“Mmm, chicken bum,” said one of us, peering at a menu I’d downloaded from the Dim Sum website. We laughed. Obviously a misprint. But when we got to the London Road restaurant we gleefully double checked the table menus to find someone had to laboriously correct in Biro the same mistake on every one.
I love steamed buns. I reckon I’d even love steamed bums because I’ve never had a mouthful at Dim Sum that didn’t surprise or delight in some way.
The red fronted eatery is exactly what it says on the fascia, a dim sum restaurant that also runs a classic Chinese menu yet 90 per cent of customers, says co-owner Sang Wan, eat dim sum exclusively or as a starter before going on to main dishes.
There were five of us. I love everything about dim sum, my wife is more reserved. The son said “Can we have lots of steamed buns?” My brother and sister in law claimed to be dim sum novices and I sensed they were a little dubious. So what’s dim sum? Think Chinese tapas. The Chinese usually have it for Sunday lunch.
It’s probably wise for newcomers to start on the gentler, lower slopes and go for steamed buns and dumplings and leave the wilder dishes – steamed chicken feet, whelk and tripe – for another time, if at all. So I felt it best to leave the steamed manifold off the order sheet. This is a tripe which looks like jet engine propeller blades and is colloquially called slut in Ashton-under-Lyne.
It is also probably wise for newcomers to note that in Chinese (and Japanese) cooking, texture is as important as taste and nowhere is this more evident than in dim sum dishes. Some dishes are quite slithery or gelatinous, which do not always square with Western tastes. Let’s put it this way: if you’re fine with tapioca you’ll be home and dry with dim sum; if not, you may need a steer.
Don’t let this put you off. Dim Sum has 32 dishes on its dim sum menu and you’ll find some you love. In fact, even the doubters loved a new dish to the menu, stir-fried mooli cake in XO sauce (£4.30) which Sang’s sister and co-owner Tina Yau brought us to try.
It was soft little cubes of what some thought to be fish but is, in fact, vegetable – shredded mooli (also called daikon or white radish) mixed with rice flour, cornflour and seasonings, steamed then allowed to set before being stir-fried. The taste is delicate and haunting, set off by XO sauce, made from scallops, shrimps and chillies, which some local chefs (chiefly Rico at the Rutland) have taken up with enthusiasm.
The steamed buns were good: har gau (£4), prawn dumplings; siu my (£3.50), pork and prawn; as well as har kwork (£4), deep-fried prawn parcels. “This menu must be a prawn’s worst nightmare,” joked my brother-in-law. They come whole, chopped or minced with pork, inside wrappings of sweetish bread dough or rice flour ‘pasta’ jackets.
Sang and Tina opened Dim Sum in 2003. Sang’s father brought him over from Hong Kong at the age of 14 and he was sent to High Storrs School where, he says, the teachers ignored him. He left a year later and went into catering, learning about dim sum at a leading Manchester restaurant.
They took over Mr Yun’s tiny sandwich shop when he retired and turned it into a dim sum restaurant, later expanding into premises next door.
Aside from steamed buns and dumplings, another favourite are the breadcrumbed cuttlefish cakes (£4.20), very firm, sweet chunks of squid served with little bowls of salad cream as a dipping sauce.
You should also try one the cheung fun dishes, flat sheets of rice flour noodles with a slithery texture with fillings of beef, pork or, of course, chopped prawn.
We had started with half a crispy duck (£16.50) at the insistence of the ladies of the party who had wanted to hedge their bets if they didn’t like the dim sum. We ate it with wine or beer except for me, who opted for green tea, because that is the Chinese way and I’m a bit of a food fascist.
Sang, who predicts some London Road businesses will struggle when the nearby Chinese-financed ‘Chinatown’ New Era Square opens because supply will outstrip demand, is quite happy to stay put and keep to the dim sum path.
“Some places don’t serve dim sum in the evenings so customers order main courses and get bigger bills. But I am here and the chef is here so we serve dim sum all day.”
He was right about the bill. Despite ordering more dim sum dishes than described, a bottle of wine, bottle of beer, tea and coffee the bill for five came to £84.45 for five people on a Saturday night.
And in the end we never had that chicken bun or bum. We’ll do it next time.
Dim Sum, 201-203 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LJ. Tel: 0114 255 0467. Web: www.dimsum-sheffield.co.uk