sim is made to order, and a few moments is usually given before the waitstaff approaches again.

First to arrive is the steamed BBQ pork buns (叉燒包 Char siu bao). White, fluffy, and piping hot, each one is split into almost perfect halves. The buns are soft, light, and with just the right amount of chew, encasing a sweet-savoury filling of char siu that actually tastes of meat.

One of the modern reworkings of a yum cha classic is the steamed vegetarian rolls in tofu skins (蒸腐皮齋卷). Topped with a thickened shantang broth, it is light but packed with umami, the interplay of textures of the tofu skin, carrots, mushroom and shaved asparagus lettuce (萵筍) is a reflection of both skill and thought in this healthier version of the classic pan-fried vegetarian rolls that proliferate Sydney yum cha.

Mini char siu pineapple buns (迷你叉燒菠蘿包) is the fusion of the steamed BBQ bun with another Hong Kong favourite, the pineapple bun. The egg and sugar topping on the soft buns, cracked under the oven to resemble the exterior of a pineapple (hence the name) brings out not only the sweeetness of the char siu filling, but also the umami of the pork itself. It has become a favourite dim sim at yum cha, and the version at Cuisine Cuisine is one of the best in town.

Prawn dumplings (蝦餃 har gao) is a perennial favourite. Beneath the translucent skin lies a filling of fresh prawns and bamboo shoots, with the smallest amount of pork to bind it all together. The contrast of the chewy skin and the slight crunch of the filling is perfectly complemented with a small dab of the chili oil. A good prawn dumpling should have 18 pleats, the skin should not break when poked lightly with chopsticks, and offer a degree of resistance on chewing. This, I'd say, satisfies all three requirements.

Spring rolls (春捲) have been experiencing a renaissance in the dim sum world. Many newer restaurants now offer versions that are slender and long, rather than short and stumpy, with a filling of prawn paste that is, well, quite bouncy. Lightly fried, the skin is earthshatteringly crunchy and textural contrast with the prawn paste filling makes this one of the best reworkings I've tasted.

Siu mai (燒賣) is another yum cha classic. Hand minced pork and prawn is mixed in with chopped shiitake to make the filling, topped with roe before being steamed. Texturally, the filling is not as soft and dead as the ones made with machine minced meat, with small pockets of diced meat in the filling that actually lets you taste exactly what you are eating. As only the freshest meat is used, having not experienced the snap chill as Australian meat does, the pork and prawns exhibit extra umami from the freshness.

The stir-fried beef rice noodles with abalone sauce (鮑汁濕炒牛河) provides the carbs for the meal. I wouldn't say it is brilliant--the beef had too much bi-carb in the marinade (good quality beef shouldn't need any with a good chef). Nonetheless, it was still tasty, with the unconventional addition of compacted tofu skin which soaked up the abalone sauce.

Sure, similar, if not the same dishes can be found in Sydney for around the same price (25AUD per person). But the quality of food and service would be vastly different. And with the dollar nearing parity, it makes a lot of sense to save up for a trip to places like Hong Kong where the currency is pegged to the greenback, and splurge there instead.  

3101, Podium level 3,
IFC Mall, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 23933933

Bookings essential for yum cha.


  1. those char siu buns look so cute! ack i need to go get me some buns now!

  2. My cousin took my mother here when she was visiting last. She didnt' enjoy it that much, I think, because she comes from that old school which likes the food to be good value and the atmosphere to be noisier. She did say the food was great though!

  3. @chocolatesuze: they were cute and tasty! and full of lean charsiu meat, not the fat.
    @mademoiselle delicieuse: usually I'm of that same school, but won't say no to a bit of indulgence every now and then! when it gets noisy at yumcha in hk, it gets really noisy. no msg at cuisine cuisine is a plus for me too.