Don’t let its name or whereabouts fool you; Dim Sum Library is a super cool restaurant in the most unlikely of locations.
Interspersed with clothes, sports and homewares stores at Pacific Place in Admiralty, it’s hard to get a sense of the size and scale of Dim Sum Library. The relatively narrow opening and bar area hide the fact that there’s a huge and subtly glamorous dining room waiting to impress. Luxurious dark wood, comfy bench seating and a thoroughly modern fit out await those who are brave enough to wander through the front entrance.
With a name like Dim Sum Library, you’d be expecting quite a comprehensive array of dim sum options and when we were seated at our table, we were presented with a tasting menu that highlighted some of the best. In fact, our menu ran to eleven tasty options, which ordinarily would have had me excited, but instead left me a little anxious. Not because I was worried about the food; but because I was flying to London in a few short hours and was worried I’d not get through the menu!
The latest restaurant from the Aqua Restaurant Group is headed by well known chef Leung Kok-wah, a man with over 15 years experience at high end restaurants (including the Michelin Starred Man Wah). A specialist at dim sum; chef Leung’s approach to yum cha is to take luxurious high end ingredients and turn them into small bites of heaven.
In fact, the use of decadent ingredients was clear from the tasting menu; I spied black truffle, Hokkaido King Crab, Wagyu and Foie Gras as key ingredients that added a higher level of expectations for my meal.
Before our food started arriving, we were given a run down of the menu and asked about our tea preferences; the obligatory jasmine tea came in a cool black pot with gold trim that matched the simple cups that were quickly filled with the steaming liquid.
It was then full steam ahead with a flurry of dishes coming to the table.
Arriving in a rectangular steaming box were three black truffle har gao – shrimp dumplings. You could see the black truffle through the translucent skin of the dumpling, as well as smell that sweet truffle aroma, making the first dish of the night eminently desirable. The dumplings were earthy and sweet, the prawn flesh expertly cooked; and a subtle umami flavour that danced on the back of the palate, leaving a desire for more. Lucky for me there were three, leaving two for me and one for the girl (her choice!)
A square steaming box was used next for our Black garlic siu mai – the traditional pork dumplings topped with fish roe. With two casings based on carrot and cabbage, there was almost a sweet and savoury feel to the dish. A twang from the black garlic was wonderfull, playing nicely with the sweetness from the pork and saltiness from the roe.
I’d been a little nervous about the Hokkaido king crab and sea urchin spring rolls, having had mixed experiences with uni since being in Hong Kong. I was immediately impressed with the presentation with the spring rolls cut in half, standing upright on a slab of slate and the delicate uni sitting on top. The small bites were freaking delicious, I mean seriously good nosh! The sweetness of the crab and the crunch of the pastry that was nice and light combined with the subtle saltiness of the uni. Best of all was the Japanese mayonnaise that had a vanilla lemon flavour that was intense and well balanced.
It was at this point that our waiter brought over some mocktails, earl grey with a dash of ginger, which was incredibly refreshing. It was quite amusing really; the wait staff had been really keen to explain the cocktail menu, another specialty of the restaurant, but we’d stopped them short by noting we’d not be drinking for the evening. I guess it was their way of showing off the cocktail/mocktail menu!
In what had to be one of the most delicate dim sum I’ve ever had, the Wagyu beef puff with black pepper was next up. I’d best describe these little bites as meat pies with a twist! The pasty was impossibly thin and carefully layered over a spicy wagyu mince that reminded me of my favourite baker back in Australia. You could not use chopsticks for these bad boys, it was finger food all the way; but even then they were super delicate.
Proving that steaming boxes could come in any shape or size, our Dan dan xiaolongbao came in a hexagonal box, which perfectly framed the three soup dumplings. I’m normally a huge fan of xialongbao, but I wasn’t enamoured with the Dim Sum Library version, the dan dan soup being a way too hot for my palate. The casings were orange, which were pretty, but I also found the pork inside to lack texture and be a little squishy. The girl is more capable of devouring hot stuff and was more enthusiastic about them than me.
I really thought I’d pass on the next dish when I saw it on the menu! When presented though, the crispy aubergine tossed with salted fish and Chinese chives was nothing like I’d expected. They looked like golden chips and were plated like we were about to play a game of Jenga! The golden coating was light and a little dry (on purpose) and the enclosed aubergine was texturally quite firm, and as a consequence more palatable to me. I normally hate aubergine, the soft texture a huge turnoff for me, but the Dim Sum Library version caught me so off guard that I simply couldn’t believe they were made from the dreaded vegetable! There was great flavour from the added salted fish and chives and we happily devoured the lot!
Next was the seared foie gras with osmanthus-smoked coddled eggs; the golden and creamy foie gras and egg surprised by being cold. More fish roe and little flakes of gold foil added an element of colour and luxury to the dish. It was an interesting mix, I found the foie gras to be lovely, the yolk from the egg creamy and rich, but I didn’t get any smokey flavour from the cooking process.
We were starting to get into our ‘main’ course element of the tasting menu and it was a bit of a departure from the dim sum we’d had to that point. Our Yunnan black truffle crispy-skinned chicken immediately impressed when it was presented. With chicken that had been marinated in truffle sauce for 24 hours, the aroma that emanated from the dish was almost overpowering. The flesh of the chicken was unlike any we’d had before, so soft and juicy but holding it’s texture, the truffle clear on the palate, the skin crispy and sweet. Wow, I could see why it would be a signature dish; it was just a shame that by the time it was presented we were almost completely full; having said that, we did our best to pick the plate clean!
Growing up in Australia, rice was always presented at the beginning of a Chinese feast; but it’s the opposite in China. So when we were presented with the huge bowl of Iberico fried pork rice with Sakura shrimps and fennel seeds, we had no idea how we’d cope. In fact, the rice proved to be too much for us! By the time we’d filled up our smaller bowls, the main dish looked untouched, and we felt guilty about sending most back to the kitchen. We even had to refuse the request for it to be packed up and taken home with us; after all, I was only hours away from flying out of the country. It was a shame really, the crunchy rice with salty pork and shrimps was delicious.
Finally we were onto our desserts, and for a while, I thought I’d not be able to get through even a small amount of sweets. Thankfully, the Lava mango rolls coated with roasted almonds were quite small, and yummy! The warm mango puree inside the rolls was sweet, the toasted almond providing texture and the whole dessert giving a warming feeling all over.
The very last bite was the tofu pannacotta, again quite small in size but punching above its weight in flavour! The small bowls of pannacotta actually reminded us of cheesecake and the dusting of chocolate on top brought back memories of Milo from our youth. Yeah, it was easy to forget that the main ingredient was tofu and the overall feeling was that of a nice chocolate and cream milkshake.
At the end, we had to rush off and get me back home so I could make my way to the airport, so I had little time to reflect on the glory of the meal. It wasn’t until I was safely sitting on board my Cathay Pacific flight that I could take a moment to think about how impressed I’d been with Dim Sum Library. We’d only tasted a sample of the many options available on the extensive menu, but what we’d eaten was wonderful.
A couple of standouts will stay with me forever, the Hokkaido king crab spring rolls were the best of the lot, simply amazing and worth the visit alone! The Wagyu beef puff and the truffle crispy-skinned chicken also world class dishes.
Service was excellent on the night we went, however we did get along very early (so I could make my flight), so we had the full attention of the wait staff. While very stylish, I also found the vibe of the dining room to be a little sterile; but I’d chalk that up to the fact that it was largely empty while we were dining and could be very different with the hum of a full room.
But at the end, you go to a restaurant for the food and Dim Sum Library produces the goods where it counts! Given that it’s at Pacific Place and quite local for us; I’d say we’ve found and alternative to our usual haunt (Din Tai Fung).
No small feat!
** I was a guest of Dim Sum Library for this meal