After the recent KFC crawl, we got thinking… What other dishes have we always wanted to compare? Sydney’s best yum cha (or ‘dim sum‘ for our US & UK friends) synonymously came up as a hot debate so here we are!
Yum cha in Sydney typically operates between 11am and 3pm daily and most open earlier at 10am or 10:30am on the weekend.
I normally feel so full after just one yum cha session that I knew we would require lots of discipline and an enormous appetite to pull off this yum cha crawl. While the Korean Fried Chicken crawl stretched over 12 hours, we only had about 4 hours to cover as much yum cha as possible so I set the goal of 3 yum cha restaurants in the one day. In suburbs like Hurstville, Chatswood and Cabramatta, there are enough yum cha restaurants to do the crawl in one suburb alone, so we kept this one in the CBD and will be continuing the series across suburban Sydney later in the year!
Here we go:
Palace Chinese Restaurant
First stop is at Palace Chinese Restaurant, located at the top floor of Piccadilly Centre on Pitt Street. Catering more for the business crowd, Monday to Friday, Palace is fairly empty even at 12 noon on a Saturday. There are trolleys left in corners unattended but there is a good variety making its way around.
The cheong fun steamed rice noodle rolls come in the standard variety of fillings; prawns, char siu, or beef, and even include two stems of Chinese broccoli on the side. This is a nice touch as I love my veggies and normally would have to order an entire serving of the greens. They also serve a special scallop version of the siu mai, a pork and prawn dumpling that is simply delectable!
Palace are also one of the fewer yum cha restaurants in Sydney that still serve these deep fried breads. Not to be mistaken with deep fried bread sticks, aka yau ja gwai, these are called ngau lei sou in Cantonese and are quite similar in texture to the common doughnut. I love the combination of savoury and sweet in this, and the contrast between the crunchy crust and the soft innards. Sooooo good!
The standout dish at Palace is their mango sago, a chilled dessert soup that is filled with mixed treasures – strips of jackfruit and lychee, cubes of nata de coco jellies, tapioca pearls and sago pearls. (By the way, the photo featured really doesn’t do it justice!)
It is also worth mentioning that if you spend $40 or more, you can park in either their basement carpark (entrance via Castleraegh Street) or the Hilton Hotel carpark, for just $7! Note this applies to Mon – Fri afer 5pm or weekends only.
At Sky Phoenix, the ambiance feels brighter and more glamorous. We note that the dishes are about 40cents more expensive than at Palace (small are $5.90, medium are $6.90 and large are $7.90) but this seems justifiable purely based on the ambiance.
Almost all the dishes are flawless. The braised chicken feet are notably more fragrant in star anise and ginger notes than at Palace, but the texture isn’t as gelatinous, nor is the sauce thick enough to cling on and disguise the chicken feet from what it really is. The cheong fun, especially the char siu one blows us away. They’re utmost moist, the balance in the soy sauce is spot on.
The har gow (prawn dumplings), despite it’s plump size aren’t a favourite. The dumpling skin is just a little too thick and there’s too much prawn so the ratio feels off. Can you believe it? We’re complaining about too much prawns in a prawn dumpling!? There’s also a strange lemony flavour which we presume was added to enhance the taste of freshness in the prawns, but it doesn’t work for us… There were also no bamboo shoots in the filling. Some classics should never be messed with and I think har gow are one of those things.
On the plus side, although we don’t order it on this occasion, I adore Sky Phoenix’s prawn toast, fried eggplant with prawn mince in black bean sauce and their taro and pork mince balls with whole prawns.
I used to love their mango sago but Palace has set the new standard so I find Sky Phoenix’s version rather flat today.
At Marigold, it’s slightly more old school. They’re louder, the tables are fit tighter together and I would even say there’s an apparent aggression with the way staff set the table and the manner in which the dishes are delivered. This is all part of the classic yum cha experience to me. The refined ones are nice, but this feels more real.
The har gow here tastes like authentic har gow; the skin is almost translucent, the pleats are consistent in folds and size, and the texture isn’t too chewy or sticky, lifting off the bamboo steamer with ease. The filling is well seasoned, featuring just the faintest touch of pork lard (it is comfort food afterall!), soy sauce, shaoxing wine and sesame oil. It is just starchy enough to bind the bamboo shoots and prawns.
Similarly with the siu mai and scallop dumplings, they’re both perfectly simple and low-key in appearance but taste elegantly nourishing.
Unfortunately, Marigold’s mango pancakes remain in the shadow of Sky Phoenix’s voluptuous serve. However, from what I’ve seen, the other two don’t have sago pudding so Marigold picks themselves back up with a divine taro and coconut rendition.
How do they rate overall?
The consensus was that Sky Phoenix best impressed. All the dishes except for the har gow were perfect – some good classics and some delicious modern iterations. Palace Chinese Restaurant followed closely behind. I’d go back just for the ngau lei sou and mango sago. As much as I used to be a Marigold devotee, their yum cha experience overall felt more ordinary in comparison, but there’s always a time and place for simple and classic.
We’re moving the yum cha crawl into suburban Sydney next. Do you have a favourite we should include? Share it in the comments below!
Palace Chinese Restaurant
Level 1, Piccadilly Tower
133 – 145 Castlereagh Street, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9283 6288
Level 6, Westfield Sydney
188 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9223 8822
Level 4 & 5, Citimark Building
683 – 689 George Street, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9281 3388