Lunch and Dim Sum review
Just recently I was sent back down memory lane, after reading the Gourmand Syndrome’s review of Hong Tea House and Restaurant. Years ago I lived quite close to a large Chinatown neighbourhood in the UK. I had the good fortune to sample top-notch Chinese food for many years. Whilst SLC has copious amounts of quality Japanese eateries, arrays of Thai, more Gyro’s than you shake a stick at, I humbly submit we aren’t as equally blessed with such an array of quality Chinese restaurants. (I welcome the inevitable disagreement though!). The Gourmand Syndrome’s review was a timely kick up the backside, time to start trying some local Chinese eateries again, dim sum was our first target.
It’s been years since we last tried this restaurant. In fact, it had been so long since we last visited a new Trax stop had magically appeared in the middle of the road outside. Across the street, the now defunct Orbit Cafe was boarded up rather forlornly. From the outside, the Hong Kong Tea House doesn’t look much, but inside is much more refined atmosphere. Ornate chairs and seating are spread around dark wooden tables with inlaid marble. The restaurant ambiance is serene and relaxed, even when busy with diners, the noise level is relatively reserved. The restaurant is larger than I recall, partitioned into various rooms.
It took two trips before we finally figured out the dim sum deal at Hong Kong Tea House, but we managed it in the end. On our first visit we arrived at 2.50pm or so, just to be told that the dim sum service is indeed available daily, but ends at 3.00 p.m. Out of luck and dis-heartened, we decided to stick around and order from the standard menu.
We both opted for the Jasmine Tea ($1.00):
I first thought that the small teapot servings were minuscule, but quickly found one pot was plenty for one person. At a buck, its darn cheap too. We ended up ordering a small smattering of items for a quick lunch including an Egg Flower Soup, Steamed Prawn Dumplings and a plate of Fried Rice with Chicken and Salted Fish:
Some fairly basic items, but hopefully enough to give us a taste of the kitchen’s offerings. The egg flower soup was largely as one would expect, and no different to a million other restaurants. The dumplings were fairly standard, nothing exceptional, but not bad.
The highlight of this visit was the fried rice. My order for this dish was instantly greeted with a “are you sure you know salted fish?” comment. I was, but a welcome query from the waitress anyway, since I could see this dish being quite the unwelcome surprise to many. Chicken fried rice is punctuated with small pieces of salted fish, a pungent salty item reminiscent of fish sauce in Thai cooking. For me, the combination of the smoky rice and salty morsels is heaven. Hong Kong Tea House’s version was as good as any I have tried, perhaps just a little shy on the salted fish.
Our next outing was early on a lazy Sunday afternoon with not much going on. We recalled that dim sum was served every day, and headed down town for a second attempt. Around 1:00 p.m., the restaurant was surprisingly busy, yet a reservation was not needed. Several tables were still free. As we were led to our table, we excitedly looked around the room taking in the heaps of small plates scattered around the tables. As people tucked into their selections, a waitress roved the room with a tray offering BBQ pork to patrons.
First things first though, tea! I believe the Hong Kong Tea House offers around ten different teas, ranging from the typical to the more unusual. After our first visit, Wendi was eager to try a strong green tea, with the hope that it would help clear up her bad sinuses at the time. Using her limited knowledge of ancient Chinese medicine, she opted for the Dragon Well tea ($3.00):
Dragon Well was a very strong, robust and earthy green tea. Our waitress pointed out this was a perfect drink to combat a cold, which was exactly what Wendi had hoped for based on the name. True to the tip, Wendi said it was the perfect medicine, yet I found it a little too strong to my tastes. I went with the Jasmine again for the measly price of one dollar.
We each made a few selections from a pre-printed dim sum menu, much like placing a sushi order (If you are interested I managed to find a copy online, though it might be a bit dated looking at the prices. Click here for the menu). Once complete, our waitress checked through the list. A few adjustments were required as they were already out of a couple of items. Corrections made, we sipped on our teas and waited for the food to start flowing. We quickly realised we might have ordered more than our bellies were capable of handling for a Sunday brunch. As such, it was with some disappointment that I had to decline the sumptuous-looking BBQ pork as it was paraded past our table.
As for the items we did order, Deep Fried Tofu ($4.95):
Wendi was a fan of this, whereas I’m never too fond of tofu in the best of situations. That said, I also thought this was a little overly greasy. Wendi disagreed and said it was just fine. One better suited to the tofu crowd I think.
Steamed BBQ Pork Bun ($2.25):
This was actually an order of three steamed buns, but the other pictures we took came out too camera-flash saturated to be of much use. What you see here is the last remnants of the trio. The buns consisted of soft, sweet, fluffy white dough, which encases pork morsels doused in BBQ sauce. A bargain for $2 in my opinion. We both agreed they weren’t the best steamed buns we have ever had, but we wouldn’t say no if you brought either of us an order some time.
Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll ($3.50):
Better in reading that in practice. This came to the table as sheets of noodle wrapped around shrimp. At the table, the waitress poured soy sauce over the rolls as you can see in the picture. In actual practicality of eating, they were quite cumbersome and difficult. In the end, we simply pried the shrimp from the noodle casings.
Crab Meat Dumpling ($3.50):
Shanghai Dumpling ($2.95):
Two different hearty dumplings and both excellent. My personal favourite here was the Shanghai Dumpling, with its zing of green onion bite.
Fried Shrimp Balls ($4.25):
Four large balls of ground up shrimp and deep friend in a crunchy batter. This is definitely one to share given the sheer size of the portion and heavy, greasy nature from the frying process. Another pleasant enough plate.
Service throughout both visits was friendly, and the staff were only too happy to give a bit more detail on menu items, when prompted. The pacing of the first visit was a little odd, but during our second trip, once our orders were in, food started to flow to our table regularly. The full menu also looked useful with items such as Shark Fin Soup and Abalone listed (click here for main menu).
So best Dim Sum ever? Well no. But was it an enjoyable meal at a really great price? Would we come back for more? You bet. I think it’s only fair restaurants in Salt Lake City are compared to their local peers. Comparing Hong Kong Tea House to some of San Francisco’s finest would be patently unfair. And on that rationale, I don’t recall having a better Chinese meal here in SLC in a long time. If the dim sum craving hits me again, I’d definitely think of Hong Kong Tea House first. Certainly for the price, I don’t think one could go too wrong.
Hong Kong Tea House and Restaurant
565 W 200 S, Salt Lake City, 84104
Website: Hong Kong Tea House and Restaurant
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.