100 Walworth Road
Literally translating to “drink tea” from Cantonese, “yum char” is a Chinese-style morning or afternoon tea, which involves drinking Chinese tea (i.e. “char”) and eating dim sum dishes.
In the UK though, there appears to be a slight misconception where the phrase “dim sum” (also Cantonese) is used as a substitute descriptor for this meal but to clarify, “dim sum” refers to the food eaten, whereas “yum char” refers to the entire meal – it’d be like saying you’re going for roast beef when you’re actually going for a Sunday roast.
Now that all the boring crap is out of the way, let’s make it be known – yum char, dim sum, who cares? I farking love it!
Growing up, my family and friends traditionally had yum char as a Sunday brunch/lunch and in that respect, it is quite similar to a Sunday roast. I have fond memories of time spent sitting at a table with those closest to me, playing snake on my Nokia Blue and being all emo while I went through my awkward teenage years. Ah teenage KS, you were a dick…oh also, I grew up in a Chinese restaurant…that served yum char no less. You can understand then why I’d be so keen to retain that part of my childhood. And so my search for decent dim sum in London began.
I’d had more than my fair share of recommendations over the years with everyone claiming that they knew the “best place” for yum char. The general consensus though is that the Baker St tube duo of Royal China and Phoenix Palace are the best in London and personally, I’d find it hard to argue they’re not. But for me, the meal is all about the overall experience and on that front, owing to their overwhelming popularity, I have just never settled into those two stalwarts.
My search instead bought me unexpectedly to Elephant and Castle’s very own Dragon Castle. Having been around for more than a few years itself, it’s clear that Dragon Castle has a few tricks up its sleeves but the trump card has to be its dim sum which, in my own opinion, has to be the best value around and without sounding dirty, I have definitely been around.
I can’t say that the menu is overly imaginative – for those who know dim sum well, you won’t be finding any of the more outlandish offerings from Royal China and Phoenix Palace like, for example, Lobster dumpling – but what it does, it does so very very well.
Yum char staples such as siu mai (pork dumplings), har gao (prawn dumplings), cheung fun (rice rolls), char swei bao (BBQ pork buns) and dan tat (custard tarts) are quite exceptional and conjured up memories of simpler times when the most important thing in life was trying to catch all 150+ Pokemon.
The ingredients obviously play the biggest role in the end product but the secret and sign of a good dumpling (and that the chef knows what he is doing!) is actually in the structural integrity of the rice wrap which forms the filling’s casing and I would say that it’s done darn well here – didn’t break when picked up with chopsticks, firm to the bite yet soft when eaten.
But the show-stopper here for me has to be the deep fried custard buns – if you leave here without trying them, oh lord you are missing out. It is pure food porn and if I was still going through puberty, I’d be hitting them up like no one’s business. Unfortunately though, father time marches but thanks to Dragon Castle, at least I’m given a couple hours of reprieve.