In Cantonese, yum cha means “drink tea” but a classic brunch service includes so much more – everything from dumplings to mango pancakes – and it’s something of a religion in Sydney. Here, we name the best of the best restaurants.
Don’t mind the hustle and bustle of clanging trolleys and boisterous dumpling devotees because this dining hall is raucous for a reason. The selection of yum-cha treats is huge but shows an incredible attention to detail – just make sure you get the pork ribs with black-bean sauce. A great restaurant at night, East Ocean becomes dumpling den by day.
421-429 Sussex Street, Haymarket; (02) 9212 4198
Palace Chinese Restaurant
Once a well-kept secret among Sydney’s cheffing community, the Palace has emerged as the go-to for all in need of a yum cha fix. Hidden on the first floor of Piccadilly Tower in the CBD, this cramped yet relatively quaint dumpling den strikes a fine balance between the traditional and the experimental in a boisterous room humming with happiness. Don’t mind the trolleys bumping your chair, sitting elbow to elbow or the matter-of-fact service, because the real show is inside the steamer baskets. Eggplant and tofu unite in a black bean sauce. Barbecue pork rice noodles pip the prawn version at the pleasure post. Stuffed then fried bread sticks are spot-on. Pineapple custard buns are a sweet twist, while chicken feet and slow-braised tripe keep more adventurous eaters well sated. At the Palace, you can dine like a king for a pittance.
Shop 38, Level 1, Piccadilly Tower, 133-145 Castlereagh Street, Sydney; (02) 9283 6288
There are dumplings and then there are Eric Koh dumplings. Merivale has moved into Enmore with the Queens Hotel, which houses Queen Chow, a homage to Hong Kong street food. The duck and typhoon mud crabs are popular but the main act is morsel mastery by dumpling king Koh, who helped open Michelin-starred restaurant Tim Ho Wan in Sydney. Get the steamed platter and marvel at the jewels in the basket before devouring them and demanding more.
Level 1, 167 Enmore Road, Enmore; (02) 9114 7333
Push through the unassuming, flowing curtain and descend into the spice sensation that lives up to its name as a temple. There are no trolleys; instead, Neil Perry’s vision of yum cha delivers exquisite dumplings created with an attention to detail that makes them as visually stunning as they are a pleasure to eat. In the darkened, sultry space, start with a spectacularly spicy salt-and-pepper tofu smackdown, followed by spanner crab that gets an XO kick and an egg custard caress. Chicken and black fungi then Northern-style lamb and fennel dumplings will leave you yearning for more. Sure, it’s at the steeper end of the yum cha spectrum – but Spice Temple has given the experience a sense of sophistication like never before.
10 Bligh Street, Sydney; (02) 8078 1888
With its red carpet, white tablecloths and salmon-coloured napkins, Marigold is an old-school dumpling den. It’s been Sydney’s go-to Cantonese restaurant since 1982; the original Sussex Street establishment was the city’s first yum cha diner. Trollies are a veritable treasure trove of classic hits and left-of-centre dishes, such as mixed tripe and chicken feet, for the adventurous.
Level 4 and 5, Citymark Building, 683-689 George Street, Sydney; (02) 9281 3388
Carrying on Koh’s dumpling dedication following his 2015 departure from Mr. Wong, this place has arguably the best parcels in town – or perhaps equal to its sibling restaurant, Queen Chow. The French Colonial-inspired setting is a great platform for Dan Hong’s Cantonese menu.
3 Bridge Lane, Sydney; (02) 9114 7317
Yum Cha in a leagues club? Only in Australia. But Dynasty Chinese at Canterbury League Club is as solid as any CBD diner. Sure, you need to be a member of the club or live outside the five-kilometre zone but the pagoda-style restaurant, with bamboo furnishings and a moat, will transport you to a dumpling destination that feels like it’s anywhere but a big club.
26 Bridge Road, Belmore; (02) 9740 663
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It’s one of the largest Chinese restaurants in the Southern Hemisphere but there can still be a queue eager to get in for the daily yum cha feast. In the case of The Eight, it’s worth the wait. Although it pits itself at the fusion end of Chinese-Asian cuisine, the yum cha offering is traditional for the most part. Red carpet and over-the-top chandeliers add a sense of extravagance and the dim sum menu is surely one of the largest offerings Down Under. Steamed dumplings come with scallop, Chinese cabbage or snow pea leaves, or pan-fried with prawn and chives. The roast duck and seaweed with sesame oil dishes remain the house specialties. If you’re looking for a textural treat, put your hand up for smoked pork knuckle with jellyfish.
Level 3, Market City, 9-13 Hay Street, Haymarket; (02) 9282 9988
Phoenix Group Restaurants
The Phoenix Group runs four diners and they all punch above their weight, offering contemporary settings and good dim sum that won’t break the bank. Get in early because the queues can get long – the locals are onto a good thing.
Sky Phoenix, Shop 6001 Westfield Sydney, 188 Pitt Street, Sydney; (02) 9223 8822
East Phoenix, Level 3/2A Defries Avenue, East Village, Zetland; (02)9662 2088
Rhodes Phoenix, Level 5, Rhodes Shopping Centre, 1 Rider Boulevard, Rhodes; (02) 9739 6628
Parramatta Phoenix, Westfield Parramatta, Shop 4070, 159-175 Church Street, Parramatta; (02) 9891 3338
Situated on the edge of Sydney's leafy Hyde Park, Madame Shanghai is anything but a traditional yum cha restaurant - don't expect to spot red carpet, yellow napkins or a lazy Susan here. Instead, the modern 60-seat Chinese diner is fitted with striking wall decals, velvet curtains and Oriental-inspired patterned carpet and yum cha is an à la carte experience served from 11am every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Expect an inventive take on dumplings; the scallop, snow pea and tendril dumplings are fresh and flavoursome, as are the barbecue duck and spinach. Don't fill up on dumplings, though – save room for the soft-shell crab with tomato, chilli and grilled milk-bread which packs a hot punch.
18 College Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 8318 8618
Image: Alana Dimou
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