Anja Madhvani dives into a dim sum banquet from the newest dumpling dealer in town
The phrase “yum cha” literally means “drink tea” in Cantonese. In reality however, “yum cha” translates more like “drink tea and eat small bites”, like pastry with your cuppa, but a thousand times better because there are dumplings.
The stack of steamers and plates grows taller and slightly chaotic as the dishes continue to fly out of the kitchen
The tradition began when tea houses popped up along the Silk Road in China and began to serve snacks alongside their tea. Traders would stop at these to take their rest. Yum cha is now something of a brunch affair in China, becoming increasingly popular in the Western world too. It’s certainly a firm favourite of mine, and I’m always on the lookout for new spots to enjoy some dim sum with friends.
Usually, I stick to traditional places, but Manchester’s Kampus has proven to be a great location for quality food and drink, so I decided to check out the latest addition, Yum Cha, which thankfully serves dim sum and tea throughout the day.
We share a pot of jasmine tea which is pleasantly fragrant, and I’m delighted that even in this modern venue we’re going old school on the tea service, pouring into tiny, handleless plastic cups with the faded red and yellow patterns you find in all the best Chinatown restaurants. If you want to get stuck into the customs around drinking tea, it’s best to pour for your friends and to let them pour for you.
Service is swift but friendly, and food starts arriving at the table within 10 minutes of ordering. My dining companion is visiting the UK and we’re off to the Lake District for a weekend of hiking. As she bites into the Har Gau (£4.80) she lets out a little sigh, "When I eat prawns in Austria they don’t really taste of anything. These are so intense in flavour. How will I go back to eating them at home?".
I’m sure that’s praise enough for these beautiful little shell-shaped dumplings, but if you want a little more detail I can tell you that the texture is wonderful - a firm filling of prawn and bamboo shoots seasoned with a touch of sesame and oyster sauce. So Choi Dumplings (£4.00) are a fine dice of toothsome vegetables encased in the same translucent, gelatinous pastry as the Har Gau, delicate in flavour.
The stack of steamers and plates grows taller and slightly chaotic as the dishes continue to fly out of the kitchen. Char Siu Bao (£4.80) is a personal favourite of mine, and these are excellent. The dough is fluffy and cloudlike, with just the slightest chewiness. The filling is well seasoned, with soft melt-in-the-mouth pork coated in honey-sweet, sticky barbeque sauce. These are nothing short of joyous.
Jiu Yim (Salt & Pepper) Tofu (£5.50) has a crisp exterior, while the inside is soft and slightly juicy with a subtle savoury quality. The dice of salty onions, garlic, and bell pepper that are scattered across the top should come with an addictive substances warning, and a kick of pepper gives a lingering heat. All too often you can tell when fryer oil is dirty when eating deep-fried food, and something as delicate as tofu doesn’t do well in such situations. Yum Cha gets bonus points for how clean this dish tasted.
Jiaozi Pot Stickers (£5) are subtle in flavour, a touch more seasoning wouldn’t go amiss. Still, the minced chicken is almost like a little patty inside the dough, which is pleasingly crisp on the underside and steamed around the others. The dipping sauce is light, with an excellent balance of acidity and warming ginger.
We finish our little banquet with Hongshao Jirou Skewers with Teriyaki Sauce (£5). Tender grilled chicken is coated in intense, glossy sauce, a real smack of umami and honey-sweet glaze. I find myself wishing we had ordered something for mopping, there’s an excess of sauce and it seems a waste to leave it unfinished. If Nicole weren’t here I might be tempted to lick the plate.
The menu is extensive and is broken up into Dim Sum, Roast Meats, Noodle Soup, and Big Plates. We had intended to start with some dim sum and explore other areas of the menu after but that was a bit ambitious.
Eating dim sum is usually something I take my time over, often while catching up with family, we make a real event of it. The pace of this evening has taken me by surprise, we're in and out pretty rapidly. But I think I like that a meal here doesn't have to be a special occasion or a family get-together. It feels pretty indulgent to finish work in Manchester, enjoy some of my favourite foods cooked well, and still make it back to Leeds in time for Bake Off. I'm more than happy to make a habit of some brisk dumpling action at Yum Cha, and I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest of the menu.
Yum Cha, 24 Minshull St, Manchester M1 3EF
Follow Anja on Instagram @anjaism
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Har Gau 8, So Choi 7, Jiu Yim 8, Char Siu Bao 9, Jiaozi Pot Stickers 6, Hongshao Jirou Skewers 7
Efficient and friendly
Great setting, just missing a little buzz