Zensational ... Fu Manchu features delectable yum cha in a relaxed and chic setting. Photo: Janie Barrett
Many things come to mind when one thinks of yum cha. Tea, obviously. Steamed pork buns, or perhaps chicken feet. Custard tarts. Noise. Trolleys. Only one of these is to be found at Darlinghurst's Fu Manchu, but a fine breakfast is certain.
Fu Manchu spent 18 years on nearby Victoria Street before packing up last May and moving into the swish ground floor of the Kirketon Hotel. Dinner is served daily, but it's the weekend-brunch yum cha, offered during the brunch-perfect timeslot of 10am to 3pm, that brings us here on a drizzly Sunday morning.
The sleek dining room fits with the chic Kirketon aesthetic, with granite floors, warmly glowing hanging lamps, wooden Chinese screens and two enormous red lacquered doors that lead to the hotel lobby. It feels, however, like a stand-alone restaurant, not as though we're in a hotel.
Tasty and substantial ... yum cha with a Malaysian twist. Photo: Janie Barrett
After arriving bang on 10, our group being impatient breakfasters, we're given a table near the door and immediately offered water and tea. At first we're the only ones here, but several other tables are soon taken. A heavy iron pot of chrysanthemum and jasmine tea arrives with tiny, pixie-size glasses. Service is friendly, and there's not a trolley in sight.
With the pencils provided, we mark our desired dishes and quantities on the paper menu, a wonderfully efficient ordering method. There are steamed or fried dumplings, poached and boiled dishes, and sweets. It's Chinese with a dash of Malaysian, and caters to the inner-city crowd by clearly showing what's suitable for vegetarians or coeliacs. A warning for the caffeine-dependent, however: Fu Manchu is traditional enough to not serve coffee.
Our food arrives slowly but steadily, starting with dumplings: steamed lobster gow gee in a silken wrapper, and crunchy parcels of blue swimmer crab. The dumplings are served two at a time, but we're told the kitchen will happily send out three if requested. Fu Manchu's shrimp toast is made with rye bread - I'm converted - and duck wraps served Peking-style with crispy skin, hoisin sauce and paper-thin pancakes disappear quickly. There's no char siu bao and we likely have Momofuku's David Chang to thank for the decision to replace them with a pork belly bao - slices of soft, fatty hoisin-daubed meat in tender steamed buns.
A plate of plump, silken tofu cubes quickly deep-fried and served with a light soy sauce and spring onion demonstrates perfectly how tofu should be served: with texture and rich flavour. Steamed eggplant and tofu is flavoursome and substantial enough to make a meal on its own, while a vibrant baak choi and shiitake stir-fry makes a welcome meat-free change.
Among the non-Chinese dishes are nasi lemak with ikan bilis, a Malaysian dish of coconut rice with a sweet-and-spicy caramelised mix of dried anchovies, peanuts and chilli, served with the traditional sambal, a sliced hard-boiled egg and chopped cucumber. There's also a flaky, golden roti. It's usually served with dhal, but today they're out of supplies and offer us a creamy, soupy tomato-based curry with the bread instead. We skip the simple sweet offerings - home-made ice-cream or mango agar agar - in favour of another pot of fragrant tea.
By the time we stroll out, a little before midday, the restaurant is busier, but the pace remains leisurely and noise levels are calm. While a boisterous morning of tea and dumplings is fun, there's something to be said for the lesser-known Zen yum cha experience.
Yum cha with a dash of Malaysian.
Gow gee (steamed dumplings), doufu manis (fried tofu), sesame shrimp rye toast.
3.5 stars (out of five)
- 02 9360 9424
- Cuisine - Chinese
- Prices - Yum cha dishes $3-$14, with most less than $10.
- Features - Vegetarian friendly
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sun 5-10.30pm; yum cha Sat-Sun 10am-3pm
- Author - Georgia Waters