Yum cha at The Scholar
It’s about time Canberra had decent yum cha at reasonable prices! Soy and I love yum cha, and have been disappointed at the quality of yum cha available in Canberra. As uni students, we used to look forward to weekend trips to Sydney, where yum cha in Chinatown was a must. Over the years, we found our favourite yum cha restaurant in a seemingly incongruous location- the Canterbury club in Belmore. The Chinese restaurant in the club had not only a wide variety of dishes, they tasted great, used fresh ingredients and were very decently priced! As more yum cha restaurants emerged in Canberra, we continued to be disappointed, as they seemed to either compromise on value or quality. So, we reserved our yum cha pigging out sessions to our Sydney trips. That is, until The Scholar opened in Dickson, Canberra’s Chinatown.
I have to admit, we were sceptical at first, but The Scholar proved to be everything we love about a good yum cha restaurant- fresh yum cha, a wide variety of steamed dumplings, and reasonable prices (and a wicked chilli sauce!). To me, the mark of a good yum cha restaurant is the variety and quality of their steamed dumplings. You can’t really go wrong with deep fried dumplings, but believe me, one can go very wrong with steamed dumplings. Happily, this was not the case with The Scholar’s steamed dumplings, which were piping hot, fresh, and had tender rice paper cases, as you can see from the prawn and coriander dumplings above.
The deep fried dumplings were also delicious- these lobster dumplings, eaten with a bit of mayo, were crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. The pan fried taro cake with bits of dried lap cheong was something a bit different, but very tasty.
Another major plus for me about The Scholar is that their traditional yum cha dishes are amazing. Soy and I definitely have our favourites, and all of them are exceptionally done! This seen juk guen is one of my absolute favourites that I must have whenever we have yum cha. They are basically steamed soybean sheets encasing a filling of meat and vegetables and covered in oyster sauce. The Scholar’s version doesn’t disappoint. The filling is juicy and the soybean sheet is soft and not rubbery.
Fong zau or braised chicken feet is Soy‘s yum cha must-have. I personally don’t eat chicken feet as I don’t like gelatinous textures, and this dish is all about savouring the flavoursome steamed skin of the chicken. Soy polishing off this entire dish by herself is testament to how good it must be!
The Scholar does fantastic dishes stuffed with a prawn and fish paste, in the style of yong tau foo that is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. We love the stuffed eggplant (soy can finish the entire serving) , stuffed tofu
and stuffed mushrooms!
I love yong tau foo, which is more mildly flavoured, so this braised version is different but is a similar dish. The steamed seafood filling is slightly bouncy and full of seafood flavour.
Wu gok, a deep fried taro puff, is another one of my must-haves. We had to request this dish as it wasn’t brought out with the other dishes, and it arrived towards the end of our meal. Though I was pretty full by then, the golden colour of the crispy nests was too much for me to resist. Though the crust is crispy, the taro is still melt-in-your-mouth inside. Together with the juicy meat filling, smooth taro and crispy crust, the combination if textures is what makes these puffs my all-time yum cha favourite.
The thing about eating little morsels is that you get pretty full without noticing it! From experience, I always make sure I leave a tiny bit of space for dan tah, egg custard tarts at the end of the meal. I’ve had some pretty ordinary dan tahs in my time, so I know when a fantastic one makes its way past my tastebuds. I’m not as obsessive about dan tahs as Soy is, so it is rare when I actually look forward to a melty custard that is not too eggy, encased with a flaky crust. I guess I was too happy eating that I forgot to take photos of the tarts! Oops… you will just have to take my word that they are beautiful, and try them out for yourself!
So these are our favourite yum cha dishes. What are your absolute must-haves during yum cha?
The Scholar Chinese Restaurant
23 Woolley St, Dickson
The Scholar doesn’t accept bookings before 1.30pm on weekends, so we strongly suggest that you go early to avoid having to wait too long for a table. Yum cha starts at 11am on weekends.
UPDATE: Since we wrote this post, we have had one dismal experience and a lot of feedback that the standard of food and service have dropped considerably. Which is very disappointing because we will now have to get our yum cha fix in Sydney