Up here in Beijing, we love dim sum, the elegant stalwart of our possibly more refined cousins down south. Whether it's a long weekday lunch, or even better, an even longer weekend brunch, dim sum is surely one of the best ways to feed a gaggle of dumpling chasers.
Enter Kung Hey Lei. These dim sum dealers have branches Tongzhou and Shanghai, but have just opened a more accessible location in Wangjing, right beneath the hip café Cup One
. In an area known for its fast 'n' furious Korean fare, Kung Huy Lei bucks the trend as a casual yet contemporary Cantonese eatery.
The dim sum on offer is mostly your usual classics such as delicate shaomai and crispy durian puffs. The house special is more resplendent, however: a special roasted pigeon stuffed with rice (62RMB). A waiter brings a whole bird to the table, quarters it and reveals a meatless interior stuffed with delicately seasoned rice. It's something of a poor man's eight treasures duck, and all the better for it, the quacky version tending to be an insurmountable mountain of rice, fruits, nuts and duck. At a pigeon size, the dish is impressive yet manageable, although it could have done with more meat.
Next up we try the traditional and not-so-traditional dumplings. In the former category, the xiajiao (25RMB), steamed shrimp dumplings, are excellent. Each translucent parcel contains one perfectly juicy shrimp embedded in a gentle smattering of bamboo, and we're really into the bright orange roe that's scattered on top. We also try a more unusual sweet dish that consists of a rice flour roll, flavoured with green tea, stuffed with grilled mango and chopped nuts (23RMB). The generous serving of four slices would be enough for two or three people, but we could happily finish it off solo. The green tea element is more for colouring than flavour, rendering each roll a deep, forest green; the filling is a puckering combination of salty crunch, sweet and sour fruit and a smattering of dark brown sugar that ties the whole thing together. The tropical flavours taste light, but rest assured that this is a heavy hitter in the world of dim sum desserts.
What really makes Kung Hey Lei so amenable is the setting. Rather than the ageing splendour of traditional dim sum joints, Kung is decked out with urban light fittings, contemporary blue and yellow leather seats and buckets of natural light. Wangjing doesn't always get the love it deserves, but we reckon Kung is going to reel it in.
By Amy Hawkins