Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Yi Ban, Royal Docks, Dockside Road, City of London, Greater London E16 2QT
Whenever we feel like having dim sum (and it's always one day before we actually eat it, that's how it is), there is an important decision to make - do we go before the crowd, or after the crowd. Where we go to depends on whether or not we're eating with friends. If we're dining alone, Yi Ban is our first and usually, only, choice.
If we're dining with friends, then it's usually somewhere in town where it's easier for everyone to get to. I think the last time I had dim sum anywhere aside from Yi Ban was at Pearl Liang (near Paddington) which was pretty good, though the portions weren't as pleasing as they could have been.
What I really like about Yi Ban is the amount of natural sunlight in this place. Dining here at lunchtime feels like I'm sitting outside in the sun, and the loud chatter from the tables around us means that it's OK for us to talk as loud as we like. The building housing the restaurant is a weird one (don't get me started on the location) as it's shared by both the restaurant, and a canoe club. Because of that, the atmosphere here on a sunny Sunday afternoon is one of happy children squeaks, tanned rowers, and families waiting for their bellies to be filled with dim sum.
Going up the wooden stairs, the first thing that usually greets me is a long queue of hungry diners waiting patiently to get a table. As the restaurant opens around 11am, getting there for 12pm usually means you're just in time to get a table before the 'yum cha' crowd arrives. As it's traditional for families to spend all afternoon sipping tea and enjoying dim sum, getting there right after everyone's got a table usually means a long wait.
So, if you miss the 12pm slot, try getting there for about 3pm which is when I've noticed most people leave (restaurant closes at 4pm so there might be a slight rush if you get there at 3pm).
We usually request a table by the window, as the husband likes watching the rowers and the stuff going on at City Airport which is just across the river. On a warm sunny day, this is the perfect place to sit around enjoying some Chinese tea, watching others do some rowing (similar to watching TV, but without the info button).
Back to the subject of food. I've blogged about this place before (here), and as with most dim sum places, placing your order is almost like doing an exam, where if you shade outside the box, you ain't getting the Har Gau. We've tried almost everything on the menu now, and what we haven't tried is probably not very good (or so I tell myself).
Favourites here are the Har Gau, and the King Prawn Cheung Fun. Recent favourites include the dessert Sesame Paste Ball (fab stuff, make sure you order it early as it takes 20 mins minimum to steam).
Century egg and pork congee (rice porridge)
One of the must-orders, this is perfect comfort food. Smooth, silky rice porridge flavoured with the meaty pork slices, and for a touch of difference, sliced century eggs. One portion is a bowl big enough to feed 4 as a taster.
Deep fried crullers (yau char kway)
Served as an accompaniment to the rice porridge - the ones here are served hot and crispy.
King prawn cheung fun
Another dish done consistently well here - as in, every time we've had it, it's been excellent. The best quality king prawns (crunchy, tender, juicy) wrapped in silky smooth, translucent rice noodles, steamed and served with a soy-based sauce.
Deep fried cheung fun
Kinda like the dish above, but without the prawns, and deep-fried. So, not really like the dish above at all, but I'm running out of adjectives.
My mom's favourite - fresh king prawns wrapped in seaweed and deep fried. These prove surprisingly crunchy and juicy when bit into, providing for a burst of flavour (literally) and textures.
Char Siew Pau
While it seemed OK to me, apparently this was no match to the ones in Malaysia. I see where it's lacking though, as the portion of filling was quite insubstantial. The bun was light and fluffy, but wasn't balanced off that well by the filling.
Prawn dumplings (har gau)
By now you must have guessed that the king prawns here are very fresh indeed. This dish is one of our favourites. Something about translucent rice paper skins wrapped around prawns. Mmm.
Like the prawn ones, but with a different twist on the wrapper, and with scallops.
Pork and crab dumplings (siew mai)
If you've not had this before, it's minced pork with prawns, wrapped in a chewy skin.
We ordered this as my folks thought it was something else, but it was pretty good anyhow. King prawns (we love king prawns) wrapped in wantan skin, deep fried, and served with a salad cream sauce.
Steamed beef balls
One of the new orders - each beef ball is quite substantial, and consists of minced beef with something else in it to make it chewy and bouncy. Served steamed with peas, it's a nice balancing texture to all the prawns.
Mushroom and pork rolls
Finally, another one of my favourites. Described on the menu as mushroom rolls, these bean curd skins are wrapped around a minced pork, prawn and mushroom mixtures, steamed and served with a delicate gravy, and some straw mushrooms on top.
I like the fresh, fuss-free taste and really enjoy the textures in this dish.
What can I say about this place aside from the fact that we come here time and time again for dim sum. I really like the ambience and atmosphere here, and the best thing about it is, the quality of the food here has been consistently good, every time we've been here.