The notion of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant is bandied about so freely at every diminutive space in Cape Town, but really none is truly more authentic in its alluring hole-in-the-wallery as South China Dim Sum. Championing fuss-free dining well ahead of the craze, the tiny spot with martial arts poster clad walls and an open kitchen categorically serves up the finest dim sum in the entire city.
Expect a stellar street food inspired eating experience cajoled by the tastes, sights and scents of China. The unique culinary art of ‘dim sum’ originated in China as a snack break intended to be shared much like the Southern European eating style of tapas. True to tradition, dishes at South China Dim Sum are made to order and served in order of whatever is ready first. Star dishes include dumplings and the ubiquitous beef, lamb and chicken pot stickers - all served in threes, so couples are advised to play a game of dibs or order portions in twos. Personally, I’ve been known to visit South China just to indulge in countless portions of the addictive Beef Potstickers with Chinkiang black vinegar as well as the steamed Har Gow of translucent wheat and tapioca dumplings stuffed with prawns, water chestnuts and spring onions.
Along with vegetarian options, more substantial dishes such as noodles or steamed buns are available. But none will smack your gob quite like the braised beef short rib - a tender hunk of meat smothered in hoisin, chilli and star anise served on a mound of fragrant jasmine rice.
A puzzling mystery is why no bigger fuss is made about South China Dim Sum's ever-changing array of ice-creams flavours - leave room for a scoop or two.
A limited yet well-pairing wine and beer menu exists, with an edgy focus on garagiste or lesser known wines. It's also a teetotallers' paradise with a wide variety of Chinese teas and cocktails that come with or without alcohol such as the refreshing Shanghai Ice-Tea - vodka optional.
A perfect blend of relaxed and attentive. Due to the nature of the dishes being served as-and-when ready, even when the place is teeming you're never left unattended for any extended periods.
Like any successful repurposing project, South China is both pared down and characterful at the same time. The functional decor sees wooden-crates topped with rich Chinese fabrics to create a deliberately unassuming aesthetic - this ensures zero focus is taken off the moreish morsels of dim sum to come. Always ask about the special of the day, if you're in lucky they might have the Cantonese fish noodle soup - a bowl of Guangzhou goodness not to be missed.
Stellar Chinese Street Food.
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Situated in Long street, this authentic dumpling restaurant is a taste of China in the heart of Cape Town. Everything is made-to-order by the chef and is served straight out of the steamer or pan so that you eat each dumpling while it’s still hot and fresh. Dumplings on offer include beef, lamb and chicken pot stickers which come served in threes with a dipping sauce. Traditional Chinese Char Su Bao stuffed with red bean paste is a popular choice and highly recommended by the waiter, as is the sweet and smoky pork bao. Both are served in single portions.
For something a little more filling and substantial, the slow-braised beef with jasmine rice is a delicious combination of fatty succulent beef and sticky fragrant rice. The spicy prawn laksa is a must-try for any seafood lover, the broth tastes of the ocean, and the prawns are served in the shell for maximum flavour delivery.
Dessert options comprise of homemade seasonal ice cream flavours, served by the scoop. The black sesame ice cream is a dark charcoal colour with an interesting, unfamiliar flavour. Perfect for a quick lunch outing or a relaxed dinner.
A selection of signature Chinese-inspired house cocktails are available. Try the green tea mojito or Shanghai iced tea with a vodka kick. Wine and beer are available, but the selection is limited. There is a wide range of Chinese teas available, as well as a selection of traditional coffee and Vietnamese coffee on offer too. Both can be served iced or with a scoop of ice cream.
Service is attentive, and the waiting time is dependent on how busy the restaurant is. Everything is made-to-order and is served as soon as it is ready. The open-plan kitchen reveals the tight kitchen space as well as the small number of chefs working at any given time.
The restaurant is modestly decorated, with Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the menu written on chalkboards that hang on the wall. Tables are small and plain with small stools, enough space for you to receive your order, eat it timeously and be on your way. Don’t expect to hang around for hours for a leisurely lunch or dinner.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.