[Debunking the Michelin Guide] Dim sum at Lei Garden, Shanghai, iAPM
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The Shanghai Michelin hunt continues, and this time I’m back at Lei Garden, Michelin 1 star in both their outlets in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Dim sum is something I grew up eating in Singapore and also frequently in Hong Kong, where my mum is from. Cantonese cuisine is also one of, if not the most technically demanding in Chinese cooking. A proper dim sum restaurant would boast over 100 dishes on their menu, many of which require exclusive ingredients and preparation. I always liked to refer to Dim Sum as cantonese tapas, with tea instead of alcohol.
This was my second visit to Lei Garden. My first visit was for dinner at their IFC outlet, and they left me feeling impressed. I was very curious to try their dim sum which is only available on their lunch service, and finally did it.
Even before they got their Michelin 1 star in Shanghai, reservations were always a must.
The facade of the restaurant is very classy and almost mysterious. You don’t get a glimpse of the dining area from outside, instead you see gently lit walkways and walls.
Upon entry, one would pass by the private rooms, followed by the public dining area.
The actual dining area looked like any other Hong Kong style restaurant, and was nothing spectacular. Being a communal dining area, with I estimated, 30 tables in close proximity, it was very noisy. 7.5/10
The servers at Lei Garden were super polite. I have to admit, service was impeccable. The tone of the server’s voices were gentle and courteous. What impressed me the most, was that when we realised we made a wrong order and tried to change it, our server told us she would need to check, because the kitchen may have already made it. Moments later, she came back and told us that the dish had been cancelled and replaced with the correct dish we wanted.
This type of honesty is not often found in other restaurants, where the server would 99% return, apologising that the dish was already being made, and that it was too late to cancel. 9/10
We tried a bunch of classics, but the star dish that made me want to return to Lei Garden, was their lobster broth steeped rice. We’ll come to that in a moment.
Roast Pork / Siu Yoke (RMB 78)
This arrived in a much smaller portion that I had anticipated. That said, it was very neatly presented. Not only did the roasted cubes of pork belly had a consistent height and width, they also had the perfect even layers of fat and flesh.
It is not easy to ensure such consistent standards on every plate, because slabs of pork belly, are imperfectly shaped. Heck, even the fat to flesh ratio on pork belly is usually not consistent.
The skin was dry and crisp, the meat, rich but not cloying. This was both a pleasure to look at and eat. 9/10
Shrimp Dumplings / Har Gao (RMB 33)
The har gao also looked very expertedly wrapped, with the folded pleats distinct and pronounced. The overall shape looked nicely formed, and there was no breakage.
Taste-wise, the skin was of the right thickness, and had a slight bite. I was not impressed with the seasoning of the prawn fillings though — They tasted only like prawns. A traditional har gao would have some fatty pork and bamboo shoots in the filling. The prawns were fresh and bouncy though. 8/10
BBQ Pork Buns / Char Siu Bao (RMB 29)
The char siu bao arrived steaming hot, and had the right softness and sponginess in the bun. The fillings were quite de rigeur, and didn’t quite leave a lasting impression. 7.5/10
Lotus Leaf Rice / Lor Mai Gai (RMB 33)
One of my childhood favourites. Glutinous rice with braised mushroom and chicken would be flavoured by the lotus leafs used to wrap the bundles while being steamed. Classic versions would also have a salted egg yolk within.
The one at Lei Garden ticked all the right boxes, and at RMB 33, didn’t cost an arm and leg. 9/10
Crab & Lobster Soup Dumpling (RMB 48)
I have very fond childhood memories of this dish, but sadly I’ve not been able to relive it since. The giant soup dumplings I had when I was a kid had sharks fin and conpoy in them, and was a very luxurious, yet comforting experience.
These days, if one can find this on a dim sum menu at all, they simply feature some form of crab or shrimp broth. The one at Lei Garden contained crab meat in a lobster broth, but I felt it was quite forgettable. 7.5/10
Pan fried rice roll (RMB 33)
I opted for the pan fried version of cheong fun (rice rolls) instead of the traditional steamed one. It was surprisingly good. Golden and crispy while soft and silky in the middle.
There were some BBQ pork (char siu) within, which gave it some flavour instead of just plain rice rolls. 8/10
Pan fried turnip cake with XO sauce (Lor Butt Go) (RMB 38)
Every self respecting dim sum aficionado, or Teochew (people from the Teochew aka Chiu Chow aka Chao Zhou province) will not sample a dim sum restaurant without trying their turnip cake. My mother had her own recipe, which she would make annually in huge batches, and share it with her network of friends. My grandmother would laugh at my mother’s attempts, because she had her own superior recipe of turnip cake.
The one at Lei Garden was beautifully seared on both sides without burning. What’s most important was that very little rice flour filler was used in the actual cake. It was soft and tender with strong turnip flavours, and notes of chinese preserved sausage and dried shrimp. Good. 9/10
Lobster Steeped Rice (RMB 158)
The dish that had me thinking of coming back to Lei Garden every now and then — Their lobster steeped rice.
A light but milky lobster broth, with chunks of lobster meat, rice crispies and regular rice and diced cucumbers.
The lobster steeped rice is a beautiful combination of textures and flavours, the crunch from the rice crisps against the hearty rice, the toothy lobster chunks against the delicate yet crunchy cucumber cubes. Washed down with the super delicious broth, I just can’t stop eating and thinking about this dish. 10/10
And that was it for our family lunch at Lei Garden iAPM branch. To be fair, the food was good, service was excellent, and dim sum lunch is only a fraction of their dinner pricing.