Hot in Hong Kong: The new yum cha

Terry Durack
Mott 32 serves up an exciting upgrade of Cantonese food.
Mott 32 serves up an exciting upgrade of Cantonese food. Photo: Supplied

Sharpen your chopsticks: Hong Kong has never been better for dim sum lovers. If you've been before, you've probably paid respect to tradition at the venerable Luk Yu Tea House in Central, and thrown yourself in the deep end at the hot, noisy bunfight that is Lin Heung. You've chased  the old-school trolleys at Maxim's Palace, City Hall, stopped shopping long enough to smash the dumplings at Lei Garden, and saved up for a table at the world's first three-Michelin-starred dim sim at Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons to swoon over chef Yan Tak's classy steamed lobster and scallop dumplings.  But look away for one minute, and Hong Kong has added a whole new layer of dumpling magnificence, from chichi to cheap-cheap. Here are five of the hottest.

Tim Ho Wan

Get there early – like, really early, about 10am – to avoid a queue, and allow yourself to be packed in like sardines for the congee with spare rib and peanut, har gau dumplings, pork liver cheung faan rice paper rolls, ma lai goh (sweet steamed honey cake) and – the real star – the signature crisp, golden-baked barbecue pork bun. It's cheap, cheerful, well made and respectful of tradition. Chef Mak Kwai Pui left the kitchens of the three-Michelin-starred Lung King Heen to set up a tiny dim sim diner in Mong Kok back in 2009. By 2010 it had become "the cheapest Michelin-star restaurant in the world" with queues going around the block. These days there are four Hong Kong outlets and branches in Singapore, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, and now, Sydney. The IFC Mall outlet is conveniently close to the Airport Express to or from Hong Kong Station, for that first (or last) taste of Hong Kong.

Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall), Central, IFC Mall, Hong Kong, 852 2332 3078   

China Tang 

Shanghai Tang founder Sir David Tang is responsible for a whole string of beautifully crafted Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. His latest – and loveliest – is this lavish, atmospheric, deco-inspired restaurant in the middle of the Landmark Atrium. Executive chef Li Cheung's beautifully cooked, high-detail dim sim is eaten from gorgeous pigeon-egg blue crockery, whether it's the light-as-air barbecued pork buns and steamed Shanghai xiao long bao, or the more creative steamed abalone and pork with caviar, and steamed beef ball gift-wrapped in tofu sheet. This is dim sim to dress up for.

Landmark Atrium, 15 Queens Road, Central 852 2522 2148 www.chinatang.hk

Mott 32

Go down, down, down into this cavernous, Joyce Wang-designed subterranean restaurant and enter a dramatic netherworld that mixes up modern industrial design, hidden alcoves and a glammy bar with the atmospherics of thirties Shanghai. But who cares what it looks like: just sell your first-born for a plate of chef Fung's freshly barbecued char siu, made here with the magnificent acorn-fed Spanish Teruel pig, marinated for 48 hours and touched with yellow mountain honey. The same pork turns the crisp, sugar-coated, baked pork buns unbelievably good (there goes the second-born). Love the xiao long bao, the lobster har gau, the chilled tofu with preserved egg. An exciting upgrade of Cantonese food for Hong Kong, with high detail and style.

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Basement, Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road Central, 852 2885 8688, mott32.com

Yan Toh Heen

This already distinguished waterside classic Cantonese restaurant has had a luxurious makeover, promptly receiving a brand new second Michelin star for extra sparkle. Master chef Lau Yiu Fai has gone for broke with a designer selection of "superior dumplings", including crisp woo gok taro dumplings with abalone, and gold-leaf steamed king crab leg dumplings. You want soy with that? You get six different soy sauces to dabble in. Expect double-clothed tables, jade place settings, mother-of-pearl ceiling, and onyx birdcage screens – you're a long way from Chinatown now, Dorothy. Expensive, but extraordinary.

InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road Tsim Sha Tsui, 852 2721 1211

Above and Beyond

Executive chef Joseph Tse has three rules: no MSG, less oil, and less sugar – everything else is game on, from Iberico pork to smoked duck eggs. This under-the-radar selection of interesting, skilfully made dim sim is never so chichi that it loses the plot: think cheung faan rice rolls wth bamboo pith, and pork dumplings with Shanghai hairy crab cream. The sleek Conran-designed 28th floor restaurant with floor to ceiling views of Victoria Harbour is the crowning glory of the Hotel ICON, a hospitality industry "training hotel" that is currently one of the city's best-value-and-style hotel choices, just a walk east from Tsim Sha Tsui.

28/F, Hotel ICON, 17 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hotel ICON, 852 3400 1318