It was a good friend's birthday a couple of weeks ago and she didn't want to make a fuss about it, so stayed pretty low key around the time of her bday. So low key in fact, the day came and went without us getting together to celebrate. Well, we weren't having any of that! So A and I locked her in for a belated bday lunch at Pearl Garden in New Market.
I lurrrrrve yum cha. Of course, you could say I'm biased, since I was born in Hong Kong and all, but seriously what's not to love? You get to sit at your table while trolleys and trolleys of dim sums (little plates of food) come to you and you pick and choose what you want! It's like the Chinese version of tapas, only tapas that are dominated by dumplings. Chive and prawn dumplings, pork dumplings, spinach dumplings, fried dumplings, steamed dumplings...and that's only the tip of the dumping iceberg.
Pearl Garden was highly recommended to the birthday girl by a friend of hers and so it was our choice for her bday yum cha venue. It sits upstairs in the heart of the shopping strip in Newmarket and has been run by the Kan family for the last 30 years.
It was a typical Auckland winter's day outside (pouring with rain) but warm and cozy inside. The interior has beautiful carved dark wood embellishments and large panels of vintage Chinese art on the walls which give it a chic 1920's Shanghai feel.
A, a seasoned yum cha veteran, made sure we had a table inside (rather than on the covered porch part) as its always better to be closer to the kitchen to snap up those tasty dishes hot off the press. Hot tea arrived in a timely fashion and was kept topped up frequently.
Our first couple of dishes were, you guessed it...dumplings! The prawn and spinach dumplings were good but the fried prawn dumplings were phenomenal! The inside was springy and moist (what in Chinese we call "bouncy in the mouth") and the outer wrapper was crispy and not too greasy. I could have easily eaten a whole plate myself. Don't be shy about getting plenty of mayo put on them, we got our waitress to slather it on.
The stuffed eggplant dish is another favourite dim sum dish. It's made of eggplant that is stuffed with fish mince and cooked in a garlic black bean sauce. You can also get stuffed capsicum, chillis and tofu cooked in the same way. I found the Pearl Garden version to be tasty but they were a little too heavy on the cornflour in the sauce so the sauce was rather gluggy.
Since it was such a miserable day outside, it was perfect congee weather! Congee is a savoury rice porridge, kinda like a really thick rice soup that is flavoured in a number of different ways. We ordered a bowl of salted pork and century egg congee. It was just what the doctored ordered. Hearty and comforting, thick and smooth, with tasty bits of salted pork and century egg throughout. I'm not a massive fan of century egg so was grateful that it was chopped up into little pieces and didn't overwhelm the dish (Mum says you can't really get good century eggs in New Zealand so they can sometimes taste a bit sulphurous). The congee came topped with yao ja guai, literally 'deep fried devils', which are basically bits of fried dough which go oh so well with the congee.
The cocktail buns were still warm when they arrived and had plenty of the delicious coconutty filling. The dish next to it in the photo above was a "spring onion cake". I've had spring onion pancakes before but never spring onion cake. It was interesting, the wrapper was bready and had been fried and on the inside there was a mixture of spring onions and barbeque pork (see photo below). The bready outside was a bit soggy but the filling was super tasty.
The sesame balls were also really good. Coated in black and white sesame seeds with a sweet black sesame filling, they were the perfect end to the meal and kind of in theme for the Football World Cup (Go All Whites!).
Some interesting dishes did pass our table, like a meringue topped mango sago pudding and the sticky rice balls came round several times but we did feel that there could have been a little more variety in dim sum selection. Also, the bill came to NZD$13.90 each (so $41.70 for 7 dishes) which I reckon is a little expensive for yum cha. Other than that we had a great time at Pearl Garden and will definitely come again.
At a glance
1 Teed Street
(09) 523 3696
Service: Quick and efficient. Most of the waiters had pretty good English.
Food: The dim sums we had were good and the congee really good. The fried prawn dumplings were the star of the day. Could have had more variety. Vegetarian choices are limited.
Seating: A little cramped (but that's pretty much the norm at Chinese restaurants).
Price: $41.70 for the 7 dishes. So on average $6 per dish, which is a little on the dear side.
Summary: Definitely worth popping in for yum cha if you are shopping in Newmarket, although booking a table would be a good idea as the place gets pretty packed out around midday.