Yum Cha has long been a weekend tradition in Australia. We have become accustomed to the irresistible wafting smells of passing food trolleys filled with dumplings at beloved restaurants while waiting in the long queues during peak periods. Then sitting down to enjoy small portions of steamed, pan-fried, and deep-fried dim sum dishes served in bamboo steamers, dropped in the middle of the table onto the Lazy Susan ready to be eaten communally and washed down with tea.
The chefs behind Natural Nine restaurant, located inside Casino Canberra have taken the humble Yum Cha service and given it a modern, playful and Instagram-friendly makeover, all while still staying true to tradition, taste and flavour. The result of the makeover is a curated menu that incorporates unique cooking styles and food designs with their signature Pop Chinese flare.
“’Pop Yum Cha’ is about showcasing what we love — ‘Yum Cha’ in our Pop Chinese Style,” says Director of Food and Beverage, David Black. “We’ve taken classic favourites such as steam buns, sticky rice and taro cakes and added a unique pop twist.”
“Inspiration has been drawn from the flavours and the fun you see in cities such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, who are on the forefront of quality and trend. Pop Yum Cha is all about punchy flavour combinations, innovative techniques and playful aesthetics, in the form of delicious food.”
With Crazy Chilli Chicken and Piggy Pork steam buns, glittering Squid Ink Mantou, and Smoked Duck Sticky Rice Cigars on the menu, Pop Yum Cha is unlike anything Canberra has seen before.
“We wanted to create a food experience for our customers that they’ve never had anywhere else in Canberra, maybe even Australia,” says Black. “The menu is all about delicious, fun food that starts conversations and brings people together.”
Walking through the casino into Natural Nine, the fun yet minimal styling set the right mood for the Pop Yum Cha experience. The lanterns overhead and the placemats featuring brightly coloured vintage Chinese images pair perfectly with the scaled-back furniture of cream long booth seats and tables.
Differences between past Yum Cha experiences and this one are immediately apparent. Firstly, Natural Nine serves Yum Cha seven days a week from noon – 3 pm, not just on weekends. Secondly, there are no food trolleys that you have to wait for or flag down; ordering is done as per the traditional Yum Cha served in Hong Kong, you are presented with a menu featuring checkboxes and photos of each dish.
The menu is concise but diverse, with 13 savoury options and three sweets. The most photogenic Instagrammable items are the ‘Crazy Chilli Chicken’ steam bun which is red in colour and look like the Angry Birds character and the ‘Piggy Pork’ steam bun which comes out with pink little pigs ears and nose, along with the Squid Ink Mantou which has a glittering dark sheen throughout.
Standout dishes on the day we visited were the ‘Smoked Duck Sticky Rice Cigars’, which come out still smoking along with the ‘Squid Tentacles in ginger and spring onion’ and the ‘Chicken & Prawn magic mushroom’.
The back of the menu features an equally unique Chinese Zodiac-inspired cocktail menu. Comprising of 12 new beverages, it pays homage to each Chinese Zodiac sign; the Dragon ignites subtle Sichuan flavours that warm the palate, sparkling Unicorn Vodka is used to represent the Horse, and the Rooster’s twist on the early morning Bloody Mary are a few standouts.
“Our drink offering is just as important as our food. Naturally, we had to create an all-new cocktail menu to accompany Pop Yum Cha,” says Black. “Each cocktail has been crafted to compliment every dish, and complete the Pop Yum Cha experience.”
Pop Yum Cha is available at Natural Nine, Casino Canberra, from 12 pm—3 pm, seven days a week.