It's a close-run thing in the tale of two dumplings
Monocle magazine once dubbed Sheung Wan as Hong Kong's answer to Paris' Montmartre. It's an arguable point, as the neighbourhood is unfortunately falling victim to gentrification.
The rise of barista coffee shops and organic sandwich stores has led to the closure of such popular Sunday morning dim sum institutions as Treasure Lake and Foo Lum. But a new trend has risen from the ashes: the two- or three-storey dim sum restaurants have been downsized to single rooms seating no more than 30 people.
The often packed veteran, Dim Sum Square, and the more recent Ideal Point are similarly priced (HK$20 or so a basket) and located mere minutes from each other. Their Sunday morning clientele is all but guaranteed, but the dim sum duellists fight hard to bring in customers at other times - normally a muddled mix of mainland tourists, hungover hipsters and, yes, even a few genuine Sheung Wan locals.
On two consecutive weekday nights, we sat down at each location to sample a hearty selection of five traditional dim sum dishes: har gow (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), guk cha siu bao (baked barbecued pork bun), har cheong fun (shrimp rice noodle rolls) and ngau yuk kau (beef balls with bean curd).
Dim Sum Square has age on its side, and aesthetics, too: the open-front windows reveal contrasting black-and-white interiors and dark wooden seating, which lends itself well to this kind of restaurant. But looks go only so far.
Its siu mai are small but delicious, while the cha siu bao's crispiness makes up for the somewhat flavourless pork. The beef balls are mostly bland but fairly big - a satisfying case of quantity over quality - but then came true trouble to this dumpling paradise: both the har gow and cheong fun had delicious surrounding rice rolls, but suffered from lacklustre fillings, each offering tiny pieces of shrimp overloaded with giant garlic clumps.
We lumber out half-satisfied and decide to leave Ideal Point for the next night. There's a reason dim sum is traditionally an early morning affair.
The next contender and its somewhat subdued wooden facade is in sharp contrast to Dim Sum Square. The inside revealed hideous orange metal seats, cheap tables and a grimy toilet - all of which made me quickly realise why things are kept behind closed doors.
But again, food comes first: we tucked in to the classic five: the har gow are fat and delicious, large shrimp encased tightly with nary a bit of garlic to be found. The cheong fun shares the shrimp inners, but the rice rolls are fairly plain and loosely wrapped, causing much chopstick muddling. The siu mai looks equally limp, but the slices of mushroom offer a savoury variance. The guk cha siu bao exterior is more sweet than crispy, but the fresh pork inside makes it the favoured choice here. The beef balls are its crowning glory: large and tasty, with rich minced meat and pleasing hints of coriander.
The verdict: a tough call - Dim Sum Square has a classic vibe and a few tasty dishes, but the strange use of ingredients and somewhat stingy dumpling size left our stomachs wanting. Ideal Point is more than generous with its classic use of delectable flavours, but the ghastly setting holds it back. Maybe you should take a tourist to the Square and spend Sundays at the Point.
Dim Sum Square
G/F, 88 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan
Tel: 2851 8088
Ideal Point Dim Sum Specialty Store
Shop B, G/F, Arion Commercial Centre, 2-12 Queen's Road West, Sheung Wan
Tel: 2851 4878