News of a new dim sum spot opening in Claremont landed in my inbox this morning. November has flown by in a blur of deadlines, so by the time I’d read the sample menu I’d persuaded my husband we had to juggle our schedules and squeeze in lunch.
Ever since living in Asia I’ve been drawn to dim sum, which the Chinese generally eat with tea for brunch. The thought of dainty pastries and wrappers enclosing flavoursome fillings is impossible for me to resist. And my man now agrees after I introduced him to Hong Kong’s finest dim sum venue, followed by a wild eating adventure in one of the island state’s scruffiest authentic venues during a 2007 trip.
O’ways is situated in the café strip adjacent to Cavendish Square’s pedestrian outdoor area. Lisa Tsai, wife of Mingwei Tsai of Nigiro tea merchants, is behind the venture. She’s roped in chef Marion Kumpf, previously of Aubergine restaurant, and they’re serving breakfast, lunch and takeaways, where some Western items also appear on the menu.
The space looks stylish with rough brick walls and Chinese tea accessories forming most of the decoration. They’ve just opened so teething problems are to be expected. Hence staff were apologetic, but clueless about the types of dim sum on menus; even worse at offering stylistic guidance for the oolong or black or green teas served in beautiful glass pots over burners.
We ordered a dim sum tasting platter served in six courses (R138), which actually means six dim sum items were combined from the menu. It was a tasty introduction but not filling enough for lunch. Warned we were in a hurry, the kitchen complied and stepped up the pace. Chilled watermelon and wasabi soup was an unusual and refreshing starter, served with a sushi rice ball and watermelon slice.
A small but important point: this is vegetarian dim sum. So there is char siu sou (instead of the more usual pork bau), a little bland with five-spiced tofu, the steamed bun texture a little tight. I didn’t try the steamed har gau dumplings filled with stir-fried oriental mushrooms and spinach. But pot-stickers (crescent-shaped steamed dumplings that are then panfried) were included in the tasting platter, a delicious filling of Chinese cabbage and soy mince partnering basil-litchi sauce. Silky tofu in a sauce was nondescript on lettuce. Mrs Tsai eventually came around, but even she was hesitant to bother the busy chef after wait staff couldn’t confirm a delicious element on the tasting menu – we think it was curried soy mince in an open dim sum wrapper.
When the bill arrived we were still waiting for course six. It turned out to be turnip cake, eventually arriving hot in a takeaway package. There had been kitchen miscommunication and the chef insisted. I’m glad she did as this savoury “cake” was possibly the tastiest dish. But there was nothing to rival Hong Kong just yet.
Spend: Individual dim sum priced at R23 to R28. Six-item tasting menu at R138. Wide selection of Asian teas at R25 per pot.
Value: Can’t comment on individual items but the tasting menu should offer more for the price.
Flavour rating: Fair. Vegetarians and health-conscious diners will find more to satisfy.
O’WAYS TEACAFE, Shop 2, Heritage House, 20 Dreyer Street, Claremont. Tel 021 671 2850. Open Mon to Sat from 8am to 5pm.