Oriental Garden sits just off Bournemouth Triangle, it’s a modest space with only a few tables, the décor is plain and simple, and the staff are polite and attentive. The thing that stands this Chinese eatery out from the rest though is the extensive Dim Sum menu, and being only one in a few Chinese restaurants in Bournemouth that serve these traditional dishes, I hurriedly get there to test out their versions of a few Dim Sum classics.
Similar to Tapas, Dim Sum traditionally consists of several dishes shared between a group of people. The Cantonese custom is inextricably linked to another traditional practice of drinking tea, or ‘Yum Cha’.
My Chinese heritage is suddenly brought back to me, and I get a wave of nostalgia as I reminisce about my childhood in Hong Kong, amongst a family who chat and laugh around a table filled with one of the most important things in their culture – food. And although the place is small and unassuming, it’s filled with Chinese people, which is probably a good testament to any Chinese restaurant.
I order a plate of Crispy Pork and Roast Duck on Rice, alongside a few portions of Dim Sum to share with my guest. Service is polite and professional, and like all Dim Sum restaurants, whatever is ready first, comes first, so it’s a good 10 minutes from the arrival of our first dish, to the last.
The Har Gow is the first dumpling to reach us, and the little prawn dumplings are delicious. The translucent pastry is made from wheat starch, tapioca flour and water, delicately wrapped around deliciously sweet king prawns minced with bamboo shoots and ginger. There’s just the right amount of rice wine to give an extra dimension to the dumplings, and the pastry is pleated so perfectly the dumplings lift easily out of their metal steamer.
Next are the Siu Mai dumplings, which are a mixture of chopped pork and prawn, openly wrapped with yellow wanton pastry and topped with dried scallop powder. Like the Har Gow dumplings, these taste homemade, and the salty, sweet, meaty rounds are absolutely delectable. Har Gow and Siu Mai are probably the most popular Dim Sum dishes, and at under £3 a portion, these homemade ones are as good as any others that I’ve tasted, and a real bargain too.
We also share another Dim Sum favourite – Char Siu Bao (steamed pork buns). The bouncy, fresh texture of the sweet bread-like dough is perfect, and the flavoursome slithers of Char Siu (honey roast pork) hidden inside the white bun are piping hot. The slightly barbecued flavour of the meat is probably a little unusual for some taste buds, but the buns are an unmissable addition to any traditional Chinese meal.
Oriental Garden’s Dim Sum Spare Ribs are chopped into bite sized pieces and marinated in a light black bean sauce. Although this one is a small portion, they are utterly scrumptious, and not too fatty like so often they are.
Next we move onto a more unusual Dim Sum dish – Wu Gok (Yam dumplings). These small, brown dumplings are made from mashed yam and stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork. They’re always deep-fried to get that beautifully fluffy yet crispy batter. The taste is sweet, soft and moreish and lovely dipped into a little light soy. These ones are perfect and I can tell a true professional has cooked them. Dare I say it, they’re even better than the ones my mum used to make.
Finally, in the centre of the table is a large plate of steamed white rice, topped with sliced crispy pork and segments of Chinese roast duck. The pork is similar to English crispy pork and has a layer of juicy meat, a slither of naughty but tasty pork fat and a final layer of extra crisp, honey-glazed crackling. It is superb and tastes delicious drizzled with a little chilli oil. The duck isn’t as succulent as I’d have hoped for though, but still a tasty part to this traditional meal, and the two simply steamed pieces of pak choi are a nice crunchy extra.
In a country where getting Chinese food is often thought of as a quick and easy takeaway with oily dishes and thick unappetizing sauces, I wish people had a taste of this kind of traditional meal. Oriental Garden combines the bustling business of a popular Chinese restaurant with great, homemade Dim Sum dishes and to top it all off, offers excellent value for money, now what else could you ask for?