Let's face it, the quality of the yum cha in Melbourne CBD can be a bit disappointing. Not mentioning any names, but the dim sum often seem not to have been made fresh but have been frozen, the dumplings can lack the delicacy they should have and by the time the trolleys have been around the block a few times the food is no longer as hot as it should be.
One of the better options in the city is Crystal Jade. Always popular with Asian friends, one of the things that I learned on this visit is that there are a number of dishes which they can prepare but which don't come around as part of the normal trolley service. You need to know to specially ask for them, at least on a Monday.
Given it was a Monday lunch the range of choices from the trolleys was fairly limited but included the usual favourites, ginger prawn dumplings, sui mai and steamed pork buns, as well as the slightly more exotic chicken feet and beef tendon. The comparatively smaller size of the room compared to some venues worked to the food's advantage, not having spent several minutes with the steamer lid open most of the food arrived steaming hot rather than lukewarm. The buns were fluffy, the dumplings delicate, nothing earth shattering but respectable versions of some classic dim sum.
The stars of the day though were the steamed bun with salted egg filling and the steamed rice noodles with Chinese broccoli and Chinese donut (which I can't remember the proper name for). Both of these were new dishes to me but which I would specially return to order again.
The salty egg bun isn't much to look like from the outside but biting into it reveals the hot, salty custard. Sinfully rich, it has to be a heart attack in the making but at least you'd die happy. Be aware though that as these were specially ordered they arrived with the filling piping hot.
A variation on the more common pork or prawn noodles, the broccoli and Chinese donut offered an interesting contrast in tastes and textures - the slipperiness of the noodle, the firmness of the broccoli, the slight crunch of the donut and the saltiness of the sauce. The noodles were nicely thin and translucent and not gluggy like you often get, and the broccoli breaks up the heavy meat and seafood leanings of the other dishes.
A nice restaurant that seemed to be patronised mainly by Asian office workers, Crystal Jade offers a slightly more refined yum cha experience. Staff were pleasant and prices reasonable, the food good, the noise levels more what you would associate with a restaurant than a yum cha barn. It may be helped a little in this by its somewhat indifferent entrance, with entry though a unremarkable glass door and on the second floor. Presumably offerings are also a bit more varied on weekends, so that a Saturday or Sunday visit may be in order.
Food - 7.5
Ambience - 7
Service - 7
Price - 7
154 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Tel: (03) 9639 2633