It’s been a recurring joke within our household that the names of most formal Chinese restaurants are essentially some permutation of the words “Jade”, “Empress”, “Crystal”, “Golden”, “Dragon” in front of “Seafood Restaurant”. Crystal Seafood Restaurant skips all this nonsense and has chosen just one word to put in front of Seafood Restaurant, across branches throughout Sydney.
We had a thoroughly adequate yum cha meal at Crystal Seafood Restaurant one Friday afternoon. Whilst I won’t go through every dish that we ate in detail, just imagine that the meal was generally very good and if I haven’t mentioned something that means there was nothing wrong with it.
The selection of food available for Friday lunch was quite limited, especially for the size of the restaurant and the significant size of the patronage. Whilst , as you will see, most yum cha favourites were available, items that were even slightly less standard, for example beef tripe, were nowhere to be found.
Steamed chive dumplings (韭菜饺) were good. Huge, full of prawns and chives.
Steamed spinach dumplings (菠菜饺) were also good, though I think less so than the chive ones. They had lots of garlic within.
Siu mai (烧卖) was very meaty with lots of meat and prawn. Good.
Both of these were also good.
And now to the bad.
The egg tarts (蛋挞) were cold, not warm, and one of them had pastry that had been ripped or torn off. How strange.
The pork ribs (排鼓) had a really odd smell that made me not want to eat them. They smelled like they were a bit off. This didn’t bother my partner very much, but then again she generally doesn’t refrigerate her food.
VERDICT Pretty good, not bad, range very narrow, paigu not good, dan ta not good.
You are a doctor working in the intensive care unit of a tertiary hospital in the Eastern Suburbs. Your partner (who didn’t get a job at said intensive care unit though he really wanted one) is celebrating his birthday today, although he’s trying very hard not to celebrate or let anyone know. The options for lunch where you can walk there and be in, out, and back in the unit within thirty minutes are vanishingly slim – and you’ve already been to Cafe Mckenzie fifteen times this year. One of your Eastern Suburbs colleagues recommends Dumplings & Beer for a quick bite. You take the bait.
Dumplings & Beer’s website goes into great lengths to describe Alex Ly and Rose Ly-Schmidt’s parents, both of whom were Asian, but apart from that do not seem to have any other other qualifications relevant to the dumpling industry. Sure, dad seemed eat a lot and mum made dumplings for dinner parties, but so does every other Chinese person’s parents. This kind of story doesn’t lend your restaurant any additional authenticity. If anything, it makes me wonder what isn’t being said. What is it about you yourself that makes this restaurant special?
After a few long paragraphs of shit talk I must admit that the Duck Wraps (3 for $11.50) were actually quite good. To be fair, it’s quite hard to screw up wrapping some roast duck, cucumber, shallot and hoisin sauce in a thin pancake. My only complaint would be the pancake itself. I’ve had better.
The Panfried Pork & Cabbage Dumplings (5 for $9.90) is where it all started to go wrong. Just look at them. The wrappers were absolutely not the right kind for anything that a normal Chinese person would dare to call a dumpling. The wrappers were in fact very thick and bready, almost as if they had been made from self raising flour. The fillings were just fine – it’s hard to mess up the combination of just two ingredients, however I think the presence of these dumplings and the absence of the classic pork (+/- prawn) and chive dumplings on the menu speaks volumes about the restaurant’s target audience – a group that’s probably less discerning about what Chinese food they eat.
The Xiao Long Bao (4 for $9.90) just weren’t very good. Two of the four came with their wrappers stuck to the paper so that they broke when handled, and at $2.50 a pop they were quite expensive.
The Bean Curd Roll (2 for $8) weren’t great but they’ll do. Just about twice the price as what you’d get at a good yum cha restaurant.
The Steamed Scallops, Pork and Chives Dumplings (4 for $9.90) were more of a shao mai than a dumpling. I actually thought these were quite good, large, and reasonably priced compared to the rest of the food on offer.
The Crackling Pork Belly Sliders (2 for $10.50). The meat was warm and the skin crispy. They came with a very sensible amount of sauce, and were not oversauced as sometimes tends to happen at places like this. These bao were completely inoffensive, and we actually ended up getting a serve for takeaway for one of my partner’s colleagues.
I love dumplings, but not the ones on offer at Dumplings & Beer. To be fair, I don’t think I’m the kind of customer Dumplings & Beer targets – the kind that actual authentic Chinese food might offend.
I’m not coming back to a dumpling restaurant where the dumplings aren’t even as good as what I can make myself.
If there’s one theme to Din Tai Fung, Taiwanese multinational dim sum chain, is that the food is alright but expensive. This was my second time dining at Din Tai Fung, the first was with a few of my friends from high school (and now medical colleagues) in 2012.
The xiao long baos(8 for $14.90) at Din Tai Fung are pretty standard fare. Though a flagship dish of DTF, they do not stand out apart from the fact that there is nothing wrong with them. They are juicy and tasty, however at 8 for $14.90 are very overpriced. There is nothing about them that sets them apart from other XLBs (my senior intensive care colleague remarked that not everything needs to be abbreviated – but I think this is a common abbreviation), and they are no better than Taste of Shanghai‘s, which are 8 for $12.
The spicy seafood dumplings/wontons (6 for $14.90) were really quite good. They were stuffed full of seafood flavours, and the spicy soup/dipping sauce that they came in was quite nice as well. Expensive, but a recommendation from me.
The shrimp and pork dumplings (6 for $13.90), steamed, were pretty good but again expensive. I wouldn’t consider them as special as the spicy seafood dumplings, so would not recommend these if the choice is between the two.
The pork and prawn shao mai (4 for $12.90) were missable. Similar comments to the above. Don’t think I need to repeat myself.
The green beans with minced pork ($17.90) are standard Chinese restaurant fare. You would certainly expect a much larger serving for this price though. Get them if you like it, but green beans are not what Din Tai Fung is known for.
It’s nice to eat food named after a dead Chinese guy for once. Even though General Tso may be more or less long forgotten, the chicken that has nothing else to do with him apart from bearing his name lives on. DTF’s General Tso’s Chicken ($18.90) is the second GTC I’ve ever had, the first being in Box Hill, Victoria, in 2015. Though not traditional Chinese food, I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked the spicy sweetness, and fried chicken of any sort is generally a winner. I can recommend this dish as long as you’re not someone who gets offended by the simple concept of Westernised Chinese food (how come when it’s diner food it’s not called “fusion”?).
The pork chop noodle soup ($15.90) and the fried rice chicken fillet ($17.90) could almost be described in the same breath. While the pork chop was more salt and pepper, and the chicken fillet had more of a classic Taiwanese fried chicken taste, the two were essentially the same – slabs of meat, battered deep friend, seasoned, and cut into slices. Neither were bad, however again the price comes into play – why spend $18 on fried rice and Taiwanese fried chicken when you can get a larger piece of chicken for $10.50 across the road at Hot Star on Liverpool St? The carbs in these dishes were nothing to sing praise about.
I actually really enjoyed the prawn pancake ($9.90). It reminded me of the deep fried bean curd with prawn filling inside. Very nice prawn flavour, and the sweet chilli sauce was the perfect choice of accompaniment.
The Jasmine tea served in paper cups ($5 for the table), was a good buy for a party of 4, and actually much cheaper than most yum cha places. I imagine they’re only served in paper cups to minimise contact with our gross intensive care germs during COVID-19 , however that doesn’t really make sense to me as they’re handling all the other crockery and cutlery anyway.
VERDICT While the food at Din Tai Fung tastes and looks completely adequate, it competes with alternatives that are not only completely adequate tasting but also two thirds of the price. We paid $142.10 between four for the above pictured dishes, which I think is a bit too much for a dim sum meal that wasn’t that special.
Zensation Tea House is a nice little two person operation in Waterloo. It is a mix between a teahouse, dim sum restaurant, and tea shop. The interior is decorated in a very cosy manner with all sorts of different tea related decorations and displays. There are a number of different seating options available, and a few different booths in different styles.
The attention to service from the middle aged Chinese man and woman and the toy poodle Goldie made our experience a real treat. We could tell that the lady was manning both the restaurant and the store by herself to start, but she fielded all her customers deftly and with a very kind manner.
We were given a bowl of sunflower seeds to eat while we waited. This was some kind of next level targeted nostalgia bomb as my grandmother and mother would eat these nonstop. (Still alive, teeth not so good now).
The food served was on par on quality with a regular yum cha restaurant. What was special was that they allow you to mix and match your dim sum for the same price. We were able to order 18 pieces of assorted dim sum for only $42, which is quite special. It’s really nice that as we dine as a couple we were able to get 2 each of a bunch of different things, compared to if we had gone to a normal yum cha place and had to get 3-4 of each thing we ordered. This meant that we were able to have much more variety! It would even be very feasible to go alone and get one of each type of dim sum for a cheap price.
A deeper dive into selected dim sum. Most were very good. The har gao was good. The siu mai, both chicken and pork/prawn varieties were good, the chive and prawn was good. The lo mai gai was good. The custard bun was good. The only complaint I have would be about the scallop and prawn dumplings which felt a bit flour-y, and the vegetarian dumplings which were mostly just not to my taste. All in all though very authentic.
Goldie, the shop dog, was not for eating. I got to pet him.
Water was filtered and chilled. We didn’t go for a tea session as we were in a bit of a rush and didn’t have time to stay. Tea was around $9-12 per head for unlimited refills, so we thought we would save this somewhat pricey pleasure for a different time.
I can really recommend Zensation Tea House in Waterloo, both as a nice date, a prolonged tea drinking session, and also for a solo diner keen to have an assortment of dumplings rather than just 4 of 3 types.