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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Seeking the Best Dim Sum in London - Yum Cha

Yum Cha

Camden Town is not what I would call a London hotspot for dim sum eateries. Far from Bayswater and Chinatown, Yum Cha is the only dim sum restaurant on Chalk Farm Road challenging two very common prejudices.

The first is that authentic dim sum can only come from areas with an established Chinese community. The second is that any good Chinese restaurant will have a majority of Chinese customers.

I was lucky to join Kelvin of FoodCycle, Jen of Dashi Dashi, and Louise of Penguinette Cooks at Yum Cha recently and find a fairly busy restaurant mostly occupied by Western tourists from nearby Camden Market.

Occupying the premises of former Silk & Spice restaurant on Chalk Farm Road, the restaurant has a modern, Ikea-style décor with much use of intense red colours. It is not an elegant restaurant but neither is it unattractive.

Service was attentive but unobtrusive, and soon after our order was taken, our dim sum dishes started arriving. These were:

“Sesame Prawn Roll” @ £2.40 – these were deliciously crispy with a generous filling of prawns and coriander, and tasted very good.

“Char Siu Bun” @ £2.40 – I was pleasantly surprised by the lightness of these buns and by the flavoursome char siu filling, a first-rate version of a staple dim sum dish.

“Shanghai Dumplings” @ £2.40 – these were excellent, and nearly as good as the ones from Leong’s Legend. The dumplings’ skin was thin and delicate, holding a good amount of highly flavoured broth.

“Chiu Chow Dumpling” @ £2.40 – these are among my favourites at Royal China, and Yum Cha’s version was second to none. I loved the combination of peanuts, radish and pork in these dumplings.

“Scallop Dumpling” @ £2.40 – gorgeously presented, these dumplings had a delicate flavour and were filled with some meaty scallops.

“Crispy Duck Roll” @ £3 – not a dim sum I would normally have ordered, I find these uninspiring at best, but Yum Cha’s was crisp, and not too greasy.

“Beeftripe” @ £2.40 – I love tripe but had never eaten it for dim sum. Jen chose this dish, it was surprisingly delicious and with a good texture.

“Fry Dough Cheung Fun” @ £3 – since trying this type of cheung fun at Phoenix Palace, I became a real convert. I loved the different textures and delicate flavours in this dish.

“Prawn Cheung Fun” @ £3 – the prawns were large and chunky, and were the perfect accompaniment to the light cheung fun skin. It was one of the best versions of this dish I have had.

“Beancurd & Beefballs” @ £2.40 – the beef balls had some interesting flavours particularly of coriander root and ginger. A simple but well executed dim sum.

“Pork & Prawn Dumpling (Shumai)” @ £2.40 – Yum Cha’s version was a real step up from Phoenix Palace’s, they were meaty but soft, and very delicious.

"Pan-fried Turnip Cake” @ £2.40 – these were also excellent; they were crispy on the outside but slightly gooey inside and with a generous amount of dried meat.

“Mini Egg Tarts” @ £2.40 – I am not a huge fan of these even though Yum Cha’s pastry cases were deliciously crumbly and sweet.

After some disappointing dim sum meals recently, I am thrilled to have found Yum Cha in Camden Town. I cannot remember having such good dim sum at such affordable prices in London and am very surprised that it is not completely heaving with customers.

Yum Cha serves dim sum throughout the day (including dinner) although the cheung fun is only available at lunch time. The restaurant will take bookings for dim sum at weekends.

Cost: £41.60 (or £10.50 per person) including 10% service and £1.20 for tea per person.

Likes: Good service, affordable prices and endless/unsolicited refills of our tea pot. I thoroughly recommend the Shanghai dumplings, the prawn cheung fun and the pan-fried turnip cake.

Dislikes: High density of tables meant that some of us were uncomfortable at peak times due to the cramped conditions.

Verdict: One of my favourite dim sum venues in London, serving excellent quality dishes at very affordable prices. I cannot wait to return. Highly recommended.

Yum Cha on Urbanspoon


  1. So rare when everything ordered is up to standard or better!

  2. I agree with your comment about the cramped tables - I felt the same. And in winter, the table by the door is to be avoided - it's freezing. I asked to move!

    I tried only a small range of dishes but enjoyed them and was also pleased - as I live up in the boonies near the top of the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line it's nice to know that dim sum is not too far away!

  3. this looks good, and so cheap! I work in camden, and save for a couple of favourite places,it can be a bit of a greasy noodle/chain restaurant culinary wasteland, so will defs have to check this place out.

  4. These dumplings look so yummy! I would love a serving or two!

  5. Nice post. You should also mention that they do discounts, as seen on their website: http://www.silks-nspiceyumcha.co.uk/specials.html

  6. I must drag myself here as most of the dim sum looks pretty good. Great write-up as always but I take slight issue with your comment:

    "The first is that authentic dim sum can only come from areas with an established Chinese community."

    I don't think this view has applied for a long time. Across the UK, the Chinese community follow the dim sum to an extent, both in London and outside. For example, before it closed Harrow's Golden Palace was hailed amongst the best in Greater London although Harrow isn't a particularly Chinese area. And my parents' regular dim sum haunt is upstairs from a Chinese supermarket near a motorway junction on the edge of Manchester.

  7. @ Anonymous - indeed I was pleasantly surprised myself! I can't really fault any of the dishes I had at Yum Cha.

    @ Kavey - good tip, I will make sure to avoid those tables near the entrance in winter months! I used to live in Chalk Farm during most of the 90s, and used to go to Silk & Spice then. I was surprised to see how Chalk Farm Rd has changed since then with some decent restaurants now opening. I love that area of London.

    @ Feastonscrapsblog - hi Laura, I love your blog, thanks for stopping by. I cannot recommend them enough - if you do manage to get to Yum Cha, try their Shanghai dumplings, they are excellent!

    @ Ibzo - hi mate, I don't think they were doing these offers when I went there. Wow, so they offer a 25% discount for lunch from Monday to Friday (12pm to 5pm), or 50% discount on Monday and Tuesday evenings (5pm to 11pm). Fantastic, thanks for that!!

    @ Mr Noodles - It would be nice to think that your experience reflects the majority of the UK population. But does it? My own experience of discovering dim sum in London was that it took me a long time to venture outside Chinatown. Even today, when talking to a lot of my foodie friends, I am surprised to find that many still only go to Chinatown. Old habits die hard!

  8. I take your point but there's little excuse nowadays as whether you follow the blogs or the likes of T**e Out, most of the top tips for dim sum are outside of Chinatown and Bayswater. I guess us Chinese are just naturally ahead of the game!

  9. Ditto! I would not expect any less from you Mr Noodles!

  10. Just discovered your blog, and love it. I'm no dim sum connoisseur, having just dipped my toes into culinary tradition, but have to try this place out. Have you tried Pearl Liang?

  11. Hi Laura, thanks for stopping by! Love your blog too. I went to Pearl Liang (so difficult to find) but I think it was rather late in the day, so I was not that impressed. I would like to go back as feel I have not really made it justice.

  12. I was looking for a good yum cha place in London and this looks great!

  13. Thanks for posting this. I will for sure give it a try. So far my best encounter of dim sum in London is Princess Garden where I go every three weeks or so. It is a bit pricey so have been on the lookout of a more reasonably priced place. : )

  14. wow, I like your post it's a mindblowing post and I hope you will be post more.

  15. This is a great article , your opening picture is brilliant , love the article and the blog , thankyou for the share .

  16. Nice One! It is really great that you share for us such useful stuff.

  17. "Mini Egg Tarts" I just love it :) Its so yummy, crispy and delicious.

  18. That all looks absolutely amazing. And I am so pleased you can actually see the soup at the bottom of those dumplings! I am on the hunt for good 'soupy dumplings' after being a bit disappointed by Beijing Dumpling - not enough soup in them. Someone has already recommended Yum Cha to me, and seeing this has encouraged me to go sooner rather than later.

  19. Thanks, visited yesterday based on your review and was very impressed with the dim sum menu. Reasonable prices and 7 of the 8 choices we ordered were lovey. The other was ok. Very good for a lunch for two with a couple of beers for under £40.


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