Oriental Tea House
378 Little Collins St, Melbourne (map)
I'd walked past it once and hadn't really paid attention, but it popped into my head when M, C and I were casting about trying to think of a new lunch venue that was roughly equidistant to our three offices. Luckily M and C successfully found it, despite my rambling description ("that big new yum cha-looking place on Lt Collins just uphill from Commercial Bakery"). Turns out that big new yum cha-looking place is another branch of the Oriental Tea House, from whose Chapel Street store I bought some oolong tea a few months back.
It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon and although we hadn't booked (advisable with this place), we managed to score a table outside. Alas, no yum cha trolleys, but at lunchtime the dishes are brought round on trays by the wait staff. Each table also has a hilarious "Oh, stewardess?" button you can press for attention (and one button to ask for the bill)...but even with the "Oh, stewardess?" button we found the service very slow: you're hard pressed to get in, eat, and get out within the hour, especially if that hour is 1-2pm!
The yum cha dishes at Oriental Tea House are modernised and Westernised, but we rather liked most of them. We started with some crispy prawn rolls (we don't normally get much of the deep fried stuff, but these looked really fresh and the pastry was nicely crinkly) and some steamed vegetable dumplings.
This was in my opinion the most interesting of the dishes - stewed mixed mushrooms. The enoki mushrooms had a great texture.
I also really liked the variety baskets. The ones on the left were simply called "Variety dumplings", and all had quite a bit of ginger in them - I baggsed the pink one. The ones on the right were variety chicken dumplings: I had the triangular one in the waxy casing. The folk at Oriental Tea House are on to a good idea having these variety baskets - because it's more of an informal cafe, with lots of tables for two, variety baskets mean that small tables still get to try heaps of different dumplings which, let's face it, is one of the key goals at any yum cha... :)
The shark fin dumplings and the pork dumplings weren't too bad, but we felt the casing on the shark fin dumplings was a little too thick.
We also got the old favourites of greens with oyster sauce and yam/taro puffs. Both were very good.
The only dodgy dish was the shredded steak, well fried with traffic light capsicum slices and drowning in gloopy, sickly sweet 'n sour sauce. I won't be ordering this one again. (*** UPDATE: I have been contacted by the good folk at Oriental Tea House who assure me that upon reading this review, the head chef went in to investigate what was up with the shredded steak, and the recipe has now been rectified! I haven't tried the shredded steak since then, but if you do decide to order it then rest assured that it should be nicer than the version I had. ***)
But apart from the misfire with the shredded steak, we enjoyed the other dishes. To be honest I prefer more traditional yum cha, but the slick Westernised version had a certain charm, which makes for a nice occasional change... plus I love that there's such a wide variety of teas to choose from. We chose the Iron Buddha Oolong tea, which was delicious!