My earliest yum cha memories involve Sunday lunches with my family at one of the many Chinese restaurants along Courtenay Place in Wellington.
They were usually gluttonous affairs; though there were only five of, us, we each had our favourites and would not be satisfied without ordering our dish. Sometimes this was easier said than done… there were the days where you got seated at a dud table the servers never came past, or perhaps you would be next after a huge group who took everything, or worst of all, that particular restaurant didn’t even serve the dish you were craving!
Then fast forward some years, though I’m not exactly sure when it happened, yum cha became cool. The monopoly Chinese restaurants had was eroded by trendy places serving jazzed up replicas for twice the price and at night. You didn’t have to wait until weekend lunches to get your fix of steamed dumplings… you could indulge at dinner time with a drink far less cleansing than jasmine tea.
From this new breed of cool dim sum places, the stand out performer for me (and all those other Wellingtonians out there) is probably Chow. I have many fond memories from here — long lunches between law school lectures, 2 for 1 Monday dinners with the girls when our eyes were usually bigger than our stomachs, and of course 2 for 1 cocktails where the rosebuds kept flowing. All these memories came flooding back when I sat down at The Drunken Monkey in Shoreditch. While the food was a little less sophisticated than Chow, and probably more closely aligned to their traditional inspirations, the atmosphere was very similar. Our party of 5 popped in after work on a Wednesday night to find the place filled to the brim with hip young things catching up on each other’s work worries or weekend plans, and dare I say it, we fit right in.
Once seated we quickly got down to business — cocktails were ordered, the menu was intensely scrutinised. There was a good mix of dumplings, rice and noodle dishes, roast pork and duck, and salads. Our selections included the king prawn dumplings, Peking chicken wings, potstickers, Vietnamese spring rolls, wontons, steamed pork buns, roast duck hot pot, and almond braised broccoli. We happily scoffed down every dish while gossiping away, but there were some stand outs. Somewhat surprisingly, one of our favourites was the broccoli… I love the green stuff anyway but who knew it could taste this good.
Other highlights for me were the steamed goods- sui mai and king prawn dumplings are my favourite dim sum dishes, and they did them justice here. I was slightly disappointed with the roast duck hot pot; the duck lacked flavour and once deboned was scattered haphazardly across the rice. It was nothing like the artistically arranged crispy skinned roast duck that I know and love, but lesson learnt, I’ll just go to Chinatown for that. Stay away from the wontons too, they were a greasy waste of time. But those minor gripes aside, we enjoyed the food enough to go for another round of dumplings, though we definitely didn’t need them.
As with your traditional yum cha lunch, this is the kind of place you pop into with a group, pick some some dishes you recognise and some that you don’t. Chances are someone at your table will like it. I’d come here again even if it’s only for a cheeky cocktail and a quick bite before heading to one of the many other restaurants in Shoreditch.