Dim Dim Sum, in that schizophrenic part of town that never seems to quite know if it’s Wan Chai or Causeway Bay, is a compact, cheap dim sum joint serving consistently solid classics to locals and tourists alike.
You’ll know it from their natty sign which changes colour every few seconds, as well as a large image from a Newsweek story proclaiming their popularity. Previously, Anthony Bourdain loomed large in the form of a cardboard cutout, immortalised in the window thanks to my former life promoting his show on CNN. More recently, more good publicity has come from Richard Ekkebus’ recommendation for it in the excellent guide Where Chefs Eat, all of which has helped push its popularity to #26 in the hallowed Trip Advisor list of more than 6200 restaurants reviewed in Hong Kong. This kind of kudos rightly raises expectations, but generally Dim Dim Sum are on the mark. As a Causeway Bay resident, it’s become a cheap and cheerful standby, but no volume of business or repeat visits would allow for any recognition from the staff. They’re too busy banging, clashing, harrumphing, chastising (diners) and generally ticking all the stereotypical boxes of a noisy Cantonese restaurant where customers seem to be an impediment. On this occasion, we were shown upstairs, where the low ceilings give it a claustrophobic atmosphere and only serve to amplify the symphony of noise. Maybe Ekkebus gets sent upstairs too. It’s the tall gweilo area.
Anyway, to the food. It’s exactly what you hope for. The spring rolls are dangerously hot and crunchy.
Cheong fun, everyone’s favourite rice noodle rolls, hit the mark of having “heung” (香) or ‘a good aroma’ and being “whaat” (滑), i.e. slippery-smooth in mouthfeel. The sheets are deliberately flavourless and bland, as the dried shrimp takes on that role, providing great contrast in the process.
The excellent fried eggplant domed with prawn and sesame comes in a sweet teriyaki sauce. Not the most gracious eating with chopsticks, but etiquette is over rated anyway.
All at once, bamboo steamers arrive containing har gow, (shrimp dumplings), chicken feet, the expat crowd-pleaser of cha siu bao (BBQ pork buns), gelatinous vege dumplings and xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Actually they don’t so much arrive as are thrown in our general direction, but as always in Hong Kong, time is money.
The habit of ordering sweet dessert dim sum during the meal (especially custard tarts) used to confuse me when I first lived here, before realizing that traditional ordering and timing goes out the window: it comes when it’s ready and you eat it when you feel like it. How refreshing. There have been multiple occasions in Western restaurants where I would have wanted to cut to the chase and head straight to the cakes. Anyway, brilliantly-ridiculous piggy custard buns also made an appearance.
It’s also worth noting that they go beyond the usual with intriguing dishes such as pan-fried tofu skin with chicken and cumin, pig’s blood with XO sauce and steamed tripe in a black pepper sauce. They also have three other branches, in Jordan, Mongkok and Sha Tin, as well as one in Shanghai, if Google Translate isn’t messing with me.