Fed up with the strict hours of Yum Cha, the pushy trolley bidding, and the big noisy tables? Look beyond China Town to the phenomena sweeping Sydney that is Bar Cha. Combing booze and the bite size deliciousness of dumplings is a combination so good, I fear it could put Lazy Susans out of business. Here are my top picks:
Mamasan is a trendy bar, restaurant and a place for live music on Sunday’s. It’s also Bondi’s only venue for Yum Cha. Luckily they get it so right and offer it day and night, so Bondi residents don’t ever have to leave. Sinking into the couch at Mamasan, surrounded by empty bottles of Sake on the walls and Godzilla’s on the bar, I am greeted by the vibrant host Gemma Lin who informs me I’m in for a modern day Yum Cha experience. She’s not wrong – they’ve added new flavours to old recipes, like the King Prawn and Mint Spring Rolls ($13) – lightly deep fried and using the whole prawn rather than just the meat.
You’ll still find your traditional Yum Cha specialties such as the BBQ Pork Buns ($8) – doughy, chewy and oozing with flavour. The Beef and Chive Dumplings with Sichuan Sauce ($15) are a Taiwanese delight and so fresh you can smell the trail of sesame oil in the air from the kitchen. Their cocktail list is adventurous, with an Asian fusion of flavours, I recommend the Lychee Sau Wau ($16), a lychee and sake based punch with hints of mint and lime. It’s served in a miniature carafe that screams of Alice in Wonderland – drink me? Yes please.
The Bamboo Dumpling Bar is a chain of restaurants popping up in the back of old pubs. (In a perfect world I could say that Gow Gee was the new Pokie.) The Surry Hills venue is part of the Royal Albert Hotel. Vibrant colours greet me with Chinese propaganda paintings and abstract birdcages, it’s like a celebration for the revolution and the food is their fanfare. Serving dumplings on plates rather than in bamboo steamers, like their name suggests, is a letdown, but trust me, nothing stays on the plate for long.
The Shanghai Soup Dumplings ($9.50) explode in your mouth and drip from your chin; thankfully there are no white tablecloths here. The Asian Greens ($8.50) are fresh, sprinkled with dried onion and lashes of oyster sauce. Wash it down with a 1L can of Asahi ($15) but make sure you leave room for dessert. Chocolate Dumplings ($8.50) filled with a hazelnut ganache are to die for, and go nicely with the vanilla bean Ice Cream Dumplings ($8.50) wrapped in silky rice paper. It’s a textural feast for the mouth. Owner Michael Bain tells me he was inspired by Tao, a modern-Asian restaurant in Vegas. What I like about this place is that it he’s got the punch of Vegas without the steroids. Ah, the serenity!
In a pub where chopsticks are better suited as air-drumming utensils, The Annandale Hotel makes Yum Cha effortlessly cool. As the originators of the cause, they’ve even trademarked the term Pub Cha, and have been churning it out in their beer garden for over two years now. And they see imitation as a form of flattery. Their menu is simple – you pick from what looks like a mini-golf scorecard, marking off your quantities. I found their fried food a little too battered and pub-like, so I suggest you stick to the steamed stuff.
You can’t go wrong with Scallop Gow Gee ($7) or the Coriander Dumplings ($6.50). Their Fresh Pork Spring Rolls ($7) are good too, with squiggles of peanut sauce on top of a rice-paper casing. The clientele is strictly locals – dreadlocked rockers mixing with pram-rocking Mums and Dads. The laid-back vibe is great, especially if you just want to nurse a hangover with schooners of Pale Ale and salt and pepper squid in peace. Forget the Berocca, it’s all about the Pub Cha, and you can down it any weekend between 11-4pm.
57-59 Beach Road, Bondi
Ph: (02) 9130 5066
Bamboo Dumpling Bar
140 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9281 2522
The Annandale Hotel
17-19 Parramatta Road (corner Nelson Street), Annandale
Ph: (02) 9550 1078