Yum cha at Wan Li

A variety of freshly made dim sum served
at Wan Li Chinese Restaurant
The Cantonese phrase, yum cha, literally means “drink tea” but the phrase also refers to the entire meal of drinking tea and eating dim sum, a range of small, savoury and sweet dishes.  Unlike the way we enjoy a hearty yum cha meal nowadays, the tradition of a yum cha breakfast in Hong Kong is a simple meal of two small dishes and drinking tea while reading the morning newspapers.  And usually, it’s the old men who enjoy an early start with a leisurely yum cha.

While this tradition may still prevail in some small towns here, the trend of eating small portions of dim sum is gaining popularity even among non-Chinese.  So when a Muslim friend invites me for brunch, I’m pleasantly surprised that she suggests we yum cha at Wan Li Chinese Restaurant in the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel. 

A bamboo basket of Wan Li's "smiling" paus!
I’m familiar with Wan Li as I was recently there for the introduction of a new menu of their contemporary Cantonese cuisine.  Helmed by award-winning Chef de Cuisine Khairuzzaman Ahmad Hadzri, the Cantonese food prepared at Wan Li is the collective effort of a team led by Dim Sum Sous Chef Go Yong Jia, Chinese Sous Chef Alan Choong Wah Loon and Chef de Partie Tee Jerri.  

At the event, I witnessed how the chefs created exquisitely handmade dim sum before savouring their meticulous handiwork.  Now I can better appreciate the skillful art of dim sum making as I bite into each delectable piece!

Wu kok, deep-fried yam pastries filled with chicken char siew
It’s good that my friend invited her daughter, Farah, along because many types of dim sum are served with three pieces per dish and this is just right for us to share our meal.  With more people sharing, it’s an opportunity to eat a wider variety of dim sum.  But even eating only one piece each of an item, we may end up eating more but this is justified in a yum cha meal!

We enjoy a smooth drive to the Renaissance JB via the Permas Jaya Bridge and park in the multi-level carpark before taking an elevator down to the lobby where Wan Li is located.  An aquarium filled with ornamental fish marks the entrance to the restaurant.  As we are ushered to our table in the modern Chinese restaurant, I can feel my feet sinking into the plush carpet.  The waitress leaves us with the ala carte and dim sum menu and an order form to make our choices.  

Shanghai dumplings with a side of vinegar dip
She also recommends the All You Can Eat dim sum lunch promotion at RM39.99++ per person, which is certainly a good deal for big eaters.  None of us have the space for so much food so we opted to order from the ala carte menu.  The beauty about eating dim sum is the diners’ choice to eat as much or as little as we want. 

So while my friend and her daughter pick their favourites, I am the scribe – poised with pencil to tick the boxes in the order form.  Farah and I wanted some noodles too so she picked the Wan Li seafood noodles.  As more tables around us are being filled by guest arrivals, I’m glad that we are one step ahead of them because the kitchen will prepare each order as they are received so that dim sum are served freshly made. 

 A serving of fried carrot cake
Seated comfortably in Wan Li, we can hear pleasant instrumental piped-in music with snatches of conversation from around us.  I told Farah that in traditional yum cha places in Hong Kong, the noise can be deafening because a variety of dim sum stacked in bamboo baskets, are kept in steamers built on trolleys and waitresses will stroll around the restaurant pushing the trolleys to serve at tables.  They will call out, “siew mai, har gau,” the names of popular dim sum, to promote the items to diners.  Imagine the noise as diners call for more food, the warmth from steamy trolleys and the busy movement of several trolleys for various types of dim sum being served at tables!

Stir-fried Wan Li seafood noodles
Our orders for steamed siew mai or minced meat dumplings, and har gau or whole prawns steamed in pleated pouches, are served first.  Three types of sauces: sweet chillie, sweet dark sauce and roasted spicy chillie, are provided for us to add more flavour to the dim sum.  Deep-fried dumplings made with yam and stuffed with chicken char siew called wu kok, are light and delicious.  When the bamboo basket of steamed chicken char siew pau is served, I’m impressed with the fluffy pastry because there is an art in getting the pastry to split beautifully into what is fondly called, “smiling” paus!

Dim sum dessert of deep-fried pastries filled with lotus paste
I can understand that Farah is not too excited over the vinegar dip topped with slivers of ginger for the Shanghai dumplings because vinegar is an acquired taste.  I assured her that the fried dumpling tastes good on its own and encouraged her to enjoy the dumpling but forget that dip.  

The fried carrot cake, generously stir-fried with bean sprouts, chives, egg and a hint of spicy chillie, is clearly a big hit because we cleaned out that plate quite quickly.  When the noodles are served, I can see whole big prawns and help to apportion a prawn each with the noodles among us to do justice to this dish.

The team at Wan Li Chinese Restaurant in the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel is ready to serve you!
I’m feeling quite full but the yum cha is not over until we end it sweetly.  Our dessert of sesame seed coated, deep-fried pastries filled with lotus paste is served on a long plate with three pieces – just right for sharing.  I congratulate myself for using my fingers rather than the chopsticks as delicious filling is oozing out on my first bite.  After we neatly finish our dim sum dessert, we sit back to sip brewed tea, wearing wide smiles of satisfaction.

Wan Li is a halal Chinese restaurant in Renaissance Johor Baru hotel located at 2, Jalan Permas 11, Bandar Baru Permas Jaya.  For reservations, Tel: 607 – 381 3333.  Visit website: www.renhotels.com


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