We’re at Marigold, a Chinese restaurant in Sydney well known for its dim sum. The restaurant takes up two massive floors in the Citymark building on George Street in Chinatown. Level 4 opens for a la carte dinner from 5.30pm and Level 5 opens for dim sum from 10am to 3pm.
We take the lift to the fifth floor, arriving shortly after Marigold opens for the day. As we take our seats, the restaurant is practically empty and uncharacteristically quiet. But it doesn’t take long for the noise and activity to build as more diners arrive. It’s a glutton’s paradise where the food is fresh and plentiful and comes to you, as uniformed ladies wearing gloves follow a complex circuit, weaving between tables, pushing trolleys laden with steamer baskets and other goodies. Dour gentlemen in tuxedos glide between tables, whipping away empty teapots and replacing them with full ones.
Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, a white tablecloth on every table and deep red carpets help create a grand, sumptuous atmosphere in this vast, bustling dining room. Here at this spectacular daily banquet, everyone has a role to play and everything has its place, running like clockwork to ensure diners are well fed. Most of us have been to many a dim sum restaurant, but Marigold does it particularly well on an impressively large scale.
At our table are Jac and me, Juji and Jay, and Craig and Caroline. We’re ravenous despite the Malaysian feast we enjoyed the night before, our eyes greedily scanning every trolley that trundles nearby. Jac’s brother Jon also joins us for a feed and catch-up.
To kick things off, deep-fried goodness in the form of prawn dumplings, served with mayonnaise.
Next, steamed prawn dumplings, served in a light soy sauce. Plump, wrinkly and slippery, they’re tricky to eat using chopsticks.
This doesn’t happen often, but the battered scallops are a mystery to me. I took this photograph but have no memory whatsoever about their taste. I don’t think I ate any. I must’ve been distracted by other items on the table at the time, because it’s soon covered in hot steamer baskets loaded with dumplings.
An essential item at dim sum, har gow (steamed prawn dumplings). I can’t imagine dim sum without these.
Next, garlic chive prawn dumplings.
Jac’s favourite, siew mai (steamed pork dumplings).
The rice flour rolls filled with sliced BBQ pork are served in soy sauce and garnished with snow peas.
At dim sum, kai lan with oyster sauce is the meat lover’s token vegetable dish. At Marigold, there’s a trolley dedicated to kai lan, which is prepared to order while you watch. Fresh kai lan is blanched briefly in hot water, turning it a vivid green, leaving the leaves juicy and the stalks still crisp. The blanched kai lan is swiftly chopped up with scissors before being placed on a plate, doused in oyster sauce and served on your table. I must say, the kai lan trolley makes the thought of eating these green vegetables very appealing. Jac, can we get one of these for home?
I call it the meat lover’s token dim sum vegetable dish, but I do love kai lan cooked this way. It’s so simple – blanch, cut with scissors, then add sauce – and tastes so fantastic.
Until this moment, we’ve had plenty of prawns, but nowhere near enough pork! We soon rectify this with plates of roast belly pork with crisp crackling and BBQ pork served with delicious salty roast meat sauce.
We still can’t get enough pork and grab BBQ pork steamed buns from the next steamed food trolley that passes by.
Salt and pepper squid is always a favourite. The tender squid pieces and curly tentacles are coated in a seasoned batter, tossed with garlic and sliced fresh red chilli.
The fried bean curd skin rolls are filled with vegetables. They’re saucy and springy to bite and a pleasure to eat.
Jac gets a bowl of tow foo fah, hot silken tofu that is ladled out of a rustic wooden bucket and served in a ginger syrup.
We’ve been ogling the goodies on the dessert trolley ever since we arrived. It is time to taste some.
Jac gets mango pudding. It’s shiny and silky-smooth but according to Jac, a little bland.
My must-have item whenever I have dim sum – egg tarts. The slightly wobbly delicate egg custard is gloriously yellow, enclosed in layers of flaky pastry. No matter how carefully I eat, no matter how daintily I nibble, the pastry always makes its mark, leaving a film of grease on my lips and peppering my shirt and lap in crumbs. I love it.
While I’m creating my personal pastry crumb collection, the others tuck into glutinous rice balls filled with coconut and peanuts.
The mango pancakes filled with chunks of fresh mango and cream are a huge hit on our table – even without my help, we get through several servings.
The doughnut balls are encrusted with crunchy white sugar, with more air than dough inside.
I practically leap out of my chair in excitement when I hear magic words: “Durian puff, very special, very nice!”
The durian puffs are still warm from the oven and I’ve got a big grin on my face – I can smell the durian even before my first bite. Inside the buttery pastry is durian flesh in all its beautiful soft, stringy, stinky glory. Only Juji is game to share the durian puffs with me.
As we start pulling out our wallets and squeezing out of our chairs, a staff member is standing by to remove our once-pristine tablecloth, now stained with tea and sauce dribbles, the signs of a successful dim sum session. We are full and content, in need of a walk, a nap or both.
Dim sum dessert puzzle
Just for a bit of fun (I’ve given some of them away already), can you identify all the desserts on the dessert trolley?
Levels 4 and 5
683-689 George Street, Sydney
Telephone: (02) 9261 8988
Open 7 days (dim sum available daily)
Lunch 10am to 3pm
Dinner 5.30pm to late
I went to Sydney with my sister Juji and her fiancé Jay in November 2011. Jac joined us for the final weekend of the trip. See the list of posts so far, in reading order. We’re getting closer to the end of the series, but there’s still more to come.
See Craig and Caroline’s post about this meal at Damn Fine Food.