For most Sydneysiders Chinatown’s Marigold, a yum cha institution of 40 years, needs no introduction. This was not true for me, an ex-Western Sydney local whose yum cha haunts centered around Parramatta and Auburn, and who only heard about Marigold for the first time this year.
We often think about what is in a name, and when one of my colleagues first mentioned Marigold I took note of the distinct lack of the words “Golden”, “Jade”, “Empress”, “Dragon”, and “Seafood” and doubted its legitimacy. How wrong I was.
We dined on a weekday lunch in December 2020 with a group of our learned friends. Around us were tables mostly of middle aged Chinese people, as well as the odd group of young Caucasians. We were the only young group of Chinese-Australians in the expansive level 5 dining hall, and while we were all doctors we probably still disappointed all the aunties and uncles around the room when we ordered in English.
Rather than go through each dish in detail I will tell you just about a general vibe. Every little steam basket and plate of food we had was good. The selection was reasonably varied, and there was nothing that we craved that they didn’t have. Service from the ladies wheeling around the trolleys was a bit pushy, but that’s how yum cha operates and was fine. One of the waiters kindly obliged when I asked for a knife and fork for my chopstick-capable colleague as a joke – and this ended up coming in handy to cut the egg tarts.
On the note of egg tarts I didn’t think these were the best I’ve ever had. They weren’t fresh, and the pastry was not as light as they could’ve been. Marigold was, apart from the egg tarts, one of the better Yum Cha restaurants I’ve been to, and I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
Parking was $9 for 2 hours in the CBD on a weekday. Pretty good.
Marigold 683 George St, Sydney NSW 2000 (02) 9281 3388
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.