Yum cha fiends assemble! There’s a new yum cha house in town, and boi it’s a goodie.
Cha Li Boi is the creation of rice paper roll maestro and former MissChu queen Nahji Chu. Only opening it’s doors last week, you can still smell the freshly-installed plywood. It’s everywhere in this huge, paired-back 285-seater restaurant. There’s minimalist plywood covering walls and topping tables (packing-crate style), which is joined by rough exposed concrete and stripped back pre-painted walls.
I politely asked the waiter whether the fit-out was finished. Because it’s easy to be confused. But, yes, this rough-and-ready look is the whole point – the décor isn’t to distract from the quality of the food.
The food at Cha Li Boi stars
So now that the food has full-use of the microphone, pressure’s on for it to sing like Adele, and it does.
Created by chef John Leong (ex-Billy Kwong), the menu is an exercise in wholesome eating, one where farm-fresh produce stars. It’s also gluten and vegan-friendly (and therefore Bondi-friendly), and just all-round modern and quirky.
There’s ‘Pac Man’ mung bean dumplings, ‘The Shot Wallaby’ – a saltbush and native greens soup in a shot glass, and ‘Ling My Bell’ scallop and ling dim sum. The ‘Cray Cray’ dumplings of crayfish and scampi are indeed cray cray, as are the crispy roast suckling pork slider buns.
If filling out the yum cha card is too complicated, you can always just grab something from the trolley ladies, who trundle past offering up an assortment of steamed and fried dim sum. Or just ask the super attentive (almost too attentive) staff for help.
For dessert, there’s Aeroplane Jelly and vodka jelly shots, or custard tarts and banana fritters if you’re boring.
The drinks list is also nod-worthy with inventive cocktails such as ‘The Stiff Rooster’, ‘A Chinese Bloody Mary’ and the ‘Hidden Dragon’. Then there’s a bubble machine creating bubble tea cocktails (and plenty of trouble), plus a bloody long list of wines, beers and spirits.
The wedding banquet is an extrovert’s delight
The lazy susan banquet is interesting. It’s only available to groups of eight. So what happens if you’re a group of less than eight? That’s ok because strangers are grouped together to make a party of eight. An extrovert’s delight? Yet, at $55pp for 11 courses (plus souvenir Polaroids!) it’s a bargain.
Cha Li Boi is…
Found across the road from Westfield Bondi Junction, next door to a Grill’d, above the East Leagues Club, it’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a great dumpling hall, but looks can be deceiving. Not that the lolly pink signage on Bronte Road, which is the only indication that you’re in the right place, does anything to convince you otherwise.
Thankfully, inside it’s an entirely different story. As soon as you walk up the stairs you know that you’re in the right place. While the HUGE 750sqm dining hall is a clean and minimalist space, there’s still a hint of Bondi glamour to it. There’s definitely no lanterns or white tablecloths left behind from the previous tenant – the traditional yum cha dining hall Oriental Jewel.
And is the food good enough to take centre stage? Put simply, yes.
I’m for one inordinately happy that my dumpling dreams have been answered. In Melbourne, I used to eat dumplings five out of seven nights. But here in Sydney, I’ve struggled to find a decent dumpling-serving local on the Eastern Beaches that doesn’t leave you with an MSG headache. Cha Li Boi’s dumplings are as fresh, flavour-filled and headache-free as they come.
Finally, if you’re not sold, there’s free wi-fi. Being a freelance writer that’s almost as good as the headache-free dumplings.
Cha Li Boi Yum Cha & Bar | 9–13 Bronte Road, Bondi Junction, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 9369 5391