Yum cha – it’s almost a national sport in Australia and it’s playing at a venue near you. So if you’re craving dumplings, more dumplings, and fragrant jasmine tea, here’s our roundup of Melbourne’s top 10.
Shark Fin House
A bona fide Melbourne institution, Shark Finn House (the more upmarket version of its sibling Shark Fin Inn) has been plying its trade since 1989. Sesame prawn, deep-fried calamari and stuffed crab claw jostle for attention alongside chicken feet and salted egg yolk buns.
131 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 9663 1555
David Zhou was a game changer for putatively “Chinese” food in Melbourne and, after opening his eponymous restaurant on Chapel Street in 1999, his yum cha marathons remain a beguiling weekend proposition. They’re 90 minutes of all-you-can-eat dumpling power, with staples such as excellent pork and prawn siu mai. These old favourites are backed by Shanghai-style fare, including pan-fried beef dumplings, spicy duck wings and white-chocolate-centred dessert dumplings. It’s yum cha dialled up a notch to suit diners bored with the familiar, in whimsically whitewashed surroundings inspired by Zhouzhuang, a Chinese canal town. Once a tea store, David’s offers all the restorative brews to put the literal truth in the enjoyment of yum cha (“to drink tea”) but the wine list is also a cracker.
4 Cecil Place, Prahran; (03) 9529 5199
It flies under the radar – possibly something to do with the sedate noise levels – but this elegant Carlton restaurant has some of the best old-school yum cha in town. Hit East Imperial for fluffy barbecue pork buns, juicy pork xiao long bao, and beautifully toffee-skinned Peking duck.
323 Rathdowne Street, Carlton; (03) 9347 3322
Golden Dragon Palace
In many ways, Golden Dragon Palace is the cliché of the yum cha barn: a sprawling acreage of a restaurant decked out in a tasteful riot of carved dragons and ornamental urns, where basket-laden trolleys are driven at speed between the tables by brusquely competent waiters and a tuxedo-clad pianist might journey through the classics at a baby grand. Beat your way to a linen-clad table for Hong Kong-style yum cha featuring the usual suspects – corn-kernel-encrusted prawn dumplings, cheong fun (slippery white noodles wrapped, pancake-style, around barbecue pork) and fried five-spice quail – and the road less travelled, such as sweetly nutty fried cake of water chestnut. A word to the wise: if you can’t see what you’re after on the trolleys, ask a waiter to order it for you.
363 Manningham Road, Templestowe Lower; (03) 9852 4086
Is there anything Neil Perry can’t do? At his Melbourne version of Spice Temple he gussies up yum cha for a serious restaurant audience. No trolleys here – everything is handmade and cooked to order. And with rice noodles wrapped around spanner crab and black bean, or har gao bursting with the freshest prawn meat, you can see why he’s known as Mr Produce-Driven.
Crown Complex, Southbank; (03) 8679 1888
The Roving Marrow
For yum cha with a difference, make a beeline for the restaurant lurking within Carlton’s smartly restored Astor hotel, where an East-meets-West Sunday session has thrown authenticity out the door and developed its own cult following. The Roving Marrow’s all-you-can-eat menu includes an oyster bar bumped up with other raw options, such as ceviche and tartare, while trolleys doing the rounds of the dining room might offer braised short-rib dumplings, Sea Bounty mussels, kimchi pancake, crab doughnuts or crisp-skinned pork. With timber panelling, burnt-orange leather banquettes and a lively soundtrack, it’s yum cha for the party set – and it’s a very good idea to commit fully to the experience with the all-you-can-drink selection of Mumm Champagne, Bloody Marys and the restaurant’s version of a gin and tonic made with the house kombucha.
418 Lygon Street, Carlton; (03) 9347 7419
This venue is now permanently closed.
David Zhou (of David’s fame) hits his diffusion brand with equal enthusiasm for great yum cha. An all-you-can-eat experience at one of the three Oriental Teahouse venues takes the road less travelled with spinach and potato or chilli beef dumplings and duck spring rolls. Expect a great tea selection, too.
Shop F015, Chadstone Shopping Centre; 03 9949 2072;
455 Chapel Street, South Yarra; 03 9824 0128;
378A Little Collins Street, Melbourne; 03 9600 4230
A yum cha venue that doubles as an antique shop? Kill two birds with one stone at Windsor’s singular Red Door by shopping for a new dining table while filling up on prawn and crab har gow in translucent wrappers, pan-caramelised slabs of turnip cake studded with lap cheong and luxe dumplings filled with lobster, prawn and scallop.
1 McIlwrick Street, Windsor; (03) 9510 9658
Yes, there are lazy Susans: Windsor cool kid Saigon Sally is cracking out the turntables for its upmarket take on Vietnamese yum cha. Every Sunday it becomes a place to worship the likes of Saigon chilli crab with lime, and bottomless oysters. Just add a DJ and party on.
2 Duke Street, Windsor; (03) 9533 2342
Tao Tao House
It missed the memo that Hawthorn is newly cool, but Tao Tao House rises above fashion. The tinkling piano soundtrack is a great accompaniment for scallop siu mai, fragrant ginger and chive prawn dumplings and finger-lickin’ fried chilli quail.
815 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn; (03) 9818 0968