Jinja is a new yum cha restaurant in Macquarie Park that offers upmarket yum cha in a darkly lit setting. There is a selection of yum cha dumplings that are a bit different to usual offerings as well as a regular a la carte menu.
It's a chilly spring Sunday and I'm getting ready for our first meal out with Mrs Martin and Martin, a couple that we met through Sammie. Mr NQN and I have this routine on the weekends. Mr NQN takes the dogs to the park for a long walk and I drink tea and then do exercise. It's a leisurely, unhurried process and so I don't tend to schedule anything before 1pm on weekends.
So when Mrs Martin messages me at 12:30pm saying, "I'm so hungry! I'm just looking for parking," and we are pulling out of our driveway I do a double take. "Aren't we meeting at 1pm?" I ask but then I scroll through my messages. There it is 12:30pm typed in my hand. Then our GPS pipes up and tells us that Jinja will close within 1 hour of us arriving there.
"OMG they're never going to want to go out with us again," I groaned to Mr NQN.
We arrive at Macquarie Park and Jinja is located inside the Governor's Hotel. There's a small, busy car park and we luck out as a car is leaving. We head upstairs to the first floor restaurant. It's darkly lit and enormous with velvet banquettes, neon signs and floral wallpaper. We don't have a booking as it's yum cha (I later see that we can book but it requires leaving a credit card) but that isn't a problem as the restaurant is less than a quarter full this Sunday lunch.
"Can we sit there please?" I ask pointing at a comfortable velvet booth. "Ahh no that seats 7 people," the woman says. There are actually three of these booths but I guess she was worried in case three tables of 7 come in over the next 60 minutes and want all of those booths (narrator: that would not happen).
We have a look at both menus. They push us towards the cocktails with the slightly odd selling point that they're very light in alcohol and you can drink three and be fine with it (at $20 each perhaps not). We order food and then drinks starting with half a dozen dim sum. When the waiter goes to collect our menu we ask to keep one in case we want to order more food. He explains that management won't let people keep menus at the table, not even at the empty booth nearby. We look at each other puzzled because not once has this ever been an issue. We ask him why and he doesn't really know (narrator: they would get to keep one menu at the table).
There's a tea menu with half a dozen types of tea. Mrs Martin chooses the jasmine pearl from Ningde, Fujian which they bring out in a little set with 4 cups in the traditional style. They basically keep adding hot water to the tea leaves and you can generally get around 4-5 pots of tea out of the tea leaves. A tea service in a traditional tea house is served by an individual dedicated to the job but I'm guessing it is a bit of a pain for the waitstaff who have to keep coming back to refill the tiny pot with hot water asking every time if you want more hot water for tea. The first press of the jasmine pearl is beautifully fragrant, the second and third tannic and the remaining very mild.
While there is a dumpling menu (no trolleys here, you order from the menu) there is also an a la carte menu too but we stick to the yum cha offerings which mostly come four to a serve. The dumplings come out quickly. The first to come out are the baked ones. When I asked what this cheese bun was it was described to us as something completely different like it had shaved cheese on top. When I had asked him if it was like a pineapple bun he said no. Well it is like a pineapple bun with a sweet butter, flour and sugar crunchy top and a filling of honey black pepper beef inside. It's nice but very much on the sweet side of things.
Martin's only request was a BBQ pork char siu bun which was unfortunately not available. This was the next best thing in its place. The BBQ pork pie is filled to the brim with flavoursome, saucy char siu in a warm, buttery pastry case.
I was very interested to try the XO Southern Lobster scallop dumplings. I don't really taste much XO in this at all so it's good that we have a small bowl of XO sauce on the side that Mrs Martin ordered (an extra $6 but worth it) and it's best dipped in that.
Out of the lobster dumpling above or this, I much preferred the prawn and chive dumpling. The texture of the prawns is excellent and the chives gives these an extra boost of flavour and these are one of the favourites of the meal.
I also really enjoyed the har gao with its very faint hint of truffle in it that gives it an almost meatier taste to it.
The vegetarian dumpling is a surprise contender for favourite dumpling. This is filled with mushrooms that have a robust flavour to them. I loved the textures of the mushrooms that were plump and juicy inside the green crystal skin.
The wagyu charcoal buns have a dark black exterior thanks to edible charcoal and a wagyu filling. They're very sparing with the filling and it could have definitely used more in it.
You don't often see beef siu mai, it's always pork or prawn or a combination thereof but we had to try this version made with black garlic and wagyu beef. While dainty in size they pack a punch in flavour with the black garlic adding a sweetish element to the wagyu.
The dumplings are quite dainty so we were still a bit peckish and wanted to try a couple of more things so we ordered some things from the baked and fried menu. First are the lobster truffle spring rolls. Again the truffle flavour is light in this (truffle never seems to really be present in Asian dishes as cooking truffle mutes its flavour) but these have a lot of lobster meat in these and I think if you were to choose between these or the lobster dumplings above these are the definite pick.
My other favourite item apart from the prawn & chive and the vegetarian dumpling is the pan fried prawn sesame mousse on brioche. It's basically a fancy prawn toast but delivers in crunch, indulgence and taste especially with a quick dip in the sweet and sour sauce from the lobster spring rolls.
It's time for dessert and there are four offerings, none a typical yum cha sweet. When they set down the secret deep fried ice cream we discover what the secret is. It's a salted pistachio ice cream ball in a crunchy shell on a bed of chocolate truffle sauce. Here the truffle is very pronounced and it's a good size, ideal for sharing between four people (or conceivably six).
For a lighter dessert there's a matcha soya bean milk pudding with coconut tapioca, lychee granita and a cookie crumble. It's a very Asian dessert with lighter levels of sweetness and goes well after a big meal.
The bill ends up at around $300 for 4 people, quite steep for yum cha especially as there was only one beer involved and all of the rules you have to follow!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you like to choose where to sit if a restaurant is empty? And do you keep a menu at the table for reference?
This meal was independently paid for.
The Governor Hotel
Level 1/9 Waterloo Rd, Macquarie Park NSW 2113
Wednesday to Saturday 12–2pm, 5–10pm
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Phone: (02) 9287 1418