Hong Kong has no shortage of restaurants to consume dim sum, one of its quintessential food experiences. We are spoiled for choice, with options ranging corner shops, to trendy eateries with Instagram-ready, anthropomorphic buns able to expel their fillings, to the overhyped three-Michelin starred Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons.
With all of these choices, one of a handful of places that I have kept returning to time and time again over the past 15 years is the dim sum place in Happy Valley at 63 Sing Woo Road. The full English name of this restaurant is Dim Sum The Art of Chinese Tidbits, but for as long as I have known it, it has always been referred to simply as Dim Sum in Happy Valley or Happy Valley Dim Sum.
Happy Valley Dim Sum doesn’t have a large banquet room with the space for ladies to hawk the contents of their carts to large groups of diners sitting at big round tables. For that, I find that the Maxim’s at City Hall in Central is quite reliable. Happy Valley Dim Sum also lacks the traditional “ambiance” of Lin Heung Tea House in Sheung Wan, where diners literally hover in wait for seats and, once at a table, fight to the center of the cramped dining room to get to the food.
In contrast, you enter Happy Valley Dim Sum through wooden double-doors at street level, below a sign that reads “Dim Sum”. The dining room itself is cozy rather than cramped, with booths on each side and a few tables in the middle. When the restaurant gets full – and it does – smaller parties may be asked to share these tables for a hint of the old Hong Kong experience. The décor modestly suggests an old Shanghai café with period movie posters on the walls reinforcing the vibe. Patrons are a mix of long-time expatriate and locals both living in the Happy Valley area and making the trip in.
For many years, the offerings at Happy Valley Dim Sum have remained unchanged, with a bilingual menu with pictures as well as a Chinese-language checklist-style ordering sheet. Thus, I was surprised to find on my last visit that the menu had been updated with a number of new items and a few long-time dishes having disappeared. It was a good chance to try some of the new items in addition to old favorites.
Pan-Fried Shrimp and Chive Dumplings
In the latter category, the Pan-Fried Shrimp and Chive Dumplings (HKD50) include three large dumplings, heavily infused with the taste of chives. Though on the menu there is only the option to have them pan-fried, I always order them steamed, for a lighter and less oily taste. As usual, they were plump, hot and delicious.
Seafood Pastry with Lobster Soup
Similarly, I have always been particularly fond of the Seafood Pastry with Lobster Soup (HKD118). Served in a small bowl and fully encrusted with a sesame topped puffed pastry, the soup is thick and rich with ample chunks of lobster meat. Breaking the buttery pastry into the soup creates a decadent alternative to the typical dumplings and buns.
Another must-try is the Fried Rice Rolls with Soya Sauce (HKD45) from the vegetarian offerings; Happy Valley Dim Sum is one of only a few dim sum restaurants that work well for vegetarians. The rolled-up rice flour noodles are sautéed in a light soy sauce and served with the traditional accompaniments of a sesame paste and sweet sauce. This dish contains a generous portion of the rice rolls and the mix of flavors and textures is extremely pleasant on the tongue. On my recent visit, the dish, along with the other long-time menu items, impressed as they always have.
On the other hand, the newer menu items were hit-and-miss. The Golden Lobster Shrimp Dumplings (HKD118) were an excellent variant on the traditional plain shrimp dumpling (har gau in Cantonese). These fancy har gau were large, stuffed with perfectly steamed shrimp and lobster, and visually arresting with its topping of a smattering of gold leaf.
Vegetables Rolls with Portuguese Sauce
On the other hand, the Vegetables Rolls with Portuguese Sauce (HKD38) were surprisingly unimpressive. The picture in the menu looked attractive but the rolls themselves were soggy, stuffed with an indistinct array of vegetables, and topped with a sauce that hinted at a curry taste but was too thin, too peppery and simply not very good.
Similarly, the new Shrimp Tofu Roll (HKD50) seemed to be an update on the more traditional shrimp stuffed in tofu skin, which had previously been available on the menu and is something of a dim sum staple. The problem with this new iteration was that the tofu exterior was too thin and/or fried too long, so that it tasted mainly of oil. The dish also added a piece of seaweed wrapper around the center of the roll which didn’t do much to improve the look or taste of the dish.
All of that said, I have no doubt I will continue to return to Happy Valley Dim Sum and continue to list it on my dim sum favourites. It’s a great place to have traditional dim sum prepared with good quality ingredients in a pleasant setting so that you don’t feel that you’re compromising on either flavour or atmosphere. It’s my go-to place for dim sum for both out-of-town foodies and vegetarians and, unlike most dim sum restaurants, you can even order it in the evening. I would only encourage the owners not to feel the need to further abandon the menu that has served them so well for so many years.