A standard yum cha is probably the closest thing to a full-blown banquet you can have on the cheap. Like an all-you-can-eat buffet with table service, the complete yum cha experience is a lesson in patience (save space for your favourite dumplings) and clever ordering (don't pass up on unfamiliar yet delicious dishes).
You're going to need some BYO to go with your yum cha, so check out five of the best craft beer bottle shops. Feel like another quintessential weekend Melbourne foodie experience? Check out the best breakfasts in Melbourne.
Best yum cha in Melbourne
David's does all-you-can-eat yum cha on weekends and you'll want to make sure that you can indeed eat as much of the generous yum cha as you can. Much of the dishes at David's are inspired by Shanghainese cuisine. The Peking duck pancakes is a dream and the scallop dumplings wonderfully silky. Don't hesitate to ask the trolley wielding ladies what they're hiding in the steam baskets.
Sessions: Sat-Sun 11.30am; 1.30pm
You might not expect to find great dumplings on upper Rathdowne Street, but you will. Come early to this elegant den if you want one of the downstairs tables and the trolley experience. They do a great version of the Peking duck, replete with glassy shards of crisp skin, and stout little prawn-stuffed eggplant rolls in blackbean sauce. You’re looking at a relaxed, refined experience where the waiters wear suits, so maybe save this one for when you know you’re not going to pour your chrysanthemum tea and chilli all over the linen tables, okay?
Sessions: Mon-Sat 11.30am-3pm; Sun 11am-1pm & 1-3pm
Hauling a whole contingent of pals to Box Hill can defeat the purpose of an easy Saturday session. Do like Monkey Magic and journey but slightly into the west (the Docklands) for this huge, glittering palace of chandeliers, murals and fish tanks, where the trolleys pass at a cracking pace dispensing a big range of everything you want – including some angry attitude from the long-suffering guy stuck pushing the dessert trolley. The pork buns are fluffy, the chilli sauce is forthcoming and they couldn’t give a damn if you spill stuff or order a Coke. It’s our pick for fast furious hung cha.
Sessions: Sat-Sun noon-3pm
We’d go anywhere for a good mango pancake. Even Templestowe. Carved dragons, a piano and man sized urns surround pristine linen covered tables, and the 100-odd dishes on the carts all have a little somethin’ somethin’ extra. Siu mai dumplings come with a spicy XO sauce, sweet suckling pig is all crisp skin and melting meat, while little mushrooms stuffed with scallop meat provide dumpling reprieve.
Sessions: Daily 11.30am-3pm
Sure, HuTong is not strictly a yum cha restaurant, but that’s irrelevant. Start with the xiao long bao – the Shanghainese soup dumplings with their pork and soup filling deserve their reputation. Saddle up your spoon with threads of ginger and a slosh of black vinegar, nibble a hole and slurp away while trying to keep any spillage from ruining your own threads. Don't skip the wontons with chilli sauce with the trademark Szechuan sizzle and a nutty scattering of sesame seeds picking up on the rich slick of sesame oil. They’re the bomb, in every sense of the word.
Sessions: All day
The "original" Shark Fin restaurant has been offering up authentic Chinese food to Melbourne's city-goers since the '80s. They do daily yum cha service in case you ever feel like a mid-week dumpling banquet. The har gao prawn dumplings are beautifully sweet and salty, but the real winner in our books is the Hong Kong-style ngao yuk cheong fun (steamed beef rice noodles) that are so thick and silky you can't resist slurping the soy sauce-soaked sheets.
Sessions: Sat-Sun 11am-3pm
Tea-smoked duck with mandarin pancakes; delicate noodles made sticky with fine smoky bacon and chilli – this is next-level yum cha, but chef Neil Perry doesn’t do things by halves. It’s table service only down in Spice Temple’s inky den, and a little more expensive, but his ginger-flecked prawn dumplings are the most delicate iteration of things in rice skins you’ll find and the wine list is everything you expect of the Rockpool empire. Try the housemade ginger soda if you’re abstaining, and don’t miss the little Guangxi pork buns – two bites of porky deliciousness.
Sessions: Thu-Sun noon-3pm