What’s better than yumcha? Yumcha with cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk). Which leads us to Cabramatta and the second part of our series on Sydney’s Best Yumcha (read Part 1 here).
Cabramatta is best known as Sydney’s Little Vietnam but unassumingly, there’s also a plethora of Cambodian, Laotian, Thai and regional Chinese foods available.
Across two days (because we’re dedicated that way), Dave, Sarah, Zen and I ate our way through Cabramatta (not to be confused with our Cabramatta food tour) to explore its yumcha scene. Family and friends were keen to give their tips; Dave’s Mum said Golden Palace’s new chefs have raised the bar on yumcha and was now the best in Cabramatta – others swore by their personal favourites – Fortune 8, Iron Chef and Vinh Phat. So with this feedback, our list was set.
While most Chinese Restaurants nowadays have been revamped to lure you in with sleek new decor, Fortune 8 is modest in its approach. Tucked away within Cabramatta No 1 Shopping Centre (I swear that’s what it’s really called!), Fortune 8’s yumcha offering is homestyle at its finest.
The tables are all sitting so close to each other that there are no yumcha trolleys being pushed around here. Instead, the family-owned operators and wait-staff carry around freshly cooked dishes on trays, taking the time to describe the contents at each table.
They’re almost too fast and efficient – within minutes of being seated, our table was filled with all the classic steamed dumplings and more. Always either mid-mouthful or mid-conversation, we were constantly interrupted with a bounty of something new and delicious.
The chicken siu mai were a nice change from the usual pork and prawn ones, these were firmly packed, just like how my Mum would make them.
One of the best features about yumcha in Cabramatta are the regional Chinese/Vietnamese dishes you wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. Take for example, these hei zho, which are minced prawns and water chestnuts encased within beancurd sheets, deep-fried and served with plum sauce or fish sauce.
The chicken feet braised with black bean sauce aren’t as soft and gelatinous as we’d like, but the minced prawn balls with baby corn are absolutely divine.
We also tried a variety of har gow and vegetable dumplings – each as plump and juicy as the last. The dumpling skins are thicker than norm and have a nourishing handmade quality to them.
Their rice noodle rolls were some of the best I’ve ever had. So silky and delicate.
Even these wu gok taro balls with minced pork taste of real taro. The fragrance is what I’ve always expected when ordering wu gok, but rarely do they taste this good.
Dining at Fortune 8 does come with a caveat – it is noisy and cluttered. Don’t come here for a laid-back long lunch, it’s the type of place you go to when you’re starving and need a guaranteed fast-paced, hearty and delicious yumcha feast. You won’t have to chase down any waiters and they’ll definitely feed you until you’re bursting at the seams.
Across the train station, it was equally as busy at Iron Chef. We waited in queue at the adjoining TAB area and after some time, we were eventually ushered past one of the kitchens to our table.
Before tea and chilli sauce was even served, we flagged down a waitress to order a plate of Lo Bak Gou (also known as carrot cake), turnip cake fried with egg. The turnip cake sparingly consisted of bits of shredded turnip, shiitake mushroom, dried shrimp and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and was fairly good by most standards. For me, it was a disappointing comparison to mum’s homemade version, but I’m spoilt when it comes to #LamFamilyEats.
All the usual yumcha favourites made an appearance – pork and prawn siu mai, chicken feet, har gow, cheong fun…
The pan-fried rice noodles with dried shrimp and spring onion were perfectly crispy (it’s a pet peeve that some restaurants don’t fry all the pieces evenly) and served with the umami boost of peanut butter and hoisin sauce. If you think that combination of sauce is bizarre, you’ve clearly been missing out on a life experience. Try it!
We were able to take our leisurely time here and signalled pass to several yumcha trolleys as we savoured the intense caramel flavours of our Vietnamese iced coffees. Mmm… condensed milk.
Two other dishes worth trying here are the seafood dumplings – with pastry so thin it’s translucent – and the ngau lei sou, a deep-fried bread that resembles the shape of an ox-tongue.
As one of the largest yumcha restaurants in Cabramatta, it’s a smooth but slow operation at Iron Chef. The portion sizes feel slightly smaller than that of Fortune 8 and we later realise there’s also a noticeable price difference with it being a tad more expensive here. With that said, Iron Chef offers the quintessential yumcha experience with bustling trolleys and even the odd English/Chinese/Vietnamese language miscommunication – all part of the yumcha fun!
Iron Chef Chinese Seafood Restaurant
84 Broomfield Road, Cabramatta, NSW
Phone: (02) 9723 6228
Golden Palace was even more so off-the-beaten track but once we were nearby, we followed the flurry of Asian families going up the escalator – we assumed, to Golden Palace, for their weekend yumcha ritual. And right we were. That’s the thing about Cabramatta, most places are rarely referred to by its name. Not long ago, I was meeting Amy, our Cabramatta food tour guide, and to describe where she was, all she had to say, was “the grocer with shelves stacked up to the Heavens with kitchenware” for me to know it was T&T Supermarket near the main carpark.
It was bright and inviting at Golden Palace – suddenly, all the little things that we’d normally not notice, stood out. The teapot, for example, was larger and unchipped. The tableclothes actually felt new, without the usual mended patches. The tea was different too, infused with luscious pandan leaves (something I’ve always loved about Duy Linh vegan restaurant in Cabramatta who also serve this pandan infused tea). I’ve previously been here for dinner but I don’t ever recall this fresh buzz.
Still reminiscing the wu gok taro puffs from Fortune 8, these at Golden Palace were a worthy contender, with the most magnificent crispy outer layer. They were so good, I would’ve ordered another serving, had we not been on a yumcha food crawl!
The har cheong fun prawn rice noodle rolls were brilliant too; I especially loved that they didn’t skimp on the soy sauce dressing!
A one-up on the standard siu mai, Golden Palace’s scallop and prawn variation won all of us over.
Most of the other dishes were fairly good, just not extraordinary. However, the revamp earlier this year makes Golden Palace an extremely promising yumcha option. We were impressed with both the food and service.
Vinh Phat (previously known as the yumcha joint near the Woolies carpark or the one with the red curtains) is one of the few yumcha restaurants in Cabramatta to have stood the test of time. It was nice to see that they lifted their game earlier last year and relocated to larger, fancier spot. So the question was, has the quality dropped since the move?
The best tests are always the classics and Vinh Phat’s har gow remain to be classic exquisite morsels, filled with the perfect balance of minced prawns, bamboo shoots and just the right amount of seasoning. It just goes to show that traditional recipes never go out of style.
Similarly, the pork and prawn siu mai, snowpea and seafood dumplings, chicken feet and prawn rice noodle rolls were just as tasty as they’ve always been.
When in Cabramatta, do as the locals do – popular hits at Vinh Phat include the chicken feet and jellyfish salad, the hei zhou fried prawn rolls, and the fried crab claws. The chilled deboned chicken feet had beautiful texture profiles and together with fresh shreds of cucumber, pickled carrot, and nuoc mam cham fish sauce dressing, was deliciously textural and full of punchy flavours.
The prawn rolls were irresistible and the sight of a fresh batch threw some nearby tables into a frenzy. The deep-fried crunch of the beancurd skin and the innard of bouncy prawn mousse, plus the zing of the plum sauce was just unbeatable. The warm fuzzy feeling I got from eating these may perhaps be attributed to the fact that I grew up eating this Teochew delicacy and rarely do I see Teochew dishes in Sydney restaurants.
While we didn’t have the fried crab claws during the yumcha food crawl, I did return for them with one of our Cabramatta corporate food tour groups, where we devoured three tables of this (and more!):
So needless to say, we were proud of Vinh Phat’s transformation, and were relieved that their quaint appeal and quality of dishes were untarnished with the relocation. Be warned of the queue though!